Get Your Head Out Of Your Asana & Look Around: An Introduction

“Asana is a simple way to stay on top of your classes, assignments, and student club activities. Before you get started, it’s important to understand how to set up Asana.” – Asana.

The Digital Communitas project, Student Voices, is actively soliciting blog posts, vlogs, and mp3 audio from post-secondary students at Canada’s universities to share their experiences in the classroom with digital media. Sara Humphreys, our fearless leader, has challenged both my colleague Shannon Haslett and I to come up with a blog post which meets the precipitous of the guidelines of the call for posts. I have come up with the idea for a series of posts under the title “Get Your Head Out Of Your Asana.”

One of the tools we use to communicate with each other and control workflow for Student Voices is through an app called Asana. Asana is project management software intended to replace the need for email by making work more “social.” In learning to use Asana, I visited its “Getting Started” page, and immediately noticed the language they used to sell you on their product especially its big-headed and “new-agey” marketing rhetoric. Looking at Asana critically, I thought it would be fun to pick on it to create a series of posts which comment to what level digital technology provides a source of assisting in our education and to what level they provide us with a distraction from learning. How much attention is the twenty-first student paying to Wikipedia and YouTube in the classroom as opposed to well-trained instructors? Or engaging with projected PowerPoint presentations instead of with their peers for in-class discussion? Or looking down at their various digital devices instead of observing the world around them? Where platforms such as Asana or Blackboard provide excellent tools for managing and synthesizing information, to what extent are they becoming a priority for institutional investment at the expense of learning resources whether digital or physical? Is ease of access and coded interactivity truly more important than the information we engage with? Could Marshal McLuhan have been right? Has the media, or the tool, really become the message?

Cool app or Kool-Aid?

Asana was started up by Facebook co-founder Dustin Moskovitz and ex-Facebook engineer Justin Rosenstein in 2008. Their goal is to revolutionize the way we communicate with each other by basically ridding the need to communicate needlessly via email and other, presumably, face-to face means (no more virtual water cooler chit chat), so more actual work can be produced. It professes to replace perceived idleness with efficiency yet it is a bit oxymoronic; replacing traditional digital communications with social communications so you can communicate less.

Ironically, Asana also refers to a yoga position which literally translates to the art or “mastery of sitting still.”  There is no real ‘sitting still’ embedded in the Asana software despite its name, unless they are referring to the ideas that are stagnating. It claims “[y]ou’ll spend less time reading and writing emails and more time getting work done.” Less time reading and writing… hmm. In actuality, it replaces not idleness with efficiency but creativity with efficiency, for out of boredom and dialogue, ideas are born. In the humanities, the work being done is about people and their interaction with (fill in your specialization here).

So, is Asana a good tool for education? What Asana proposes is digital Fordism or Taylorism, where we work with parts never being able to conceive of the whole. And isn’t trying to understand the big picture what a good education is really about?

In their own words,“Asana is the single source of information for your team.  Add projects, tasks, and comments as you go, and you’ll instantly build a team archive that’s easily accessible whenever you need context or information.”  Unfortunately, Asana is about Asana.  It’s mission to keep our heads in our Asana and out of other digital and physical spaces.  However, the truth behind the rhetoric is that Asana can only provide limited information and context, obvious to anyone who takes the time to logout and look around.

 

 

 

 

Utilize Online Tools for a Better Teaching Environment

Throughout my post-secondary career, only one professor has used any kind of online media within their classes. Sure, the others used Blackboard or Desire to Learn, or some other form of Learning Management Systems (LMS), but most in a not so effective way. Most LMS are used to simply drop course documents (slides, syllabus, essay topics etc.) and not create an online collaborative classroom. In my case, I want an accessible online classroom where I can log in from anywhere in the world (learning should know no bounds) to: check in to what the weekly plan for the class is, visit some discussion boards to have a meaningful and interesting discussion with fellow classmates and my professor, check my grades and see my work marked online and maybe, if the professor is really advanced, to check out a blog or some element of gamification incorporated into the class. I enjoy my in-class sessions (mostly), but for many of my classes, there is nothing about the in-class experience that could not be replicated to an online classroom, except the personal face-to-face element. For some, that is very important, it just isn’t for me. I enjoy lectures (when the professor is passionate and interested), but I enjoy lectures a lot more when they are recorded online and I can pause, rewind (do we still say rewind?) and go back and re-listen to them as I need to understand the point being made. I want accessible learning.individualized learning

Learning for me is an on-going venture; one I never plan to stop, and it does not make any sense why the way in  which we learn seems to have taken a stand still approach. The world has changed leaps and bounds from when I first stepped into a post-secondary classroom ten years ago. We have watches that can send text messages, TVs that bring 3-D graphics into the home, and social networks that allow you to instantly share information with someone across the world. With these advancements, why can’t instructors still not utilize online systems to allow a more universal learning environment? Not only will it allow the typical student to access the information anywhere and participate at a time and location convenient for them, but it also allows alternative learners (those who don’t learn via lecture and tests) to learn in a way that fosters their learning style. Having content online allows anyone to alter it to suit their needs in a way that makes sense to them. We have an understanding that each of us is different, and each of us learns in a different way- so why do we not utilize great tools that can help each person learn their way?

We students pay a lot of money to attend post-secondary education in Canada and yet we do not get a lot of say in how we learn. It’s time we get to make an impact on our own learning experience, use tools we find helpful and have professors who have a knowledge of these tools. I want to see a more universal online approach to learning, with the same caliber of education I can get during an in-class experience.

 

 

 

Gaming, digital futures and Curtis Bonk! | Day 2 at #DEANZ14 Conference

Sara Humphreys:

Wonderful overview of a conference I am sure we all wish we could have attended!

Originally posted on Disrupt & Transform:

Last week, I managed to attend a day of the DEANZ conference, a great opportunity to catch up with those involved in research and practice related to e-learning and distance education in the schooling and tertiary sectors.

While one day couldn’t really capture the conference as a whole, there were a few takeaways for me that made me wish I’d managed all three days!

2014-05-01 09.18.58Keynote:  David Gibson – Games and Simulations

Associate Professor at Curtin University, David’s focus is in supporting university departments to further e-learning design as part of their programmes.

His keynote made some exciting (and mentally stretching!) points about the way gaming structures can enhance learning pathways. For example:

  • He…

View original 354 more words

What Using Google Docs in the Classroom Tells Me: We Need to Change Everything

I have been experimenting with Google Docs – I realize loads of teachers use this resource, and I am definitely not writing a how-to guide here. I am not even extolling the virtues of Googles Docs. Yes, it allows for online collaboration, and it’s relatively easy to use for those who have a fear of “digital anything.” What I am writing about here is the relief that students clearly felt at being able to collaborate without a central figure telling them how to learn. .

Students want to control their learning path – they need guidance but not a gatekeeper. While Don Tapscott and I don’t always meet eye to eye, I am on board with the concept of actual student-centred learning, which is very hard to achieve. The very structure of the university is not set up for student-centred learning. The current model of the classroom still privileges a factory, industrial model. The desks are aligned in exact rows; students sit as units of production, and the factory supervisor or professor supplies knowledge to the units. Just to prove my point further, it might make you more than a little queasy to know that students are regularly referred to as Basic Units of Funding (BIU). Each student reported to the Ministry of Training, Colleges, and Universities (MTCU) in Ontario (and I am sure this is true at ministries of education nationwide) is worth a certain amount of money. Clearly, post-secondary education requires funding, but from the way the MTCU configures its relationship to students to the actual architecture of the classroom, students are to be processed rather than actively engaged with. Ken Robinson, in his talks for the Royal Society and TED , has been telling us about this problem for years, but what have we done about it?  What I have discovered in using cloud computing tools (like Google Docs) in an industrial classroom is that these tools show us just how outmoded the university system really is. The good news is that these tools can transcend the industrial classroom.

I have been reading up about how others use Google Docs, and there are ideas bandied about like “stump the instructor” – in this particular assignment, students ask the teacher questions that they think might stump the teacher. This is an exercise in positioning the teacher as gatekeeper – the “holder-of-the-knowledge.” In other words, the digital tool is put into service of a certain type of learning. I mean, students could just write a question on a piece of paper and hand it to the teacher, so what’s the use of the digital tool, in this case? When Google Docs is used for actual collaboration, something incredible happens: students take control of the classroom and they love it. Unlike having students give a presentation where they mimic the professor (in essence), Google Docs allows them to take on an active role in constructing the class.

It can seem chaotic at first, because as the students log in and take on their Google ID (or if they do not have a Google Plus account – and most don’t – they are given animal identities like “anonymous liger”), they all seem to be randomly roaming the document as a bunch of cursors…..

All Together Now

but then something wonderful happens – they start to work together on one (digital) page that is a hybrid of the word processing application they use AND the social networking sites they interact on. Guess what? They collaborated brilliantly and productively. So much so that I could not keep up. Next time, I will use “time outs” where we stop and look at what everyone has done and then go back to the document. I should add that the Doc was up on the big screen so everyone could see on their screens and for those without the ability to connect (only 2 people out of 30), they could see as well and also share with classmates. The screen actually create a hub for us as we collaborated.

Students were answering the questions I asked on the Doc enthusiastically and passionately – and they also answered each other’s question on the doc!  The conversation on this digital page was electric, and when I asked students why they were so enthusiastic about this particular tool, they said that they felt at ease communicating in this format. They felt empowered by being able to add their thoughts without feeling pressure to answer (and, therefore, be judged) me directly. Instead of me being “the boss” they must answer to – I was just another roaming cursor adding to the document. Interesting – no? I think the impulse by some teachers will be to condemn “this generation,” who need to learn social skills and so forth. I have not seen a decline in social skills (there are as many rude middle aged folks as young folks, I’ll wager). No, the point here is that the need to communicate collaboratively is as strong as ever but the venue has changed, and post-secondary pedagogy is way behind. Native digital users communicate through online collaboration (e.g. social platforms) and teachers need to get on board or lose student interest and vitality. You can dig your heels in a wish for a better time or join in and have a blast.

Here is a snippet of what we produced in real time (note – students used bolding, color, and italics but all was erased in  the cutting and pasting of that document to this document):

Google Docs Transcript

Question One (I know, this is really a series of questions, but they are linked!)

In both Alice in Wonderland and The Wizard of Oz, the lead characters leave reality, enter fantasy, and, in the end, return to reality. Are Alice and Dorothy changed by their experience? Does the fantasy world challenge the norms of reality? Does the fantasy world support certain norms? Does the return from the fantasy world negate the social criticism found in the fantasy world? For that matter, what social criticism did you detect in either story?

So?  Any answers?

Alice and Dorothy return from the fantasy world with new perspectives of their own world/reality.  (SM, MB, GM)

In Dorothy’s world, the fantasy does challenge the norm of reality when she first sees the colourful and abundant flowers, which she wishes were in Kansas. (GM)  The colours and “aliveness” of Oz really influence Dorothy’s worldview in that she is so taken aback by the brightness

I don’t think Alice and Dorothy are changed by the experiences but they bring the changes with them when they return. (Ed)

That’s an interesting point. What did Alice “bring back” with her?

Answer to purple text: Alice brings back a different view for her sister and a brief lapse back into her childhood, (as read to us by Sara). (Ed)

Alice brings back the value of imagination and wonder which children were taught to grow out of in order to have a successful adulthood. Alice introduces the idea that fantasy cannot/should not be defined by age. This is a positive spin on the story, which is important – most often, it is seen as defining girls as“civilizers.”

The fantasy world definitely changes the norms of reality but only in the Western sense of norms. (Ed) That’s true

The criticism of reality dissipates at the end of the story, as Alice and Dorothy discard their adventures at the end of the story, but the reader may change his/her perception of reality based on the fantasy world. (Ed)

Good point-why would dorothy want to return to such a grey place (kansas) when she could remain in the colourful world of Oz?

Dorothy wants to return to Kansas in order to be with her family; her auntie and uncle. Maybe to her the beauty and fantasy of the Oz is worthless in the light of her loved ones. (GM) Interesting point – and Em certainly changes

In terms of social criticism-in The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, Dorothy remarks that her land is civilized-there are no witches or wizards there…perhaps alluding to the isolation that different people face? The witch then explains that while there are bad witches, there are also good witches maybe challenging people not to judge those who are strange to society? (BK) I think this is a really good point. There is a lot of diversity in Oz and Dorothy also frees a lot of oppressed peoples

Is there any significance in Alice growing and shrinking? Also, is there any significance with the rabbits white glove that he drops, Alice picks it up, and then puts it on? (BK)    Yes.

I believe that the size changes represent the power of adults in society. Adults hold the power in society and when Alice grows in size she is able to exert more power over the other characters.    YES!

the size changes can be seen as Alices perspective changing … in the end alice turns into a giant and she is able to speak up against the nonsensical trial. YES!
the size change can represent the changes the body goes through in adolescence?

Perhaps- as much as a female wants to grow(for lack of a better word) they are constantly brought back down? (BK) Any advancements that were made for women in society were shortly lived before they were brought back down to size?

Children were previously viewed as passive in their own intellectual and moral development.  Alice has to learn how to take an active role in her own development (whether she’s making herself smaller or bigger).  Perhaps this is the author’s way of endorsing the agency of children.

Since Alice always has problems when she grows bigger, maybe since children are smaller they are able to do and see things that adults cannot? (GM)

The growing and shrinking could represent her lack of experience, or in this case her feeling inferior to something she doesn’t understand, and she grows as she begins to understand and get some measure of control over a new experience.  For instance, she shrinks when she realizes she can’t get the key but stops when she calms herself down enough to think.  In regards to the Rabbits house she is completely thrown by the change of (attitudes? behaviours?) in this strange world but begins to grow when she believes she can exert a manner of control or understanding. (Ed)

(MH, MM)Their experiences do change them in the sense that the characters are no longer jaded, they have a newfound understanding of the world around them in the sense of understanding people and how not all people are who they appear. It does challenge the norms of reality in the sense that it makes a kind of makes a mockery of real culture, like when Alice is falling through the rabbit hole and consumerism follows her as she looks at the different items surrounding her. The fantasy world supports the norm of childhood curiosity and actually encourages it, by way of providing many things intended to encourage the child to question, study and judge the world around them (example being the curiosity of Dorothy in whilst in Oz of her surroundings and the strange people she meets, or Alice and the vivid and somewhat terrifying world that surrounds her).

I think Alice comes back more mature than before her journey because she’s experienced life on her own. But how do we know that? We only have her sister’s view of things…but an interesting idea. Because it’s HER story, does she have power?

Alice brings back to the world a willingness to fantasize that adapts to fit the world it is now a part of, which she passes on to others in the world, such as her sister.  It’s not the full, intense fantasy of Wonderland, as it does not seem to directly alter the physical world, but it is a mental fantasy that transforms the world through perception–a fantasy about Alice’s still somewhat mystical future and a romanticization of the “real world”. (Carly)

In Alice in Wonderland the criticisms are rampant.  At the end of her adventures there’s a massive ‘dis’ of Western courts.  The croquet game is a parody of how lucid rules and regulations are.  The tea party was discussed in class.  With the baby the duchess was caring for the critique was how much value we put on children, in this case a baby is represented as a pig. (Ed)

Technological Rationality and You

The development of a highly technological academic learning environment is at once both exciting and intriguing. This exploratory post will use ideas founded within Herbert Marcuse’s work, drawing ideas in particular from One-Dimensional Man. Although it was published in 1964 and written with particular economic and cultural frameworks in mind, many of the ideas presented are still relevant to today’s world, some of which are increasing in relevance, rather than declining, possibly indicating negative or backward trends in society as a whole. This post will also examine the use of technology in the classroom, as well as the relationship of technology and the typical assignments.

A main theme in One-Dimensional Man is an idea of one-dimensional thought. It is a self-imposed limitation on freethinking, where people follow prescribed patterns of thought, are indoctrinated into specific ways of thinking, and a strong trust in operationalized definitions. We follow the definitions too closely, and this prevents a “far reaching” change in thought. People are indoctrinated in a manner that consumes the entire individual, rather than just being a set of teachings for example. Technology and mass production have enabled this method of total indoctrination.

In a broader sense of the idea of one-dimensional thought, we can look at increased issues of accessibility of knowledge. Wikipedia, although vastly improved from its previous states, presents a point in fact of the dangers of open-access material; it shows us how a database can become something of a default knowledge base people go to, and can become regarded as some sort of dogma. Due to the ease of accessibility and ease of editing, I believe this is producing what Marcuse called a self-limitation in thought. Studies have linked changing brain patterns when it comes to deciding where to find data, with the more-open internet, particularly Google, becoming a default search base instead of asking others knowledgeable in the subject, doing some hard-copy research, or accessing databanks/search engines such as EBSCOhost. I believe this contributes to a self-limitation of thought; we are thinking less and less for ourselves, instead quickly turning to search engines to see what other people think, and rely on that rather than getting multiple opinions or data; our resourcefulness has decreased. The long-term impact of self-limitation of thought is quite negative, but in the learning environment there is a two-fold effect that has to be recognized.

First is a de-skilling of learning capabilities. Many students today are lacking in understanding how to use resources, and how to really pull information from academic work. Students tend to search first, and think later. There is also the old argument of the internet creating a text dialect, a horrid shorthand of English. Digital tools such as spell-check also allow students to be lazier, although this is debatable since many students still somehow manage hand in assignments riddled with errors. Second, is the erosion of academic freedom, meaning students are not truly learning, they are being dictated to, and being specifically formed to take their place in the system. Although this is a granted and obvious effect, it is often not recognized as such because, as Marcuse points out, the system does a wonderful job of hiding this purpose within it. The lack of resourcefulness and tendencies to take information at face value without giving it deeper thought or reading supporting documents creates a flawed “learning” environment. Although this is not as bad at the post-secondary level, anything with a “curriculum” or departments/instructors that are somewhat censored are doing a disservice to academic growth.

As I noted in my previous post, there have been major calls to integrate technology in the modern classrooms of the twenty-first-century. Classrooms have been slow to adopt computerized methods of teaching for a variety of reasons, including economic factors, methodology conflicts, and general access. However, there has recently been a push to equip the academic environment with technology; again, as I noted earlier, what is the point if the technology is not used properly, faulty, or simply not effective? Marcuse made note of the “self-validating hypotheses” being “repeated hypnotically” in society, and the push to integrate technology is exactly this. We constantly hear that digital interfaces will enhance the learning environment, and it is taken for granted that this is the case. However, the consequences are being overlooked in favour of accelerated mobilization. We have heard the adverse effects on health from wireless internet in some schools, yet they decide to press on with it. The extremely rapid obsolesce rate of technology does nothing to help either. What good is it to implement a series of technological marvels if they will be outdated in a relatively short span of time? This planned obsolesce is nothing more than greed, and leads to the current problem of recycling and waste that is being experienced by the digital world.

One of the larger themes in One-Dimensional Man is the idea of a “technological rationality.” Marcuse suggested that everything in society is being operationalized, rationalized, and brought into a scientific order. However, technological rationality works to protect dominate social structures at all times. It contributes to the creation of and sustains a monoculture, a “rational” culture, where everything is accounted for, specifically defined, and freethinking is limited and discouraged. This is where our needs are defined, and our drive towards those needs created, whether or not they are Marcuse’s “true or false” needs. Everything is confined within these figurative boundaries of the monoculture. One-dimensional thought is created by this structure as well.

A major issue with technological rationality is that it treats everything equally, that any idea or object is to be steamrolled and absorbed into the whole by totally disregarding any inequalities or differences. This is what is prevailing in the bid to equip schools with digital learning interfaces. It is often assumed that all kids these days are brought up with modern technology, or that it is “natural” to them. This is a sweeping generalization. There are often considerable gaps when it comes to access of technology, especially if we consider rural areas. This assumption also takes for granted that parents allow children to have extensive use of computers at home, or mobile technology, and more importantly assumes that the economic capital for constantly up-to-date technology is available. This is not always the case. For example, although many of my peers are quite proficient with technology and love to live connected to it, I was not brought up with it; I did not get internet until 2005 (dial-up on windows 98), and did not have a reasonably decent computer and internet until 2008, at which point I was finishing high school. Living in a suburban area with many working class families, I know many who were not brought up immersed in technology, dislike using it, and dislike seeing much of it used in classrooms. Many of my peers prefer auditory lecture styles, with slideshows being a reference point only.

How will the assignments change? We have seen how technology has created a cycle where people are bound more to work after their work hours are complete. It is possible for the same thing to happen with higher tech classrooms. For example, if the students are equipped with tablets or laptops, are they going to have to do more work outside of class than ever? Marcuse emphasized the new need for continuous, mentally stupefying labour, and wasting time on a laptop or tablet is the perfect fit. On the flip-side, what if people are not equipped with these things, but have no access to them? Way to go, technological rationality.

It is undeniable that there are issues with boredom in the classroom. Classic ways of teaching have been victimized, and it is argued that technology will make it “better.” On its face, this seems like it would be a good thing; a more interactive environment stimulates the student to pay more attention. However, there is an equally arguable point that if the student is simply not interested in the subject matter, the format of delivering the material will not matter. Statistics, taught by lecture, PowerPoint, Prezi, in a computer lab, or by workshop, is still statistics, and thus still likely bores the students. It is an issue of self-discipline; the burden cannot always be laid on the teacher or the methods of teaching. This smacks of the entitled generation, wherein the kids and students of today never seem to be at fault.

If the issue of learning is boredom, how does a technological environment solve the issue? Having access to multiple efficient resources is one thing, but what to do with them? People need to be taught how to use these things, and in turn the lesson once again becomes linear. To solve boredom, one must entertain, and Marcuse suggested “entertainment may be the most effective mode of learning,” given that we can distance ourselves from the entertainment. A digital classroom immerses us in the entertainment. This entertainment idea is dangerous, for it raises the chance of the lessons not being taken seriously, and also demeans the educative environment. Just look at how classes that bring in movies are looked at; easy, not taken seriously at all. Will digital classrooms be looked at in a similar way?

There are research projects currently being conducted that investigate the introduction of social media into the learning environment. How do we view this integration? To me this seems like a way of continuing the “happy consciousness,” that the student must be occupied at all times to make it seem like the system is working just fine. It is a problem maker that simply hides the problems. Is it really boredom, or is it an addiction, not necessarily an addiction to technology, but an addiction to being in contact with people? Perhaps we should be critiquing how traditional constructions of space and interaction have created an atmosphere of isolation, and looking at social media as a way of fulfilling the desire of interaction, since it transcends physical constructions of space. Such a desire is amplified by the fact that society isolates us from each other.

Here we look to Marcuse’s idea of a cultural diffusion. Education, historically, was a marker of class and wealth. It was only a gradual process that enabled the general population to be educated. Lower culture was readily absorbed into the process, and the higher culture aspects were brought down and blended with the lower cultural meanings to create a harmonious and smooth operation. Negative aspects of society are also absorbed into this harmonious whole. The key to the success of this idea is looking to the past, and convincing ourselves that it is better now than it was before.

As such, technology is only being integrated on the terms of dominant social structure. As we have seen here with Blackboard 9, corporate business has a strong interest in integrating technology with academia. Currently, learning with digital media can only be implemented and accomplished if someone stands to profit by it, and the results of learning with these digital tools produces a citizen that is within both societal and corporatist interests. We know corporations pay scientists or scholars to represent a certain angle of a given topic, and regular people to support it. What kind of impact can this have on a database? How can the academic community regulate itself to maintain academic freedom? The third party interests are what need addressing the most. It is essential to construct the most neutral as possible environment for students to learn, so they can think for themselves and choose their own path.

We are constantly looking for ways to do things differently from the past. I always come across self-congratulatory writing about how we have “come so far from our barbaric past,” particularly when I was doing research on mental health and asylums. Needless to say, usually a lot of the references of the barbaric past are changes that have happened within relatively small frameworks of time. It is a delusion of grandeur and egoism. Highly technical academic learning environments will be praised in much the same manner, but they will still suffer from lazy, distracted students, plagiarism, and boredom. They will still suffer from ineffective instructors and poor methodologies. Nevertheless, they will be considered much better than before, and a justification for these new methods will be always found and held onto.

Technological classrooms have the potential to entirely dominate the student. A continuous connection contributes to that absorption of the entire body I mentioned earlier. Marcuse wrote that technology shows us how unfree we actually are. We cannot disconnect from it, and it blinds us from understanding the true causes of our frustrations and oppression. Our data is collected, analyzed, and then we are sold.  The growth of technology is a constant reflection of not just advancements in capabilities in research and development, but also a growing understanding in how to cater to us better by providing a piece of technology for every purpose imaginable. We are not just connected to technology in the class, but we are connected to those who control the technology, the dominant social structure; we are surveilled, analyzed as a statistic, and understood. This is why cultural diffusion is necessary, to hide the domination of the upper strata by infusing our own meanings into technology. In the recesses of our minds, we understand how fully entrapped we are, and escape is extremely difficult, if not impossible. We find some way to justify this, and thus, in the end, we are “better off than before.” Technological classrooms are generated as a “false” need that people orient to as something rational, something worth desiring, even if it is not. This goes back to the whole idea of praising ourselves, and satisfying our “happy conscious,” and believe everything in the system is rational, working, and efficient.

As this has probably been an overwhelmingly cynical read, I must look for the positive. Through the cynicism of Marcuse’s work, he describes the “Great Refusal,” wherein he believed society could change for the better if people took an active part in resisting arbitrative change and thinking for themselves. The same thing applies to integrating digital media to the learning environment. Although it is a possibility, technology in the classroom is not necessarily a doomed idea. If it resists the operationalized, “rational,” standardized approach that is often undertaken by authority, there is a chance that digital interfaces can enhance the academic learning environment, particularly in the social sciences and the humanities. Strong students and teachers can make use of extended classroom dialogue through digital media, update information as it comes out, and developing stronger ideas by encouraging stronger peer-to-peer engagement. Highly interactive interfaces that are controlled and fully understood by both the instructor and the student are something worth striving for. Technology is only what people make of it, especially in academia.

People can claim that using technology has enhanced learning. There can be no doubt that it has had great effects so far. Nevertheless, the gears of progress seem to have stopped, it is stagnate. Tradition and the economics of today are holding technology back. Progress is stalled by greed, by those who wish to profit off new modes of learning. In traditionalist terms, technology has been making learning easier, and Marcuse suggested that we strongly “militate” ourselves against any fundamental changes that make life easier, but take away traditional roles. To move forward there needs to be a break in the old, constrained modes of thinking.

There needs to be a critical evaluation of these plans to integrate technology in a classroom. To substitute one form of classroom boredom to another is entirely pointless; technological teaching can be equally or more ineffective than bad teaching in the current system. Although I believe it can be used effectively if used in very particular manners, it is not the fix that some people hope it is. The student of today is equally a major factor of failing classroom experience as inefficient teaching methods. There needs to be a shift in the way people think, and how change how education is viewed and valued rather than simply patching the problem.

Credit for inspiration and ideas, One-Dimensional Man

Panopticism in the Classroom

by Allen Kempton 

Technology for Technologies Sake?

Calls have been made to integrate technology into the classroom by both academics and students. As a result, many classrooms have been hastily equipped with sometimes faulty equipment that nobody can use, or even want to learn how to use, such as SMARTBoards. Almost every room in my school is equipped with this board, yet it is not utilized to its fullest extent or potential, if used at all. Most professors and students use it as a projector screen. This kind of defeats the purpose of such technology in the class room.

However, assuming technology can and will be fully integrated into the academic learning environment, there are some things that need to be critiqued and explored. For example, how can an instructor facilitate a class that is technologically dependent? How is it accomplished? How can productive discipline with technology be created? Arguably, technology provides more distractions than one can possibly imagine in a classroom. Countless times I have seen students playing games, watching videos, talking with friends, etc, during class hours. How can we negotiate a discipline amongst students without being too intrusive? This is difficult subject to address, but it is well worth probing.

The Panopticon

Foucault’s model of the disciplinary society is the concept I will use for this investigation into the intersections between tech and teaching. The Panopticon, the architecture theorized by Jeremy Bentham, serves as a basis for the disciplinary society. In essence, the Panopticon is a structure that allows for maximum supervision, technically all-seeing, with minimal effort. The original idea was a central guard tower in a prison, where the guards could see all the prisoners at any given time, but the prisoners could not see the guards. It was always unverifiable whether or not guards were actually watching, but the prisoners had to act as if someone was watching them at all time, creating discipline. Foucault expanded the idea to work at the level of general society, termed “panopticism.” The description of how this is accomplished is deep and intricate, but for the sake of this discussion we can summarize by suggesting that society is deeply surveilled in ways we would not think possible at this moment. Our actions are monitored, our data is collected, signs of surveillance are everywhere, and somewhere all this data is analyzed and acted upon. Here, panopticism’s effect of discipline is realized. A coercive power that pushes people into doing things, to act in certain ways, and orient to the very idea that we are constantly being scrutinized and judged. With this, we can head back to the integration of technology in the classroom. Let’s stick with the classroom for now, because the effect of panopticism on publicly available digital databases is too deep for this first exploratory post.

Technology in the academic environment is also monitored to some degree. A panoptic effect, insofar as it is unverifiable by many. Indeed, most students I know were shocked to learn that instructors have the ability to monitor students’ actions to some degree on Blackboard. Recently I learned school e-mails are monitored as well. Some tech classes use classroom management software that allows the administrator or instructor to view what is happening on any given screen in the classroom, provided the computers are hooked up to the same system. In programs like Khan’s Academy, stats are collected to see where focus is needed most. Beyond the educative technologies, we are observed by video surveillance cameras in classrooms as well. Most of the time this is done without the knowledge, much less consent, of the students, although it is not like we are given a choice. Increasing awareness of the pervasiveness of marketeering in programs is causing some degree of concern among instructors (as seen with the advertisements in BlackBoard 9 – read our scathing critique of Blackboard here), and causing some people to automatically assume they are being observed while operating technology.

Although we are aware of some degree of observation, this does not mean it is approved. Often we are forced into submission: get watched or don’t get the program! In a conspiracy theorist sort of way, the possibilities of abuse of panopticism in school systems is terrifying. In America, there was a report of a student being penalized for an incident on a school supplied computer while at home; if I recall correctly, it was “inappropriate use,” but the point is that the principal could view what the student was viewing at any given moment. Schools like UOIT (University of Ontario Institute of Technology) supply school computers; do we know all the programs within them? Not likely. If current surveillance technologies in classrooms right now are an indication of anything, it is not unreasonable to predict that a more fully integrated academic environment will be even more observed. The very issue of observation must be addressed.

This point of view seems overwhelmingly negative; for the most part, this is true. However, as Foucault points out, observation can be utilized to increase efficiency. Technology provides the number one distraction because people are convinced they can get away with it. An integrated system that allows peers to see what the other is doing could possibly be an optimal solution. With an integrated system, people should be able to see who is slacking on the work at hand. In an academic space, people who are consciously neglecting their task should feel compelled to get back to work if all eyes of the classroom are on them. If all the members of the classroom have the ability to observe, this protects against a centralized, unverified power. People tend to be very self-aware of their actions on a computer if they are being watched, and so the possibility for increased focus on the task at hand is much greater. By increasing focus, more productive discourse and analysis can be made on whatever the given assignment is. Collective creativity can also produce better works, and can facilitate some interesting interaction.

A major factor in the distraction of students I believe is an unwillingness to engage in discourse with each other. A panoptic sort of idea where everybody communicates with each other can help solve boredom. Social media allows us to get to know each other better, as it acts as a disciplined partition in a sense, that we display who we are. If we have a built-in forum for students to learn about each other in the classroom, there is greater opportunity for people to get to know each other, and thus make it easier to talk to each other. Society today is very good at isolating people, but it does not have to be this way. An integrated social media forum in the classroom keeps the data relatively private, if handled appropriately, and is far more effective than the little ice-breakers some professors do, as it lasts longer and enables broader communication. Discussion where people are comfortable with each other tends to produce the best results, as people are not so afraid to state contradictory views. Technology with its panoptic attributes can help achieve this.

Implementation is the key. Panopticism in the academic environment can be either a negative or positive tool, and must be recognized as such. It must not be used as a mechanism of power; it must be able to be used and understood by all participants. One must look at surveillance technologies in a classroom beyond something as simple deterrence, and understand the true effect of the power of mind over mind. Foucault suggested that the effect of panopticism as an educative device can be remarkably effective, as with work ethics. Let us not forget the use of visibility beyond simple definitions of discipline.