Teaching, Trust & Technology.

Ideally in any teaching dynamic, this is our ultimate goal – teachers seek their own demise, as this quote suggests. We want to develop learners full of intrinsic motivation and curiosity. Plus the self-discipline to learn and master the curriculum independently.

However, school doesn’t have a good track record in doing this. Partly it is because there is a built-in “command and control” structure that regulates student behavior to the minute. There is an unintentional pessimism and mistrust at the core of the teacher-student compact and relationship. Teachers want, need, and ask for total control. [and so too in the workplace – this too will come to education, teacher surveillance.]

But ultimately this fails. We can never force learning. We can never know what a student is thinking in their head no matter how much we ask them to have their face in a book or answer our questions or finish our exercises. We need to trust our students. It’s part of the contract we informally have with students – part of teacher expectancy that should happen. IF we don’t trust our students to learn – we will build methods and machines to pretend they are learning.

— Add this after I posted this blog. See Audrey Waters summation on the forthcoming “surveillance” focus in ed tech.

I say all this with the backdrop of much of education now transitioning to online delivery of lessons. I would like to think and hope that it is a moment where we can allow more student freedom, choice, independence in how and when and with whom they learn. However, I remain pessimistic.

So many teachers are just “converting” their face to face classroom into one that is similar online. Why? I don’t know. It’s like forcing that round peg into a square hole. I also hear so many teachers trying to control students like they would from the front of a traditional classroom or in a traditional educational setting. Mandatory attendance. You must be online between the hours of X and Y. You must show your face with video so that I the teacher can see you at all times. You need to send me reports of all the when and what of your study. You must complete X activity at Y hour.

I say this because this will only be the tip of the iceberg if we go down that road. Technology can be a very invasive and powerful means of student control. In both the public and private realms. Do we really want to become “big brother” and bring this into the online educational setting? Why can’t we trust learners/students to learn? Why can’t we open up the curriculum and ways and whats of student learning? Why can’t we at the same time value student exploration and self-study? Or do we still want to follow the path of “Let’s Pretend”.

Teaching As A Subversive Activity, Postman and Gartner.

Already educators are trying to answer the question – “How do I know my students are learning online” with technological solutions and not by building relationships and fostering a caring, trustful environment.

For example – why do you need to see EVERY student during a video conference? Just because that was the norm in the face to face classroom?

Teachers are asking for Zoom to also implement a feature that was pulled – the ability of teachers to know if a student is looking at the camera.

Many teachers and schools are recording all synchronous contact – something that doesn’t even happen in our schools. Whose data is this? Where and how securely is it stored? Why this overarching need to monitor students all the time?

Students are even being asked to handwrite and submit online material. Yes, because teachers aren’t sure it really is a student’s own work and it was they who did the online quiz or X worksheet.

I could go on and on with many examples. And I do get it that teachers do need to know students have completed work and it was them that actually did said work. We do need to know it was Jorge who completed that quiz and not his older brother. And yes, trust works both ways. However, it shouldn’t be displaced through technology unless it is a last resort.

There is a lot of $$$ being pumped into ed-tech right now labeled “security features”. What it really is, is about monetizing this problem of teacher – student mistrust. Here are just a few “new” ways we’ll (us teachers) soon be able to control students and their learning.

  1. Facial recognition. Students will sign on to the platform and then take a selfie to show attendance and that they are “on task”. The system will randomly continue to take selfies of students to ensure they are looking at the screen (the technical name is “eye tracking“).
  2. Voice recognition. Students will be asked to read and record their voice as proof of educational performance.
  3. Keyboard & Time Tracking Apps. Already used in the business world, this is now set to take education by storm. Students’ devices will be certified and monitored for what and how they are being used. Administrators can tell when and if you are online, what you are looking at or did look at. Central reports sent with data and metrics.
  4. Notifications. Students will be reminded constantly of what they need to do, what they should complete, when it is due to be completed.
  5. AI. Artificial intelligence. Data on student online learning and activity will inform teachers of the validity of student work based on large amounts of data. But do you trust this? Sure, might be helpful to run a Turnitin search but what happens when AI says they know the student better than the student themselves?
  6. Assessment. Probably the least problematic area. There is ed tech designed to assure and validate student completion. This can be through digital footprints and validation, screen monitoring, facial recognition etc …

I think we are still trying to figure a lot of things out. Search for answers on how to best create the best online learning environments for our students.

For now, I’m just asking for a little caution. Let’s first nurture and create trust. Not build up tools that might erode this trust (and make many a lot of $$$).

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