I am thinking about the computer as a tool for learning, and the computer as a system for learning.
I often hear teachers and ict_pd facilitators talking about computers as “just a tool” aka Taylor’s 1980’s tools analogy. It troubles me every time because this analogy does not represent with any validity the ways I see students interacting and thinking with computers.
When I work with, and talk with, and listen to students, I see computer and student cojoined - inseparable, - forming complex interconnected new systems for thinking. And if you listened carefully to any ict conference keynote in 2005 you would have heard the new rhetoric in eduspeak valorising this connectivity, and describing it as the new or second paradigm.
This thoughtless valorising is why InsouciantFemme’s questions are so important
“What scares me is when the referent and the signifiers are no longer discernible. If we acknowledge our selves as cyborgs of the new age, what happens when we _are_ the computers and the computers the inhabitant of our bodies? What would happen if the computer _is_ communication? I have yet no answers to this question.”
These are the telling questions that we should unpack and critique when we meet as educators at conferences like LearningatSchool and ULearn06 next year, rather than questions that ossify the myths that valorise ict.
These are the telling questions that should occupy our thinking on the ict_pd network and nzcomped listserv, rather than questions about the costs of SMS systems, the battery life of the leased laptops, and the many ways to access Project PROBE.
We need to sit down with friends and unpack why our determination to think of the computer as a cost effective “pan- sector” system for learning in education means we might loose our identity, our community, our freedom and our humanity.
Illich in conversation with David Cayley [The Rivers North of the Future ] has helped me think differently about Taylor’s tools analogy and our new “paradigm change” computers as systems for learning frameworks.
When Plato or Pliny talk about tools or devices, they call them organon. They call the hand an organon, the hammer an organon, and the hammering hand an organon. The tool is an extension of the human body. In the twelfth century we notice that an increasing awareness appears, partly under Arab influence, that certain material objects can incorporate, can be given human intentions. The intention to do something can pass from the hand into the hammer. The hammer can be seen as something made for hammering, and the sword something for killing, no matter if the hammer is taken in hand by a craftsman, or by a little girls or by a mill – it’s the way that in the twelfth century they begin to speak about it. ……
... I believe this distinction between tool and user is characteristic of the epoch which I claim came to an end with the 1980s. There is a distance – I use the specific term “distality” – between the hand, the operator, and the instrument that performs the task. This distality disappears again when the hammer and the man, are conceived as a system. You can no longer say that there is a distance between the operator and the device, because according to systems theory the operator is part of the system within which he operates and regulates.
Just as it becomes almost unthinkable that I should be guided by an “ought” that is not determined by some kind of norm, so it becomes unthinkable that I should pursue a goal without using an instrument for that purpose. In other terms, instrumentality implies an extraordinary intensity of purposefulness within society. And hand in hand with the increasing intensity of instrumentalisation in Western society goes a lack of attention to what one traditionally called gratuity. Is there another word for the non purposeful action, which is only performed because it’s beautiful, it’s good, it’s fitting, and not because it’s meant to achieve, to construct, to change to manage?
The Rivers North of the Future. The Testament of Ivan Illich as told to David Cayley.2005 Anansi
Illich argues that in losing a sense of non purposeful action “People have lost the concrete sense of themselves – an “I” which is somatic – my whole soma is “I” – free and independent.”
Writers like Wertheim in the Pearly Gates of Cyberspace suggest that the parallel identities and parallel lives offered through cyberspace will liberate us; that a freedom to create new identity comes through new ways of computer “communication”.
Illich in contrast would argue that rather than being liberated by computer technology, we have lost our individual identity; we have been subsumed in a purpose driven instrumentalism, a system of feedback loops, and mechanistic actions and reactions.
I can't help but wonder if we are betrayed by that which purports to offer us freedom. Entrapped in a “purpose driven belief system” that means the jouissance we claim to experience online is in truth just another plaisir (pleasure linked to the cultural enjoyment and identity of an online system).
Illich forces me to take this further and ask whether we are in danger of losing our abilty to recognise and value the “just because …” in an educational context?
Enough already ....Must escape from this system of artichoke_keyboard_laptop and find friends to laugh, talk and drink with …