Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Our View of Technology as Progress After the 32nd Square

Albert Teich's excellent book entitled "Technology and the Future" discusses and offers debate on thinking about technology. The work is full of excellent papers and essays debating the pros and cons of technology and offering philosphies on progress and how it relates to technology. The first essay in this work is by Leo Marx and is as relevant today as when it was first published. In it, Marx asks if technology means progress and if it does "toward what?" I wonder, if as Neil Postman and Leo Mark suggest, we have lost our interest in this question. Is technological progress in of itself a sufficiently reliable basis for progress? Is the mear introduction of technology into the educationaly process in of itself a sufficiently reliable basis to say we are making progress in education?
[@more@]The speed at which new technologies enter our society and their complexity make it difficult for institutions like education to protect themselves from it. Quality education takes thought. Thought takes time, reflection, reading, pondering. Technology demands immediate attention, not careful study. Can education afford to act so quickly? Can education afford to wait?

Introductory Computer Science courses at many colleges and universities moved from an "Intro to the latest programming language" to more applications focused (Microsoft Office) in a couple short decades. To those outside education, it appears we moved too slowly. To those of us inside it, this rapid change in an INTRODUCTORY course is - well - curious. How can a fundemental course in a discipline be based on such transitory knowledge?

I can't help seeing the similarities in this "Age of Technology" that Thomas Carlyle did when he first coined the term "Age of Machinery" in his 1829 essay Sign of the Times. Carlyle worried that machinery would become the dominant or exclusive mode for whatever they were designed for. Now, as then, there are those that worry that this is true. I worry this is true, especially in education. It is nearly impossible in higher education today to speak up against a technology. Course managment systems, virtual 3D worlds, wikis, blogs, web pages, etc. are the bread and butter of education today. Oddly, NONE of them existed a mear 20 years ago. Can education afford to move so quickly? Can it afford not to?

No comments: