Monday, October 17, 2011

Two tales of personalization and technology

Personalization and technology can be read as a dream or a nightmare -- it all depends on who is telling the story.

If Bill Gates, Rupert Murdoch, Arne Duncan or Michelle Rhee are perpetrating the plot then personalization is about using technology for union busting, test score analytics and the marketization of our children's minds. In this story, the poor get a computer, while the rich get a computer and a teacher. Technology is a trojan horse that carries an army of economists and shadow industries who have been stalking public education for a very long time. In this story, technology and personalization isn't about learning -- it's about money.

If Sir Ken Robinson, Alfie Kohn, Yong Zhao, Linda Darling-Hammond or Diane Ravitch are the narrators, then personalization is about student excitement, creativity, intrinsic motivation, curiosity and citizenship. In this story, even when supplying children with their own computer becomes cheaper than providing them with a teacher, we have the courage to give all kids both. Ultimately, personalization isn't about technology -- it's about learning.

Personalization and technology can be about collaborating to discover our passions but it can also be about competing over profits. Some versions of (hyper) personalization can be about pilotless flying, surgeonless surgery and teacherless teaching -- this version of hyper-personalization is less about how a learner uses technology and more about how the technology uses the learner. Communications expert Marshall McLuhan told us this in 1964 when he said, "We shape our tools and thereafter our tools shape us."

Seymour Papert, an expert on children and computing, may have summarized the two stories of personalization via technology with this:
I am no Pollyanna about technology. The record of how society took up earlier technologies is frighteningly bad. We first made automobiles in the hundreds of millions and then worried about how to mend the damage done by deforming our cities, polluting our atmosphere and changing the lives of our teenage children. Why should we as a society do better this time? 
I don’t know whether digital technology can hurt the atmosphere. But I do know that it could make a dramatic difference for the better or for the worse in the lives of children, and that there is no guarantee that it will be for the good. Quite the contrary, if one goes by what one sees happening today, it is almost guaranteed that the technology will be used mindlessly or for the profit of corporations rather than for the benefit of children.
In which story of personalization and technology are you a character?


  1. Wow, I was thinking about this last night, Joe--what an excellent article to wake up to! A few months ago, the BC Ministry of Education created an e-handout to the public describing its vision for education. The first slide had a link to Sir Ken's speech on the need to personalize etc. This speech formed the basis for reform.

    Unfortunately, however, teachers, parents, and, most importantly, students in BC now realize that the MoE completely twisted Sir Ken's message of personalization to justify moving more high school students to packaged online learning programs-- a "bold" new direction in education, according to premier Christy Clark. Sir Ken's speeches call for more arts, more theatre in the schools (which are being cut!), less testing, more discovery. He does not advocate packaged online learning courses. Or students sitting in an empty classroom or at home watching pre-recorded lectures from the Khan academy etc. I realize that distributed learning has its place, of course, as many students simply cannot get to a classroom community. But DL has its place, and it must stay there (I may have stolen that line from you, Joe)

    I hope that the public recognizes this as bait and switch. Sir Ken inspired and continues to inspire many to rethink education. Don't let BC's ministry of education bait us with a vision of Sir Ken's 'person'-alization, then switch to Michelle Rhee's version of 'e'-personalization.

    Sir Ken must realize that his message is being manipulated by governments to save money and to further erode the quality of public ed.

    Does anyone out there have links to Sir Ken addressing this blatant manipulation?

    Thanks again for your post, Joe

  2. Thank you for this thought-provoking post. Unfortunately, humanity's history with technology is toward overuse, abuse, and pushing for "progress." The foremost values of modern progress have typically been speed and expediency, with very little room left for moral, ethical, and humanistic considerations.

  3. Oh, don't be such a negative Nelly. There are no such days as the good old days. Thanks to technology our lives are MUCH better than even 50 years ago. Way less pollution (air, water, litter, you name it). Medicine is way more effective. Life is way more convenient. You want to go back to the days before the internet - when you had to line-up for 30 minutes just to do a simple transaction at the bank. Where you had to book hotels by mail? Where an elite controlled information much more than today's google era? Be ny guest and don't let the door hit you on the way out.

  4. Brian I think you need to read my post again. You seem to have missed my point.


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