More woody stuff – how a focus on a tool can blind us to the technology it is a part of

The blog post for day 2 of my week at the Change11 MOOC…

Jon holding a stick

Yesterday I made a quick and dirty four-minute  video in which I explore the ways that a stick can become a technology because of how it can be combined with soft processes and used as part of an orchestration of phenomena to some use. It can thus become many technologies. On reflection, and looking at the video, I realise that it was a mistake to describe the stick itself as a soft technology it is not. The stick is a part of a great many (probably an infinite number) of soft technologies.

I think that this cuts to the heart of a great many of the mistakes that we make when we talk about learning technologies. We often make the assumption that, because the same thing is involved from one context to the next – a learning management system, a discussion forum, email, a whiteboard, a classroom, a teaching method, etc – that we are talking about the same technology. We are not.

When I use something like this site (the Landing) in different classes or even in different parts of a class, it is just part of an assembly that is, in each case, a different technology. I am orchestrating different phenomena in different ways for different purposes, even though the tool is the same, just like the stick. Similarly, it is a different technology for me, now, writing this, than it is for you, reading this. For me, I am using its ability to share content with a public audience. For you, it is a means to display content. Different uses, different technologies, even though we are both using precisely the same underlying set of tools. It is a very unhelpful generalisation to think of only the tool, not its use and not the things that we are assembling with it for that use to occur.

I am a professional learner, employed as a Full Professor and Associate Dean, Learning & Assessment, at Athabasca University, where I research lots of things broadly in the area of learning and technology, and I teach mainly in the School of Computing & Information Systems. I am a proud Canadian, though I was born in the UK. I am married, with two grown-up children, and three growing-up grandchildren. We all live in beautiful Vancouver.

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