Digital Storytelling

Students in Barbara Smith’s English class have created digital family stories. To find great examples of student work click here.

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Digital Distractions & Digital Opportunities

The Academic Technology Committee at UHS has been engaging in a lively discussion about digital distractions and digital opportunities.

An article that highlighted one end of the debate examines how some faculty at Northwestern University have started to ban technology in lecture courses as a result of the rampant distraction stoked, in part, by the ubiquity digital technology.

As a counterpoint, an article by Sal Khan asks educators to rethink our assumptions about what a class or school should be. The neuroscience of attention reveals why lectures are ineffective and how digital technology can help facilitate more active learning.

Inevitable, technology – whether in education or in society at large – isn’t an either/or proposition. Grey area abounds. Which is why robust discourse is so essential if we are to figure out the best ways technology can enhance teaching and learning – and the ways it can derail it.

What do you think?

Biotechnology, Ethics & The Future

While I’m sure there are many lasting impressions from the 20:20 Vision Symposium, it seems that a universal memory were some of Laura Deming’s closing comments. I personally appreciated her undomesticated energy and enthusiasm. Her passion and precocious talent make her a poster child for the virtues of self-directed learning in my mind. Yet her unbridled quest for life-extension quickly revealed some serious tunnel vision: when asked if she thought about the ethical dimensions of her work in biotechnology, she bluntly said, “no.” The auditorium seemed to recoil in response. These comments, and this sentiment in general, underscore the importance of a liberal arts education.

Nothing exists in isolation. Everything is interconnected. Science has revealed this truth in spades. So, while scientific and technological breakthroughs may be incubated in a lab or workshop, they quickly reverberate into social, economic and environmental domains. As increasing breakthroughs in biotechnology may banish infectious and chronic diseases into the annals of history, this long fabled fountain of youth might also unleash unintended consequences. This is why all scientific and technological progress must be matched with ethical and humanistic progress. If our external development quantum leaps past our internal development then we unknowingly sow the seeds for the terror of tomorrow. Nuclear fission takes a high level of cognitive development, but doesn’t guarantee that those who know how to split an atom have the intelligence to use it wisely – if at all. Hiroshima and Fukushima are grim reminders of this principle.

As science and technology continue to develop at an exponential rate, how can we ensure that our internal development is keeping pace? Taking an interdisciplinary approach could be a good place to start. I can envision a Civ-like class that learns about not only the science of biotechnology, but also explores the economic, social and ethical dimensions that come bundled in the manipulation of genes.  For example, biomedical engineering should be learned alongside a close reading of Frankenstein, an investigation into moral philosophy, and scenario planning into its socioeconomic impact.

James Baldwin once said that, “Not everything faced can be changed, but nothing can be changed until it is faced.” So my question to you is: how should we face the seismic changes that are taking place on planet earth (biotechnology being just one of them) that promise to reconfigure what it means to be human?

Technology Alone is Not Enough

In my conversation during the 20/20 Symposium with Matt Crowley, who works in the Manufacturing Design department at Apple, I was most interested in how he echoed Steve Job’s sentiments that technology alone wasn’t enough.

When introducing the iPad 2 Steve Job’s said, “It is in Apple’s DNA that technology alone is not enough—it’s technology married with liberal arts, married with the humanities, that yields us the results that make our heart sing.” He seemed to being saying the best ideas and most innovative products emerge from the intersection of technology and the humanities.

When I asked Matt in what capacity the liberal arts and humanities have impacted his role as a designer, he said that it’s been essential. From his experience, you can’t design technology for people unless you understand the unique culture and history of the people you are designing something for. One needs to start out taking an anthropological approach by asking questions and observing. An anthropological perspective, combined with training in the humanities, create a synergy that isn’t possible by technological training alone.

With all the talk about the importance coding, and the decline in the arts and humanities majors, it seems vital to reiterate that one of the most iconic technology companies is a result of the convergence of technology and art. So, are there merits to learning coding? Absolutely. But your coding will be taken to new heights if it’s immersed in art history, literature, philosophy and performing arts.

In “Flipped” Classrooms, a Method for Mastery

A recent New York Times article provides a good overview of how flipped teaching can, if given the right framework, provide the conditions for developing mastery.  The crux of the approach can be distilled down to this pedagogical switch, “In traditional schooling, time is a constant and understanding is a variable…But there is another way to look at schooling — through the lens of a method called “mastery learning,” in which the student’s understanding of a subject is a constant and time is a variable.”