Forward and Back

I’ll grab my soap box, and deep thought pose and with a deep breath… get going in this all annecdotal, unresearched or referenced mind dump.

In the news this week, there were two stories about local newspapers shuttering in Canada. The first is CBC Sunday Edition’s story on Moose Jaw losing it’s paper (podcast) and the second is from CANADALAND (podcast) – edit and Day Six (podcast). While these stories are similar and are only related enough to the point I want to make as to inspire this post, they point to the demise of what one could easily say is the most common form of storytelling that we have only lost in the past few years.

Newspapers, magazines, and letters used to be the way stories were told. The length of the story connoted some measure of quality. It used to (and some would say still does), cost a significant sum of blood and treasure to put together a story that fully and rationally explore an idea. Perhaps “back in the day” stories were better balanced to ensure that everyone would have some element of their voice heard. This lead to the idea that if it was in print, the story must be true.

But then as the cost of printing fell, voices started to separate. As more individuals could access the means to publish, the number of publications increased, and to be well read meant that one had to access more sources and those sources, to capture more people reduced the size of their stories. Quickly getting to the point of their argument.

Today we find ourselves in a sound bite and headline world, having slipped down a slippery slope. The co-efficient of friction and the slope continue to move in opposite directions to a point that wants to move stories in front of us so fast, that they are there and have had us react before we even know that we do through the use of managed newsfeeds and predictive algorithms.

These older stories used to have value because they provided insight about the past. Seemingly, it was the past that was the most important part about the art of storytelling – be it the news or epics about heroes. Now it seems that the value of a story is all about how close, and how amusingly it can get a glimpse about the future. So how do we get around this to use stories as a tool to teach when the very tool that we want to use is/has/or will change?

Is it worth trying to use an old tool in a new world?

Two Worlds Reflecting

For almost twenty years, my professional life has centered around EdTech. Using the tools that are available to extend the ability of individuals to communicate with each other, and in so doing, teach and learn in more efficient ways. I haven’t abandoned my interest in that sphere, just shifting it away from the tools toward the product. The product is the story, and the tools? Well they can range from the most basic technology of spoken language, to well, nothing. Our technologies are all used, in some manner or another to communicate with each other, and in communicating, we learn and grow.

So this morning, when I saw this (NYT original), story online, and heard it on CBC, it got me thinking. For a very long time, people have been talking about using computers in the classroom. But it seems that this use, hasn’t been as an extension to the abilities of the students or teachers/instructors, but as a replacement. And there is why, I believe that laptops in the lecture theater are failing students. As a replacement for pen and paper, it has become too each for everyone involved to process the information only once (if at all – image directly linked from NYT).

So while the research talks about other reasons, from the storytelling perspective, I’m thinking what’s missing is that people have forgotten that notes taken in meetings are stories that we will later tell to ourselves or to others. The words on the screen, or on the page are nothing until they have been processed through reflection.

“Learning without reflection is a waste. Reflection without learning is dangerous” – Confucius

Looking at the quote from Confucius, I realized how/why I had to put down some words when I read and heard the story. I’m under no impression that what work I will ever do will “save” EdTech, Teaching, or Storytelling, that’s not the point, what I’m interested in, as I mentioned before is how we can use stories to improve teaching. And all stories are told in some manner through technology. But because so much of technology makes things “quick and easy”, we have fallen into the trap that Confucius is warning about.

In a lecture (already a barely adequate teaching paradigm, it’s really just spray ‘n pray), we perform an action that we believe to be learning, using technology, that cuts out the reflection. In a lecture, this would have been re-copying notes, or doing further research. To Confucius’s point, it is learning without reflection.

But what about the second point? Reflection without learning? I think that is what we are doing now. We have seen what poor integration of technology in the classroom (or other meeting spaces) has done to the quality of the learning environment, so how can that be changed?

Perhaps by telling students about what they need to learn, versus talking at them. Perhaps by creating a grander context for details versus merely dumping facts. Perhaps by leaving space for students to think, and not just boxes to check off on an exam.