January 25, 2015
This past week my supervisor posted (and clearing expressed his disdain of) a link on twitter to an article that said something along the lines of… “if computers replaced teachers in online learning, the world would be a better place.” (Admittedly, this is a bit of simplification on the article but the overall gist was: teachers cost money, need benefits, have all sorts of emotions/personalities/quirks and generally are a major drain on institutional finances but magical computers work endlessly, need no benefits and only have the feelings one programs into them thus are an institutional win.) I responded off the cuff about how my Mac was probably going to replace him in the near future since as the article said, who needs humans if computers can teach everything? He responded back in a sage, supervisory way by saying that the focus is never teaching but rather learning and that computers can’t actually “teach” rather they aggregate. Then he continued on by saying that as I already spend way more time working on my thesis with my Mac than working on my thesis with him…maybe we are already at the point where my Mac had replaced him….As I spend about 18 hours a day with my Mac…yeah, I’d say he makes a valid point!
It was a fun short twitter exchange to begin my day and yet it did make me think a lot about this very odd distance mediated world of teaching and learning that I’m living in and that has become my own default framework.
For example in my day to day job…
100% of the interactions I have with my own team of direct reports are mediated by a computer or a phone.
100% of the interactions I have with the students enrolled in my program are mediated by a computer or a phone.
100% of the assignments created, books read, lectures attended, etc. in the program I head are are mediated by a computer.
And then in my doctoral studies…
100% of the interactions I have with my cohort (who I consider to be almost family) are mediated by a computer
100% of the content of my doctoral program is mediated by a computer
and regarding the supervisor mentioned above, thus far…
95% of all communication over the past 18 months has been mediated by not just a computer but primarily using the 140 character microblog format of Twitter
I am an educator working to teach students the skill of graphic design—something that has always been taught via close proximity studio methodology—and 100% of what I do is geographically distributed and technology mediated. I am a human, my students are humans, my staff are humans, my cohort and supervisor are humans and yet as we’ve never “seen” or even been in the same timezone…it all could actually be a gigantic sophisticated Turing test.
It feels so mundane when I live it day to day and yet to see all these facts written out…so so so crazy that the system is even allowed to exist, let alone thrive.
There is no part of me that ever thinks that my computer could replace my supervisor just as there is no part of me that ever thinks that my computer could replace any of the instructors on my team because I believe so strongly in the power of the humans behind all of this new fangled technology.
And yet, how does one get to this place of seeing the human even as it’s fully interpreted by blind code and then transported via cables and satellites and flat screen projectis? How do people become real in such a different, non-human atmosphere? For me it feels so natural because I’ve lived in this place for so long and been learning in this distanced mediated system for almost 10 years, beginning with my MFA.
I’m beginning to think I’m not the norm…I’m beginning to think I’m the anomaly in all of this and yet if I could understand myself better perhaps I could help untangle these ideas for others.