LT Thought of the Week – “Too Quiet in the Walled Garden”

All of us no doubt remember “Long Live the Open Web,” in which web founder Tim Berners-Lee presents a compelling argument on many of the threats to net neutrality and the open Internet. I think that engaging with ideas like these are a fundamental part of online citizenship and our role as teachers educating students to be good “netizens,” so to speak. 

This week’s article (no author indicated) comes courtesy from colleague who sent it my way today when he saw it on SMH. As fans of Berners-Lee and readers of articles like these, Greg and I often enjoy talking about some of the broader philosophical ideas on where technology is headed and what this means for education. “Too Quiet in the Walled Garden” presents what is really a very interesting and challenging perspective on our experiences with technology: that they are becoming more limited and restricted the more we “funnel” these experiences through hardware devices like smartphones and tablets and the walled gardens of software platforms like Facebook. Most critically, the author suggests that while tablets and mobiles may be good appliances, other computers are more generative: “they can be programmed to do more than they were set up to do.”

If we look at this a bit further, the idea of the “walled community” outlined in the article is rather a tempting option in education, isn’t it? Often, we want (or even need) control, parameters, predictability and safety. None of these things are bad, of course – but it’s a question of balance. On the other side, I think, you have a lack of control (less teacher control = more student autonomy), movement outside of the parameters (often through creativity that moves beyond the specified task), unpredictability (more of a learning partnership between teachers and students where, ideally, we learn with them) and less safety (i.e. more risk taking and more getting to know “the real world”). Of course, there are negative aspects of relinquishing control as teachers, but if we balance things well we can pretty much take the good and deal effectively with the bad. 

I think the key point we need to recognise is that the kinds of technologies we choose in the classroom need to suit the purpose of the task and the sorts of learning experiences we want to engender in our students. Mobiles are all well and good for some purposes, but I wouldn’t like to think of the kinds of restriction they would place on a student’s creativity were that student required to do everything through apps (all of which are subject to the approval of the likes of Apple, Google and Microsoft). Extensibility and this authors ideas on the generative potential of technology are hard to ignore. At the end of the day, I want to know that my kids are capable of doing more – much more – than I ever imagined they could.

About Michael

Cellist, singer/songwriter, school teacher, nerd, recent scooter enthusiast and failed philosopher.
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