This year I’ve been working with a lot of people just making their first steps into using technology for learning. For some of these people who aren’t regular, comfortable users, it’s a leviathan undertaking. For most of them it’s involved a new operating system that’s more than ten years younger than the last one they used, a new and different set of tools, an unprecedented level of connectivity for their students, and drawing it all together, a completely new approach to the way information is handled & moved. While it’s been an incredibly helpful process for me in terms of articulating the why and the how, it’s also at times felt a little bit like being a well-meaning pilgrim trekking up to bring my wild ideas to some uncontacted hill tribe on the parts of the map that have pencil sketches of monsters.
So this process of mental articulation about joining us on our journey into wild unpredictable future has led me to a realisation.
Technology in education is a lot like religion.
It’s big & pervasive, for better or worse it can define a community, the more involved you are in it, the crazier you look to people who don’t do it, folks who are misguided about it love to take sides & argue about it, and if implemented without the right level of openness, transparency & understanding it can hurt people.
Glib comparisons aside, I think it’s important to make a distinction that effective technology in education is not so much like a major organised religion. There’s no one device to rule them all (Precious), no one right way to do things, no single go-to resource when you get stuck, or even an iron-clad set of rules to follow when things are ticking along nicely. It’s about operating openly, honestly, doing your best with what you’ve got, sharing charitably, and acknowledging that you’ve always got more to learn.
Technology in education is more like Buddhism. If you’re not devoting your whole life to it, nothing bad’s going to happen. You can come to it later. The more you delve the more rewarding it’ll get, but if you’re not quite there yet, someday you will be, and that’s ok.
The Four Noble Digital Truths
Buddhism talks about the Four Noble Truths – the fundamental realisations revolving around the human experience of dukkha – loosely translated from the old Pali canon as some middle ground between suffering, stress, imperfection, and unsatisfactoriness. If we think about our experiences with technology as people and professionals, we can certainly draw to mind our fair share of all of the above. For the sake of conciseness, let’s sum them all up in this context as Digital Dissatisfaction.
So my Four Noble Digital Truths are:
1. There’s always going to be Digital Dissatisfaction, and Digital Dissatisfaction is unavoidable.
2. Digital Dissatisfaction is borne out of always wanting more.
- More storage space, more RAM, faster processors, more download quota, shinier laptops, higher-res screens, apps that do more stuff, apps that do stuff they weren’t designed to do, network passwords to remember themselves, friends that don’t post endless barrages of their kids doing nothing, error messages that make sense, longer battery life, crisper headphones, a device with all the features of Rosie from the Jetsons… I could go on. What is it they say about shabby craftsmen and their tools?
4. The way out of Digital Dissatisfaction is by staying ethical, balanced, and keeping perspective.
Buddhism calls this The Noble Eightfold Path. I call it “8 Steps to Being a Champ Online.”
- Be broadminded & compassionate.
- Be generous of spirit & constructive.
- Don’t say anything you might regret.
- Don’t do anything stupid.
- Create & contribute something worthwhile to your digital community.
- Give it your best shot.
- Be aware of what’s happening in your digital world.
- Keep your attention span in check.
Keep that in mind, and you’re on track to guiding your own development in a way that you feel centred & comfortable in. Sure, there’s still a big scary world of the wild uncharted open Internet out there, but that’s another blog post.