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…

Goodbye MSU!

Goodbye MSU!

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Soham starts college, new ambigram,

We dropped off my eldest at the University of Michigan today. He begins the next stage of his life. We couldn't be more excited. Here is a new ambigram design to mark this occasion. Soham whichever way you look at it, with UMich colors! Mouseover the image to rotate...

TPACK & creativity

Matt Koehler and I just submitted an article for Learning & Leading with Technology, the flagship journal published by ISTE. The journal features practical ideas for using today’s technology tools to improve teaching and learning. Our work on TPACK was recently...

Computer Fiction: Two new ambigrams

For one reason or another I have not been bitten by the ambigram bug for a while - till suddenly a week or two ago, two new ambigrams popped into my head. A bit of work with Freehand later... here they are. Enjoy Computer Fiction

TPACK Newsletter Issue #19, March, 2014

TPACK Newsletter, Issue #19: March, 2014Welcome to the nineteenth edition of the (approximately bimonthly) TPACK Newsletter! TPACK work is continuing worldwide. This document contains recent updates to that work that we hope will be interesting and useful to you, our...

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I arrived at Bangalore (now known as Bangaluru) this afternoon. Bangaluru is known as India's Silicon valley and this my first time here. I am here for a conference (as described here). Incidentally, Bangalore is also on its way to becoming a word in the English...

Pi(e) day, 2019

Pi(e) day, 2019

A design created in celebration of Pi-day, 2019. (More context about the day here and more about the number itself here). As always, the OofSI team celebrates Pi(e) day by offering a selection of Pi(e)'s - exactly at 1:59 PM. Totally irrational I know! Apart from...

Speaking of leadership

Matt and I were invited to Sydney, Australia a year ago as a part of the Teaching Teachers for the Future (TTF) project. You can see a report in the New Educator: TPACK takes hold in Australia. As a part of this visit we were interviewed to speak a bit about...

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Steven Johnson has a great essay on the future of text title: The Glass Box And The Commonplace Book. I recommend reading the full thing but here is a quote that sort of captures his vision (though there is more, much more). Here is a great quote: WHEN TEXT IS free to...

1 Comment

  1. Garmin 255w GPS

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


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