Activity Theory

Mouza and Lavigne briefly discuss the application (by Vahey and colleagues) of Activity Theory to develop a curricular activity system framework. Vahey et al’s discussion is focused on student use of SimCalc and Geometer’s Sketchpad as dynamic representation tools to engage in meaningful mathematics which results in deeper learning and greater equity. In terms of the curricular activity system, SimCalc and Geometer’s Sketchpad are historically and culturally constituted tools used for cognitive development through a process of mediation. This mediation (as well as the curricular activity system and Activity Theory) has its roots in Vygotsky’s cultural-historical development theories.

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Does Teacher = Learning Jockey?

Early in his presentation, Sugata Mitra, quotes Arthur C. Clarke: “A teacher that can be replaced by a machine, should be.” He goes on to describe the results of his Hole in the Wall experiment wherein he placed computers with online access in various regions of India and observed children’s efforts to self-organize and teach themselves with the help of the computer. His thesis examines the ability of learners to assemble and organize themselves around a technology in order to learn. Thus, he recognizes the changing role of the teacher based on the affordances of emerging educational technologies. He examines one extreme of the changing role of the teacher – the removal of the human element and finds that for some learning tasks, the human element can be removed by a machine.

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Affinity Spaces

I was intrigued by the term Affinity Spaces in this week’s reading, because the choice of words allowed me to understand the underlying concept in a new light. Some characteristics of Affinity Spaces (as defined by James Gee) are:

  • active participation by members
  • deeper engagement with popular culture (as compared to engagement with textbooks)
  • sustainment by common endeavors
  • diversity of age, class, race, gender, educational level and experience
  • fluid, dynamic, negotiated norms and levels of participation depending on skills and interests
  • informal hierarchy of expertise wherein participants act as mentors to some participants while mentees towards others
  • constant motivation to learn and build expertise

Gee argues that these characteristics make Affinity Spaces powerful learning environments.

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Clarke’s Third Law

One of the first questions to ask about spirituality and technology is whether technology has an equivalent of the theological entity referred to as the spirit, soul, sentience, anima or consciousness. 

Philip K. Dick’s Do Android Dream of Electric Sheep and its film adaptation, Ridley Scott’s Blade Runner, explore the kinship between humans and machines. Among the questions explored in the texts are: What makes an entity human? Dick has devised his own version of the Turing Test – the Voigt Kampff machine, which measure pupil dilation and the emotion of particles from the body, as a measure of whether a being experiences empathy as a response to questions designed to evoke an emotional response. Can a machine experience love? Can a human love a machine? Explored in the relationship between a human and a Replicant (cyborg) who is not self-aware, i.e. she thinks she is human. Do we achieve a sense of purpose and meaning through our memories?

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Is technology an invasive species?

What are the limits to growth of educational technology? As explored in previous modules, educational technology is not neutral, nor is it somehow a happy medium between ‘part of the problem’ and ‘part of the solution.’ There are environmental implications of ET that tend to be marginalized or outside the normal scope of discussion.

In his 2007 keynote address at the Building Learning Communities conference, Dr. Zhao fittingly describes the birth of educational technology as a solution looking for a problem. This description fits the analogy of educational technology as an invasive species – one that alters the interrelationships of all organisms and subsystems within an ecosystem in order to survive and thrive.

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What kind of relationships are appropriate with machines?

What kinds of relationships are appropriate with machines? How are our answers to this changing?

Turkle focuses on the relationships between users and machines by examining the psychological impacts of machines on their users. Designers take an instrumental view to machines because they focus on what machines do for users, but users’ relationships with machines are based on the way that they influence our ways of seeing the world, the way we think and the nature of our relationship with others. In our one-on-one relationships to computers, Turkle thinks that the Rorschach effect is at play wherein the user projects his/her mental and emotional states on the machine. The machine, therefore, is a second self that extends our mental and emotional state.

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Bourdieu and the Cyborg Manifesto

Bourdieu (p. 235) asks: “Does this mean that the demarcation line between the world of technical objects and the world of aesthetic objects depends on the ’intention’ of the producer of those objects?” What does he think and what do you make of this? Is technology differentiated from art by what a producer says?

Bordieu identifies several factors that influence the impact of television on its audience. In his opinion, content and intent of the author are secondary to the constraints imposed by the attributes of the medium itself. Bordieu recognizes television as a medium that strives for the largest audience possible. The social, economic and political pressures imposed on television have the effect of creating a flat structure for engaging a wide audience. Flattening complex hierarchies of knowledge is only one of the effects on content imposed by the attributes of television. Wide accessibility is also attained through time-related restrictions. Television is tightly constrained by programming schedules, tight production timelines and the short shelf life of content.

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Are We Pancake People?

I wanted to title my post Are We Pancake People? because Sparrow et al’s research reminded me of Nicholar Carr’s article: Is Google Making Us Stupid? In his article, Carr quotes the playwright Richard Foreman who talks about how our intelligence is evolving: the replacement of complex inner density with a new kind of self—evolving under the pressure of information overload and the technology of the “instantly available. Thus, the connected world enabled by google has spread our intelligence wide and thin – like a pancake. This kind of information processing wherein we rely on our connections with other people, a kind of distributed neural network, is transactive memory – a term coined by Daniel Wegner, a social psychologist, in 1985.

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“If value, then right”

For the past 163 years the code of “if value, then right” has been used as a defense in providing legal justification for the fair use of copyrighted material. In non-legalese, “if value, then right” means that fair use is permitted if the derivative work (or copy) (1) adds value (i.e. is of public benefit), (2) does not reduce the value of the original work, (3) is not an excessive amount and (4) is not for commercial use. In assessing the applicability of the fair use criteria, we must consider the commercial implications for the original work, the commercial value of the derivative and copy, the amount and substantiality of the portion used, the purpose and character of the use, as well as the purpose and character of the original (copyrighted) work. Under these guidelines, is use of copyrighted material for educational purposes always in the public interest? Many of these assessments require a subjective assessment of commercial impact, purpose and character and public interest. This subjectivity makes the determination of value disputed.

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Question Concerning Educational Technology

Can’t we just ignore history and get on with the educational media and technology show? To what degree ought we pay attention to history? Who cares about old media— the future is in new media, isn’t it?

‘Who controls the past,’ ran the Party slogan, ‘controls the future: who controls the present controls the past.’ says George Orwell in 1984. The discourse around educational technology often touts technological advancements as the future of education. However, the future cannot be constructed without understanding the past. The present is always conflicted between the intractable, deterministic drive of an id-like past and the aspirational ambitions of a super-ego-like future. The present, ego-like, must be the mediating agent that understands the drive of history (and its impacts) to help us better navigate the road to the future. It is only by understanding and dissecting history that we can perceive the future as a network of choices rather than a destined, immutable inevitability. The past, the present and the future become the past, the present and the possible in light of history. This understanding allows us to evaluate and pursue options with greater understanding and responsibility. Jacques Ellul might argue that examining the historical dimension of technology allows us the true freedom of evaluating technology from a moral and ethical perspective, thus enabling a freedom that the interminable drive of technology seeks to suppress by valuing mechanistic efficiency above reflection.

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