The Skeptic Redux

Had a couple of comments on the Google article that got my brain fired up. Primarily, I don’t think it does us any good to start defining the Web 2.0 conversation with “No, it’s not THIS that’s the issue with Web 2.0, it’s really THIS” premises.

I think there’s three issues in intertwining, simultaneous play here, particularly when it comes to our kids.

One: How Web 2.0 changes the way we actually process information.

I mean, yeah, I can accept the idea that Google isn’t actually making us dumber, per se, particularly if you’re feeling weird about the elitist feel of Carr’s judging the Internet by Socrates. But I don’t think anyone can argue with the article’s thesis on its bare bones: we are reading differently– judging the truth, falsity, and relation of information differently– because of Web 2.0.

Are we simply teaching kids how to use Voicethread and Facebook and Skype? Or are we talking in equal measure about (for only one example) how the increasing loss of face to face contact changes how we judge another person in our very consciousness? How much more fundamental can the evaluation of information get?

Two: How Web 2.0 increases the amount of information to which we have access.

We’re talking about 1:1 laptops for third world countries in Africa, and yet not giving kids solid tools to whittle down an information load which is completely unmanageable to adults. I’ve yet to see a rubric, flowchart, or set of guidelines for tech “sifting” which receives a fifth of the attention the two mobile labs do in my building.

Three: How Web 2.0 changes the quality of the information itself.

The democratization of the Internet may be a glorious thing, and yet bloggers on Crooked Timber are also bemoaning the loss of a sense of authority in the world of ideas. Who is trained? Who can be an expert? Who can we trust to guide us through the Web 2.0 thicket, where, as Joe says in the comments, because everything is important, nothing is important?

Andrew Sullivan solves this problem by invoking the Greeks, the bread and butter rules of logic and rhetoric which, while time-tested and true, are no longer standard fare in our schools—if they ever were.

Similarly, folks I know and trust rely on the scientific method, but I know of few educators, if any, who meaningfully extrapolate its rigor beyond the lab.

Additionally the rules of slide and web design may be Dan’s bailiwick, but who’s teaching our kids why Comic Sans makes users judge its content differently than Times New Roman, except in some AP Art class in suburban Connecticut?

And I know of virtually no one who gives any kind of airtime in their classrooms to the ideas of David Abram and Chet Bowers—that there is also useful, personal, powerful knowledge which is neither Western, scientific, nor rational.

What’s the larger point here?

To me—and perhaps this is my ten-ton, wicked, white-elephant problem with tech in the classroom— we simply don’t have the right metaphor in place for Web 2.0 . Our narrative— the story we tell in our classrooms about technology, the story which makes it navigable, meaningful, and useful to kids— is ridiculously weak. And it’s going to get us in trouble.

Most educators and ed tech specialists tell the story of Web 2.0 as if it is nothing more than another version of a bookbag. An amazing, engaging, bottomless, world-holding, lightning-fast bookbag, to be sure, and one that has a ton of fancy buckles, buttons, and combination locks that require some significant (and fun! and well paying!) training.

But the thing about a bookbag is that, in the end, it just holds things. That’s all it does.

It does not fundamentally metamorphosize either what’s inside it— or who’s looking into it.

Who’s talking about the Internet like that?

Think about it. Think about the conversations you’ve had recently about technology. Just this week. Are they bookbag conversations?

Think about how cautiously you would approach a bookbag, if you knew that opening it would change its books into fruit bats.

And then rearrange your face.

3 thoughts on “The Skeptic Redux

  1. Dina –

    I immediately read and shared the Atlantic article when you shared it – it really made me think about how I read and process. Thanks so much for pointing us to the article.

    As for the bookbag, I have to say that this is NOT how I discuss technology. I’m struggling to come up with the proper term (your use of bookbag is great!) but I tend to be a lot more cautious about evangelizing technology use in personal practice. It’s just another tool and I try to treat it as such – picking the perfect tool (whether it be high tech or low tech) for a job is the most important thing.

    Oh, and I actually do teach this (at a bit lower level) to 4th graders 🙂 “but who’s teaching our kids why Comic Sans makes users judge its content differently than Times New Roman, except in some AP Art class in suburban Connecticut?”

    Thanks for making me think so deeply about this topic – I’m still exploring all of the resources you provided above!

  2. Thank you, thank you, Kate. My writing on tech needs pushback– in particular I realize in re-reading this post that my criticisms are sounding much more sweeping than I intend. I stand by them, but I speak only from my experience… and really appreciate hearing from other related “worlds.”

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