Guide on the side, the GPS story

by | Thursday, July 24, 2008

People have often argued that digital technologies change the role of teachers from (as it is commonly described) a “sage on the stage” to a “guide on the side.” Personally, I have my doubts about this, complicated somewhat by my recent experiences with GPS technologies.

My doubts about this idea of technologies changing the role of the teacher has featured in my writing in the past. In fact Matt Koehler’s and my work around the TPACK framework has largely been about the critical role that teachers play in mediating between the possibilities inherent in technology and the practiced curriculum. Technology, we have argued, has great potential but students left on their own do not (or cannot) exploit these potentials to their full.

My recent experience with GPS systems has indicated to me another aspect of this. Using the GPS system (as I have been doing for the past few months, and which has led to a couple of earlier blog postings, here and here) has made me rethink the role of technology.

In brief, I have come to the conclusion that technology can in certain aspects be an extremely effective guide on the side but, and this is a very important but, there is little learning that occurs through this.

So it is the technology (not the teacher) that becomes a “guide on the side” – though in that process it fails drastically as a teacher.

My GPS system has a great personality (though its gender is still up in the air, as I had written about previously here). It is knowledgeable, patient, and most important forgiving of all my mistakes. All great characteristics of a good teacher.

But here is the problem. Despite all these wonderful attributes, my GPS system has made me, in some critical ways, stupider. I have become completely dependent on it to get me from point A to B, so much so that, without it I am almost completely helpless! Earlier (in my pre-GPS days) I would pay attention to where I was going, which exits I was taking, which streets connected with which and so on. As I drove I paid attention, and I learned. Now in my post-GPS mode, I am a zombie, blindly following and trusting whatever my GPS system says, paying little, if any attention to the roads and cross-streets. A classic example of distributed cognition, but problematic if I happen to leave it home one day, or it runs out of batteries at some crucial moment.

So yes, this little device has become my “guide on the side,” and it performs that role exceedingly well. What it hasn’t become is an educational technology – a tool that helps me learn.

This of course leads to the critical question, what is an educational technology? And how can a GPS device become one (if at all)?

A few randomly selected blog posts…

Ambigrams animated: 3 new designs

I love creating ambigrams, words written in such a manner that they can be read from multiple perspective - rotated, reflected and so on. These designs are much easier to "grasp" when printed on paper since you can actually turn the paper around, hold it against a...

The art of science

I have always been interested in what lies at the intersection of science and art. There are of course many different ways of looking at this. There is the idea of scientific creativity being both similar to and different from artistic creativity. And then there is...

Developing a culture of creativity: Research news

Developing a culture of creativity: Research news

Danah Henriksen and I were featured in a recent news story on the MLFTC News titled: Developing a culture of creativity, instead of compliance, in educators. The article provides an overview of our work over the past few years. Given the nature of a news article, it...

Fractals, ambigrams & more

Fractals, ambigrams & more

Photo & and design © Punya Mishra.The photo of bubbles was taken with cell phone camera (equipped with a macro lens).  Fractals are mathematical/geometrical structures that exhibit self-similarity at increasingly small (or large) scales. Fractals were...

Scrivener vs. Writer

A NYTimes article on word-processing versus writing (or scrivenering??): An interface of one's own. What stood out was this description of writing being more than just the putting of words on a screen -- but rather of seeing it this complex, often non-linear...

Virtual speed bump

Optical illusions are usually seen as being cool visual tricks, an intriguing way of peeking into how our brain works. They have rarely been considered to be functionally useful. Here is an exception: an optical illusion seen as a virtual speed bump! Check it out...

Things we hold on to (in a shifting world)

Things we hold on to (in a shifting world)

Title image created using Dall E 2, with input by Punya Mishra My colleague Jill Koyama shared an essay published in the Refugee Research Online journal, titled "It's all in the bag: Refugees and Materiality."...

Jere Brophy / Motivation Ambigram

A new ambigram created in memory of Jere Brophy, world renowned scholar on psychology of motivation. The ambigram reads, "motivation" one direction and "Jere Brophy" when rotated by 180 degrees. Click on the image to see a larger version, hosted on Flickr....

Of Art and algorithms: New article

The latest in our series Rethinking Technology and Creativity in the 21st Century is now available. The article was co-authored with Aman Yadav of Purdue University (and the Deep-Play Research Group) and focuses on the art and science of computational thinking. We...

1 Comment

  1. Garmin 255w GPS

    Great write up – five stars. I bookmarked this page.


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