I have heard our current state of human society and technological phenomena referred to being our ‘technological adolescence’. I liked this description because it captures my perception of our uncritical headlong rush to technologize everything without considering the significance of technology in the formation of they ways we think and what it is capable for us to think, or the things we do, and what we are capable of doing. The fact is that our human involvements with technology are inextricably combined to our survival. Technology is a phenomena of human existence. It would seem that we would do well to actually examine our relationship to technology and discuss what it means to the formation of our human society.
The professional development model for technology has been organized around one-off events wherein an ‘expert’ introduces a group of learners to a new device, software application or online resource (or combination of all three). This introduction has traditionally been structured as a curriculum of the devices, software application or online resources – an inventory of functionalities. The pedagogy of this professional development model as been transmissive – the instructor is transmitting their knowledge of device functionality to the learning group in an orderly fashion. The pedagogy has also been based on a graduated acquisition of knowledge, the idea that learning takes place in graduated steps. In this case, the graduated acquisition of knowledge is codified in step-by-step instructions.
We now have more than 2 decades of one-time only transmissive technology pro-d that has resulted in many kilograms of step-by-step instructions in the form of handouts, books, and online user manuals and help screens.
The central problem of this approach is that it is based on an industrial conception of learning – the idea that learning can be compartmentalized into discrete packets of knowledge to be transmitted and consumed in formalized rituals of learning. We know now that this form of learning is antithetical to real knowledge acquisition, and useless when it comes to actually being able to apply new knowledge in real world settings.
At present, the curriculum and pedagogy for tech pro d is an anachronism of a by-gone era. In the case of digital technology pro d, this approach is particularly ineffective. Digital technology, while appearing static or constant as it is embodied in plastic and metal, exists in a highly fluid, dynamic state. It is the flow of electricity, controlled through switches (such as these keyboard keys) that brings it to life. The fluidity is not only embodied in the flow of electrons, it is also embodied in the field of digital technological innovation, with new iterations of devices, software applications and online resources evolving everyday. The fluidity does not end with the forms of digital technology disclosed to us by developers and marketers. The fluidity also occurs in the forms we apply the digital technologies we have at our fingertips. Thus, I am exposed to a story about a 92 year old North Carolinian citizen who is taking up the banner of human rights once again to work to change voter laws that disenfranchise the poor. This is what I refer to as the dynamic contextual conditions of our involvements with digital technological phenomena.
The reason ‘how-to’ pro d has been an inadequate response to preparing professional development with digital technologies is that it is not a simple ‘how-to’ proposition. We are not learning to butter toast. We are learning to develop the necessary cognitive, cultural, and technological dispositions that will position us as leaders of societal change. The formation of our human societies is also fluid. Whether we are implementing government sanctioned oppression of LGBT in Russia, or supporting the restoration of Tesla’s homestead, we are expressing our values, beliefs and ethics in practice. Our professional development with digital technologies must be conceived as complex, evolving, periodic, experimental, risk-taking, collaborative, problem-solving, creative, critical endeavours. These professional development endeavours must focus on the relationships that we form, with, through, and about, digital technologies. They must involve the development of sophisticated social skills, humanist ethics, social justice, and sustainable economic concepts. These kinds of changes are not possible in one time only professional development sessions on how to merge addresses in Word.
What we really need is a multi-professional development response, one that educates parents, their children (all ages), teachers, administrators, politicians, bureaucrats, business leaders, small business owners, the elderly, and the disenfranchised. In our evolving society of the 21st century we need to evolve our cognitive, cultural and technological dispositions to ensure the formation of our future society attunes to our most deeply cherished values of what it means to be human.