Annual Laurie Tisch Lecture Tackles Technology & Educational Reform at Teachers College
The annual Tisch Lecture, funded by Laurie Tisch, took place at Teachers College, and its topic couldn’t have been any timelier. Reed Stevens, Professor of Learning Sciences at Northwestern University, presented the future of companion technology and its implications in learning and education.
After listing a few of his accomplishments, including founding the LIFE Center, a National Science Foundation Learning Center, Stevens started his lecture by showing several statistics from his research. A child spends only 18.5 percent of waking time per year between grades 1 and 12 in formal learning settings; the rest is spent in settings outside of formal classes. However, 21.5 percent of the annual time for children between the ages of 3 and 8 is used for media. This percentage more than doubles to 49.8 percent for children between the ages of 8 and 18. Professor Stevens further shows the pervasiveness of technology by examining the trend of companion devices. To him, Google Glass, speech-recognition mechanisms such as SIRI, and wearable technology shows that “we are living with these devices that are mobile and networked and providing feedback to us in a different way.”
Stevens defines the term “cyborg learning” as “people learning a practice of any kind with devices or tools in which the devices and the humans are both essential elements of the practice.” He then gave the example of learning a new recipe to demonstrate cyborg learning; in this case, the person is bringing his skills to create the meal, but he also uses tools such as a knife in the process. In this case, and in cyborg learning in general, both the device and the human are necessary components. To Stevens, companion devices can be used to promote cyborg learning.
In some ways, companion devices are already prevalent in helping children learn. In an ethnographic study done in the past year, Stevens found that, at least in middle class families, parents and children use technology even in “unplugged” activities, such as cooking and in learning to play the piano. One interesting trend he discovered was that the phenomenon was intergenerational. Parents are the ones encouraging the use of technology and incorporating these devices in their interactions with their children. “The notion of the generational divide,” Stevens said, “is largely untrue in our study.”
Despite the success of using companion devices in informal learning settings, schools are in general not caught up to this trend. Many schools are still tool-impoverished and isolate individual students. The incorporation of new technology in schools, according to Stevens, is really “digitizing the status quo,” a phrase he learned from Ellen Meyer. One of example of this is the advent of the online textbook. The content and learning style one gets from it is still the same as through a physical textbook, except now one can click on it to turn the pages. All in all, the operating theory of schooling has to be reformed.
Stevens’ idea of reform is to implement the distributive theory of cognition in school, and uses his project, FUSE Studios, as an example of what this theory would look like in practice. FUSE Studios is a program that engages teens and pre-teens in Science, Technology, Engineering, Art/Design, and Mathematics (STEAM). Participants can choose from 20 challenges, and, like in a video game, they can complete the levels of each challenge at their own pace. The students are also encouraged to share their knowledge with the other students instead of keeping to themselves. Lastly, the project attempts to invite students to become interested in STEAM, especially when it comes to the participation of girls and minorities. While FUSE Studios is a fairly new project (the first program opened in 2011), Stevens thought it would be interesting and doable to study the effects of the experience on the participants in the future.
Companion technology is not the way of the future. It is already here. Schools therefore have to be reformed to promote learning with the new innovations as well as to allow more collaboration in the classroom.#