Adventures of MOOC – Week 1

So this is my first week with an online course — which are conveniently deemed MOOCs (Massive Open Online Course) — on coursera.org. The course is entitled “E-learning and Digital Cultures” and the basic goal is to reflect on how technology influences progress in education and what it means for human development.

The first week’s topic relates to the theory of technological determinism or the basic idea that technology determines social progress as opposed to social progress accounting for advances in technology. The question is whether this outlook produces a utopian or dystopian perception of society. I’m intrigued already by the videos and readings available on the topic, because I hadn’t really given it much thought before. Now, after some initial investigation, I can’t help but reflect on my own experiences with technology and my current role as high school teacher and technology coach in my school. When I think about the technology I use on a daily basis, it seems easy to accept the deterministic view yet I can’t decide as to whether this is creates a utopia or dystopia.

Interestingly, my school was able to purchase Macbooks computers for all of the students in the large public high school where I teach. The teachers spent months last year and this year learning the Moodle (free version of blackboard) to implement in class in an effort to fuse the gap between home and school learning. Since the summer professional development has centered around integrating this technology along with all other computer tools and applications into everyday lessons. Part of this has to do with the influence of technology in the career world (prepare students for these jobs) and the other part is to enhance the student’s education (differentiate and engage with the hottest trends). I am only 24 years old and this is only my second year teaching so for me this change is not too great, but for veteran teachers I can see how the change could seem daunting and far removed from where they began their careers. I can at least remember when dry erase boards replaced chalk boards and when overhead projectors were relatively great tools of instruction.

The question then is this: are schools modifying themselves to adopt these technologies or are these technologies modifying the schools? This year my department is going through its textbook adoption process to adopt a new series for next year. It seems that most of the dialogue about which company to go with center around technology. Gone are the days of textbooks with laminated materials and overheads. Gone are the days of cumbersome textbooks in students’ backpacks. Instead, the teachers and I have focused on selecting a company that provides the best online resources and interactive activities and digital (adaptable) materials.

I agree with the Chandler readings that a deterministic view is an overly simplistic model to account for technological progress. It does fascinate me, however, to think that all of the changes currently happening in schools are driven by technological advances. Maybe the progression is inevitable–that is,   people will always be creating and discovering new technologies to enhance every facet of society. I don’t think that technological progression alone determines how society evolves, but I can firmly say that the 21st century is already characterized by every new and rapidly evolving tech fad.  

Will all of these fads eventually lead to a dystopic society? One could argue that the relation between technology and society is in some ways oppositional. Think for a moment about how technology erodes human interaction in modern society. The more technology advances, the less humans actually have to interact with one another, the more obsolete many careers become as experts cease to be experts in the age of widespread knowledge, the less satisfying everyday interactions are when instead a quick escape into virtual reality provides immediate gratification. One can only speculate where these changes will take us only a few years into the future. Will all of those futuristic doomsday media such as “The Island” or “Brave New World” or “War of the Worlds” or “The Giver” come true? Only time will tell.

I have already become engrossed in this topic and can’t stop thinking of all the possible conversations centering around it. I only hope that the remaining four weeks of this course bring some insight and closure to my mind’s wanderings.

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