Finding the Balance – and taking the plunge!

Finding the Balance

This evening I did my first Eduignite presentation! Very nervous and I am sure I gabbled but it seemed to be well received. What is an Eduignite evening? 20 slides on a fifteen second auto transition which gives you five minutes to speak on any topic dear to your heart! We heard eight inspiring talks this evening interspersed with good conversation and drinks and nibbles. The aim is to bring educators together to share and learn from each other in an informal gathering. There are Eduignite evenings held throughout the country usually in the penultimate week of each school term. Although we are often tired and feeling the pressures of the end of term by then if you make the effort to get to one it certainly gives you a boost in terms of ideas and creativity.

Here is the transcript of my presentation – the link to the slides is above.

Connections are important – our first connections with our parents help us to develop who we are, how we behave, how we interact with other people. Those habits inform our interactions with the the global online community.

It is important to maintain some balance in our relationships and our lives so that we don’t lose sight of our humanity in a world that is increasingly played out online. We have to maintain connections, build relationships and stay grounded.

We have to nurture our connections to nature if we are to maintain our dignity and humanity in the face of constant change. Maoist philosophy sees life as endless change in which we have to keep our minds open to grow and learn.

For me humanity is our ability to empathise, to care, to connect, to communicate, to feel, to believe, to be spontaneous; it is the spirituality that you can’t pin down but you know to be the essence of our relationships.

People are the root of our connections to the earth and our humanity so this sculpture called “Tangata Whenua” represents the idea of humanity. My son’s hand connects with the sculpture, connects him to the earth and to the people who inhabit it.

In adverts for new technology – I don’t know if you have seen the adverts for Corning Glass, nature often seems to be missing from visions of the future. Everything is white or glass and sterile. But I was struck by this description of an exhibition at the Hamilton Sculpture Park. ‘We sometimes forget our connection to nature and our instinctual selves when we are immersed in a society of fast information and constant stimulation.”

One of the artists suggested that our own experiences inform how we see the future, how we interact, how we cope with change. Is the past a beginning that opens up and generates connections? Does the past empty into the future? And is there a danger that our potential is limited by the limits we impose on ourselves.

So what effect has technology had on society and our humanity? Wide swathes of native bush and forest were cleared in the 1870s to make space for the extraction of gold. Massive stone pillars, towering buildings and huge cyanide tanks dominated the landscape which was once home to native flora and fauna.

Just over 100 years later nature has reclaimed the land. The amazing technology that belched steam, smoke and poison into the atmosphere has gone; the remnants of a once powerful technology are overgrown with flowers and shrubs and the birds are starting to return.

The online world has the capacity to reach across the world, across continents, into our living rooms, into the palms of our children’s hands. We have to engender a sense of responsibility, a sense of morality, a sense of belonging to a world that feeds us and nurtures us.

Nothing else has had that power since, perhaps, Gutenberg’s printing press, radio and then television. It is up to us to teach our children to filter, to be critical, to assess and to analyse what they see, hear and read; to consider their digital footprint as well as their environmental one – they are, after all, inextricably linked.

Midway is an island in the North Pacific 2000 miles from the nearest continent which is the subject of a film. It explores the plight of Layson albatross who ingest the plastic waste that we carelessly discard. It is a graphic and shocking expose of how our actions impact on nature and the environment.

And if our thoughtlessness about physical waste wreaks untold damage on the other side of the world, what might carelessness with our personal information do to humanity? Do we consider how what we post, how we share and how we interact with each other online affects other people and ourselves.

Technology is part of our lives. Technology is everywhere; In school we use pens and pencils, books, slates, blackboards, whiteboards, interactive whiteboards, tape recorders, computers, CD players, video players, data projectors.

At home we use telephones, mobile phones, dishwashers, washing machines, we watch television, we listen to radio, toast bread in toasters, heat food in microwaves. We drive cars, we have electric lights, heaters to keep us warm and air conditioning to keep us cool. The list is endless, so what is the problem?

What we accept today, without even thinking about it, is the disruptive technology of the past. Technology that made people stop and think about the status quo, it challenged people’s thinking, it changed the environment for better or for worse, it changed society and the way that we behave communicate, connect and interact.

There is always something new, but how long will it last? And what will be along to take its place? How does the way we use technology affect our humanity? If technology is always and has always and will always be with us, then we have to find our place within it. Where do we fit in as teachers and learners?

I believe there will always be a need for face to face teaching and learning. Online courses provide an extra dimension; they democratise education = anytime, anyplace, anywhere for anybody. But technology is just another tool to enhance learning….

The key to effective learning according to Dr John Hinchcliff is relationships and you really need to be face to face, in the same room to build relationships, don’t you?

John Hinchcliffe says “learning is taken to a higher level when it is done with humility, and with unconditional personal regard.” Which brings us back to relationships, to the way we interact, to the way we make connections and to humanity.

#edcmooc Sleek and white – a utopian vision of the future

I just watched the first two videos for Week 2 and am struck by the sterility of the environments that are portrayed. Where is the reality of a world of busy people rushing her there and everywhere, living, playing, eating, making a mess for heaven’s sake?!  Is the message somehow that the arrival of these amazing products will make our lives serene, stressfree, and successful? I guess that is the utopian model that is promoted but maybe I am unusual in enjoying a bit of colour, dirt, feeling and real life.

Yes, I would welcome less stress and for centuries man has striven to make our working and home lives easier by developing machines to do jobs for us. I would not do without my washing machine, car, tumble drier, dishwasher now that I have them. I reckon that there is no way that women would be able to work full time and manage a house without those machines because, at the risk of upsetting a minority of good men (my husband included), the housework and cooking does, more often than not, still get done by women!  That these machines have had an impact society and the way that we live is incontrovertible. However, there is a long way between making my life easier and the anodyne, emptiness of feeling that is suggested in these films. I think there also comes a point when a machine can’t do a job better than a human. I think that the idea of soul, feeling, emotions has been touched on in many posts and we haven’t quite managed to invent something that can replace the human touch.

But what of education? What is being learned and taught? I like the way that the computers used by the family in the second film are used to connect the family even though they are apart. The child could research on the computer for a recipe but also involve her Mum and tap into her experience and knowledge. They connected in a real way – what is more basic than cooking? There was the opportunity for emotional connection, to nurture relationships. Much has been made of the social impact of absent parents, the effect absences have on a child’s emotional and social development. Maybe that is the difference these tools can make? Maybe that is the impact the will have to change society? I think it is important that in both these films the children are seen using computers in a supported environment, they are guided by their parents. And because the whole environment appears to be connected the idea of being raised as a digital citizen, learning to interact and react within a virtual as well as a real world, is evident. Will this technology help shape and hone the social nature man? Will it change the way we think, act, interact, learn, work, live and die?

The ability to collaborate, share information, talk, communicate, connect – all key skills. But I don’t really see how the hardware they were using does that any differently to the way we can do those things now. Yes the gadgets are prettier and shinier, they have more potential but unless we change the way that we do things and not just the gadgets we do them with, what is the point?  I like the practical applications of the tools in the second film especially at the beginning when the two people communicate about accommodation and travel arangements.  Communication is clear, concise, effective; real communication in a real life contexts.

I go back to the sterility of the environment though because it was striking to me. The work environments had white walls, white or glass benches and tables, there were no pictures, no external stimulus. Even in the house which had some warmth, everything was in its place, it was a house and not a home. The only break in the whiteness was the “living” wall; a wall made of foliage. A connection to the outside worlds, to nature. This motif apears again and again in the course videos; the connection or disconnect between technology and nature.  How can we maintain our humanity, our soul if we don’t connect with nature? Surely a dystopian vision?