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Currently a student at the University of South Alabama majoring in secondary math education.I have a deep affinity for old typewriters, pens, and keys.

Monday, February 28, 2011

The Double Edge Sword of Tech: The loss and gain of information

At one point or another this was all new technology.
 As I have stated in the past I was raised in a way that some may consider a little bit different. My parents are somewhat unique in their parenting styles and have raised me to be very individualistic while trying to remind me I must fit into society.

Growing up I always had technology, it was never something foreign to me. We had a personal computer in the house and at my parents work and I was always allowed to fiddle with them. We had various programs which seem silly now in the age of the internet including archived Time magazines on disk and digital editions of a encyclopedias. We even had educational programs like Math Quest.Despite this my parents also raised me with skills that I have recently come to terms with the fact not everyone my age possesses. You see, I still use a manual typewriter, I own a pen set of no less than ten pens including a fountain pen (I've used both bladder and cartridge style), and I still write physical letters to people on occasion. I was raised to see computers as useful but impersonal, I still kind of hold this sentiment in fact. Honestly I haven't come to terms with things like e-books just yet, especially since my first encounter with them in 2005 was beyond frustrating. I am an able typist from using a typewriter where I was forced to write slowly as it is much more difficult to hit the keys and mistakes are difficult to correct

I was taught other skills as well and often think of myself as a jack-of-all-trades. I gained a great deal of knowledge from those around me and would learn from any one willing to teach me. I can ride a horse, shoot a gun, tie a knot, build shelters, wire light fixtures, install drywall, work on plumbing, build a fire, use an NPA or OPA, scuba dive, swim, canoe, kayak, take a photograph, paint, sculpt, write, build things, archery, bake, sew, iron, program certain types of machinery, use routers, air tools, band saws, hand saws, calipers, but most of all I was taught to think. I was taught to learn, watch, analyze, teach others how to do what I can do. I was also taught skills that seem rather pointless now, like using micro-phish. I haven't done that in forever, but at least I know how. I can do my research as I please and if I find that the internet isn't satisfying my needs enough I can always go get a book at a library.

Tech and the internet has it's place but it doesn't necessarily need to replace things in the physical world. There is still a place for the physical and I have to I see how can improve the digital. Knowing how to construct a letter on paper has given me a better email writing prowess. I cannot tell you how often I have received emails from teachers and bosses who should have these skills as well but write formal emails in personal tones fraught with typos and grammatical errors. In using tech you cannot lose sight of the skills that are important. We must always to be aware of our grammar, word choice, and tone. Even when using things like skype it's not the same as talking in person as it is harder to catch the subtle nuances of body language or inflection from the picture fed to you across what can be limited bandwidth. You must integrate with tech and be flexible with it or it will break you. An example of tech integrating with the real world is augmented reality, which I suspect many of you have not heard of. With augmented reality you view digital information placed in the real world, usually through a smart phone. Currently it is only used for entertainment purposes as far as I know, but the possibilities of it have been alluded to in William Gibson's novel Spook Country. I can see it used in an education environment as well, you could make a scavenger hunt for students using AR for them to learn by placing digital images of historical figures around their classroom and when found enable an audio monologue to play. While this would be a intensive process to set up, once done it could be used multiple times.

The point is you need to incorporate the tech, it's not something that magically improves things. Look at how we are discussing Smartboards, how it's just gimmick. This is why you need to be able to analyze if the tech is good or not, it's a decision you will have to make for yourself. Does it fit my teaching style? Does it justify it's cost? Will it be worth the hassle of learning or is something better around the corner? It's not out with the old in with the new, it's not meant to be some magical replacement, we will still need to teach. The methods just might change a little bit.

It is far too easy to get lost in the sea of information that exists today, to be swept away into social media never to escape. You must learn the skills to filter what can and can't be used and quickly move on. I first learned this skill in a cultural anthropology class I took my freshman year of college where I was required to read a book a week. Our professor taught us to read the first and last sentence of each paragraph and write it down. Using this you often gained the broad idea to be narrowed down into finer points, while this is not exact it was a building block. You can do basically the same thing with networks like twitter by searching for specific hash tags and key words, start broad and work your way down.

This brings me to the final point I want to make today about technology and fears of it. In a class such as this there isn't very much face time for a good portion of the class. Many people can get lost and confused and not necessarily know or want to seek help. While the class is meant to discuss and debate topics I have noticed many people drop generic comments on our blogs and walk away. I don't want comments that simply say "I like how you wrote that" or "I agree!" Why do you agree, why is it good, or better yet tell me you hate it, tell me it's terrible, break me down and force me to be better. Tell me I write like a maniac bent on self destruction with fragmented sentences and poor grammar! You don't have to be mean but you can at least be constructive. Send me links, pictures, people to contact, or your opinion. Link me to your blog, give me something. Is there an issue that concerns you? Blog it! Are there things you enjoy? Tweet it! Are you bad at HTML? Find someone who is decent at it or work with others! Are you going to the lab? Invite me! Don't have a camera? There are flips in the lab and I own two. Want to do outside work for class? Collaborate it! Don't know something? Google it!? Need tech advice? There are plenty of us techies around. Got an opinion on free schools? Tell me I want to blog about it! Going camping? I taught wilderness survival, I got this. Like bugs or sharks? I do to. Have you updated your profiles? Not putting pictures on your blogs! Jump on that stuff, the semester isn't getting longer. Are you bored? Go to the lab and see if you can help someone. Is your image on the net unsavory? Start improving it, stop posting things that can detrimental to your future career or learn how to set up proper filters. On that last point, it's easy to find information on people even without the net. I just tracked down a teacher I had eight or more years ago in less than ten minutes using google and a phone call then proceeded to email her. She had married, changed the school she taught at, the grade level, and the city where she lived.

I look at people who do not want to use the old in the same way I look at those who do not want to use the new. In my life I have encountered a fair number of people proud of their ignorance from both the tech and non-tech sides. I meet people who have no appreciation of the arts and are proud, who do not read books and are proud, who cannot divide properly and are proud, who can't type and are proud, who have never picked up a hammer and are proud, who have poor handwriting and are proud, who never helped and are proud, who never left their comfort zone and are proud. Life is experiences and you must always be open to new ones, there is always something to learn. Now you may be thinking about earlier in the semester when I spoke against teaching cursive and that I am being hypocritical, however here is my point on that subject. Teaching cursive in schools is not a useful tool in modern society and there are other things you could be teaching in its place. It's not that learning cursive is a bad thing but learning cursive is not the same as gaining good penmanship. We could teach draft or block printing instead as it is much more legible, there are too many variations in cursive from one person to another for it to be the accepted form of uniform handwriting. Really, when do you write in cursive aside from writing checks, do you even write checks at all?


  1. Nickolas,

    Thank you for sharing this! I have become, hmmm, I'm not sure what the best word is, perhaps discouraged in my blogging efforts. I am enjoying the articles I see tweeted by educators I follow, and often retweet them. I try to comment by asking questions or giving my legitimate opinion. I have even attempted to write a few blogs that were not required classwork. It is extremely discouraging to have no one comment, however. I realize not everyone wants to read my blog, but when I go out of my way to share something and no one comments, it does not make me want to exert the same effort again, especially when I have let people know I posted a new blog. I have had a few weeks where no one commented on any of my blogs, including the ones where a classmate is required to do so. I realize it takes time to establish a blog following, years sometimes, but it does not mean I do not still feel a little slighted to have no one comment.
    Having whined a little, now I will comment on the bulk of your blog. I agree wholeheartedly that any technology, old or new, is a tool to be used by a knowledgeable person. I even blogged something along this line for which I was reprimanded. I believe we should be able to do things without technology before we incorporate the technology. I am not nearly the techie I would like to be, but I do try. Like you, I was taught on a typewriter (I even owned one from the 50's as a teenager.) before learning to type on a computer. I'm actually still faster on a typewriter. I also grew up on a farm, so we did a lot of things without technology because it cost too much. Oh, I agree with the draft writing. I have terrible handwriting, like, a doctor's handwriting is more legible. When I was in my Intro to Tech class in high school (which was basically a rudimentary architecture course) it was the only time I could read my own handwriting without squinting! My biggest reason for promoting learning how to do things "old school" as well as the new way is this: what happens if your technology fails? Perhaps this is because I am old enough to remember how scared people legitimately were on December 31, 1999, or because of my upbringing, but regardless, I truly believe people need to know how to survive without technology as well as thrive with it.
    Anyhow, thanks for blogging.


  2. Oh, by the way, since you mentioned typos, you have one in your third paragraph third sentence. :o) I am sure if you look hard enough, you will find several in my comment. I am terrible at spelling.

  3. Thanks for the comment. I haven't had anyone fail to comment yet, I don't think so at least. It is a bit frustrating and does take time to build a following but since it's a class blog I wouldn't sweat it too much. You could even start another blog that you could continue to use into your teaching career now for posting everything you want that's outside of class but still education, start building now. As you build your PLN your readership will have more ability to grow as well.

    As for not being a techie, it's no big deal. The people in the lab are always great help and no one (don't tell Dr. strange I said this) is an expert in everything tech. I have trouble all the time and I've built computers from scratch. It's very hard to be completely tech literate (by my definition at least) and sometimes you just hit bumps, the other day I asked Anthony how to share a video through Google docs even though if I had just looked at my screen for two more seconds I would have been fine. There are always resources to help whether it's people or websites, I adore ask and ehow. For html you can find a great many sites, threw this one around early in the semester. Hyperlinks are our friends and href= is easy to memorize.

    When you said, "what happens if your technology fails?" you can go ahead and add when. Tech can go wrong at every turn, it's why we have beta testers but they don't catch everything. You do always need a back up plan. It's funny you should bring up '99 because I remember it well, my mother worked for a cell phone carrier at the time and they had to have some work on their systems to keep them from failing in any way at the roll over.
    That typewriter in the picture is from the fifties, it's German made. I used to own a giant bulky gray one, dream of owning an Underwood or something of that nature, and for two years I was using an IBM Selectric that was terrifyingly loud.