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Summoning the Spirit of the Dodo

Dodo bird on rock

© Chris Franek, 2013

Chris Franek returns with a word of warning to teachers about getting caught up in the speed of technological change.

In a previous post I talked about the infamous dodo bird that mysteriously became extinct in the late 17th century and how we teachers should take care not to suffer the same fate due to our occasional blind love affair with technology. It’s quite funny. My girlfriend often affectionately refers to me as a dodo. More accurately, she calls me a “dodo bird” which is somewhat confusing because I don’t know if she’s referring to an extinct bird or an idiot. I suspect both.

It got me thinking about the evolution of the meaning of the word dodo. As I mentioned in the previous blog post titled, “Is the Teacher Going the Way of the Dodo?” I talked about how the original dodo was the infamous now extinct bird that inhabited a remote island off of the eastern coast of Africa. Over time, that original definition of dodo was replaced by the more modern definition we have come to associate with the word, which as defined by Oxford English Dictionary, is “an old-fashioned, stupid, inactive, or unenlightened person”. Neither definition represents a condition any of us would want to find ourselves in – extinct or being an idiot. However, upon closer examination, I wonder if we should be careful not to quickly dismiss today’s dodo out of hand for fear of overlooking some of its hidden merits. Although our modern dodo may not have been able to save its feathered predecessor, it may paradoxically hold the clues to preventing our extinction as teachers.

I drive an older model car. It’s a car that I have had for many years now. Over the last few years, quite a few people have suggested to me that I should buy a new car. In the beginning, I felt a kind of urgency to do it but over time, I’ve started to wonder exactly why I would want a new car. I’ve always kept my car in great condition and, to be honest, I am quite fond of it. Nowadays, everyone wants to drive a new car, when in reality, an older, well-maintained used car performs the same task – getting one from point A to point B – equally effectively. Often, the argument for getting a new car can be distilled down to the notion that a new car is more effective than an old one. However, although that may be the case in some situations, I believe that in reality, most people want a new car more for the quality of “newness” rather than effectiveness, sometimes to the point of wanting one where having one isn’t even practical. If you live in New York City, for example, it makes almost no sense to have a car.

Technology is the classic case of “when you have a hammer, everything looks like a nail”. We’re obsessed with making technology the solution for every problem – sometimes to the point of seeing problems where problems don’t even exist. We claim that the motivation behind pushing technology into the classroom is that it is more effective for the modern learner but in reality, it’s often because it’s more fashionable and new. We live in a society that prizes “the new “and rejects “the old”. Newer is always championed as being better and I think nothing exemplifies this frame of mind more than our obsession with technology. The technology cycle is incredibly fast. You can get a gadget that is the latest “game changer” and within a couple of months it’s already half the distance to obsolescence and relegated to yesterday’s news pile. It’s easy to slowly and insidiously allow ourselves to be hypnotized by the siren call of technology’s manic sense of urgency. Society basically shames us into feeling we have to keep up with technology’s pace or risk being exiled to the island of irrelevance. So are we as teachers “stupid” if we do not board the technology bullet train with unquestioned zeal? Are we just being “old-fashioned” or “unenlightened” if we refuse to get with the program?

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Is The Teacher Going the Way of the Dodo?

Dodo bird

Image courtesy of net_efekt on Flickr

In this article, Chris Franek considers the risk to teachers posed by new and ever-evolving technologies.

Is technology a giant meteor that is threatening teachers with mass extinction? Are teachers perhaps like the infamous Dodo bird that mysteriously went extinct from its remote island off of the eastern coast of Africa in the late 17th century?

Dodo – such a funny name. In the contemporary use of the word, the Oxford English Dictionary defines “dodo” as “an old-fashioned, stupid, inactive, or unenlightened person.” This more modern association with the word might have relevant application for the purposes of this post as well; as such a person can also find himself on a path to extinction – be it in the literal or metaphorical sense. I was curious about the dodo in writing this blog post so I did some quick research using our good friend, Wikipedia. One theory about the cause of their extinction centers on the idea that because they lived on a remote island without any predators higher up in the food chain, when they encountered humans, they were unafraid and easily approached. This inevitably made them easy targets for capture and, ultimately, a meal.

I wonder if our lack of fear or respect for technology as teachers (as people in general, really) is a correlation to the lack of fear dodos felt towards humans. Are we teachers being unwittingly preyed upon by our love affair with technology?

In the last decade, there has been an explosion of technological advancements, including wide access to broadband and mobile access to information on an unprecedented scale. Through the popularity of touch-screen smartphones and, most recently, the explosion of touch-based tablet devices coupled with an associated rise in the development of mobile applications or apps, information has never been more abundantly accessible.

Consider this scenario: just 10 years ago, if you had showed up at a restaurant and discovered that there was a one hour wait for a table, it wasn’t easy to search for other nearby dining options. Now, if the same thing were to happen, you could just take your smartphone, open up an app, and quickly find not only dozens of restaurants nearby but also reviews on all of them. Now, with the speed of the new 4G LTE technology, you can actually complete this task much more quickly on your smartphone than you could on your computer using your home broadband. This is where the technology zeitgeist has brought us. Not only is information highly accessible anywhere but it has increasingly been presented in more visually intuitive and engaging ways.

Now, education institutions are racing to catch up to the technology curve. They’re trying to figure out how they can get this technology into the classroom and the learning experience. Often, the results are mixed at best. Education administrators are frantically trying to figure out how to get an iPad into every student’s hands when the answer is getting students access to better teachers. I’m not here to say that technology shouldn’t or can’t play a role in the learning process. However, I am here to say that technology is not the learning process.

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