Tuesday, July 14, 2020

When 'digital' leaves no time for what is important

The "digital", once the "multimedia", then the "New Technologies", the "ICT", the "2.0", has been used as an adjective that characterizes the new, the modern, the interesting. At least in education, it has been like this. One of the reflections that have occupied me for a few years has to do with how the excessive use of "digital", as an adjective in its different variations, has influenced fundamental debates on education and has contributed to the less from my point of view, to the “decaffeination” - when not denaturing - of important questions.

Before continuing I want to clarify that it is not that I believe that digital is not important. The technological change of the last 70 years seems wonderful and enormous to me. But if I find something fascinating and worrying at the same time, it is how our society evolves in that change. With that said, let's get back to the argument.

Behind each of the "marquees" of more or less bombastic "technological" titles (attention, I have nothing against the flashy titles; when someone has to be invited to join something, better a good title) relative to the “digital” revolution (or 2.0, or ICT), basically identical actions have been included in the background: measures -at almost all educational levels- that try to improve education through the implementation of the most modern technologies possible. And yes, these implementations are always theoretically framed in proposals for didactic changes, at least the methodological change always appears in theory as an objective. In fact, "it's not the technology but the methodology we use" has been a mantra in education for more than 20 years.

Thus, we went from New Technologies Applied to Education in all educational plans, to Innovation with ICT (TAC, TEP, among others), which in turn became School 2.0 (for a 2.0, 3.0 world and even 4.0) and is now included in everything related to digital “transformation” (which includes, of course, digital education, digital university, digital critical thinking, and so on). All of them based on the same principle: we must respond to the change in technology (understood only as artifacts - although that is another reflection that may take another day -) and for this, what better than to adopt it as a basis to help us be more updated, more "on the wave".

However, the issues to which the term digital has been applied -as before all its predecessors-, have ended up practically absent from the substantive discussion or frankly denatured. It is as if instead of acting as a term that adjectives the noun, “the digital” (the 2.0, the ICT…) had become the noun. You have to be a digital citizen, digital teacher, digital competent, not so much for the citizen, the teacher, and the competent but, it seems above all, for the digital. Almost all digital cheesecake models understand that it is about using technology in the most efficient way possible, taking advantage of all its qualities, to make that cheesecake. Understanding that it is only a matter of using better tools, but to do the same, only in a more ... contemporary way.

The point is that, in that vision, there are several underlying and form problems. Let's see some.

The main underlying problem is that the digital layer that we apply to almost any concept invades the entire discourse and floods, or obviously, deep discourses on the nature of the noun. For example, in the case of the so-called “digital teaching competence”, it has traditionally been understood that it is a matter of using contemporary technology more efficiently to be a teacher, but rarely has there been an in-depth, ideological debate about what it is to be a good teacher in the socio-technological times. As if the needs of the students, of the people (attention, not only as future workers) today, were the same as those of the people of 20 years ago, as if the school contexts were the same, as if our families, or our towns and cities,

The overwhelming immediacy perceived by the need for technology change has entertained us enough to prevent us from spending time on important discussions that should underlie change for the digital world, where digital should not be used as an adjective, not even as a frame, but as a context, as a framework.

But there are also some problematic questions of form - and defining - of "digital" in society. In addition to hiding the debate on the changes that should be made in the nouns before any digital veneer, and surely as a consequence of that concealment, the adjective "digital" has joined a hyper-individualization of the process of transformation, innovation, implementation or however we want to be called.

Digital transformation rests - unfairly and naively - on the responsibility of individuals. In practically all cases it is presented as a change that is defined by individuals who do things, who better manage technologies. There is no talk of the conditions of the system in which they are inserted, nor is there talk of their margin of action to do so, nor of how conditions are created for groups of people to share consensual visions about where they transform.

There are a few systemic approaches. When making plans for the “digital transformation” of education, for example, it is understood that it is a matter of “transformative” tools (more computers, more tablets, more connectivity) and that teachers and students use more and better those tools, then we think about training so that "they" (on whom all responsibility rests), change. The importance of investing in communities, in school contexts, in family conditions, in inspection mechanisms, in the curriculum, including, is evaded. It is ignored over and over again, although research on educational change and educational technology has long told us that it should not be this way, that people, spaces,

Thus, if we take another example, objectives such as that of the “digital university” have obviated debates around frankly important questions, such as what is the role of the university in the industrial fabric, what is the role of the university in the social fabric? current, what is that of research and how does university research contribute to the knowledge of society, to the improvement of that global society in which we all presume - or complain about living. The objective of the digital university has eluded which is the role of the university faculty, if they are mere coaches of future operators or if our role as teachers and researchers includes a greater commitment that transcends the numbers with which the already sadly “classical” criteria are measured. ”Of efficiency. It's more,

Digital, understood as the tools we use have distracted us from in-depth discussions about what it is to be a teacher, what is the quality of education, or what is the purpose of the university. It has even led us to think that the nature of those nouns in the digital world has to do only with a “mechanical” change of what it is made with. And what is worse, it has led people in charge of thinking and executing the strategy to face those changes (yes, political) to believe that simple or partial solutions are sufficient.

And those are just a few examples.

In some cases, this short-term and partial vision is interested, someone offers a solution (in the form of software or a toolkit ), benefits from that investment and presses, making it inescapable and urgent. But in other cases, it seems just a kind of madness that invades us in the face of the volume of needs ... everyone, but especially those dedicated to organizing, managing ... In these times of hope for great changes, it would be better for us to give a return to our priorities.

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