This year I became involved with educational outreach of KQED, despite being on the East Coast. This brief Mind/Shift piece excerpts some thoughts from a local voice for me Mitch Resnick, creator of Scratch.
Here he beautifully articulates an often overlooked aspect of computer usage and personalized technology.
Clearly there are some advantages at having certain things personalized for you. As long as it’s some options, choices and suggestions, then it’s okay. But I wouldn’t want to be limited only to what a machine suggests for me.
Methinks there is far more truth than fiction in that statement. While I am a progressive, tech savvy teacher, I always try to remain mindful of the consequences of its use. Perhaps I am not as successful as I would like all the time, but the truth is that computers, and most technology for that matter, do not easily adapt to human behavior, certainly not the kind that we interact with on a regular basis.
We must adapt to the machine, in most cases. The machine does not adapt to us, generally. As a result there are a whole set of biases that are in play that most of us do not even consider. Digital technology privileges certain kinds of interactions, behaviors, and even ways of perceiving the world. As sophisticated as any computer might be, it still resides, on the most fundamental level, in a binary existence. We humans do not.
When Resnick explains that “it is only easy to give feedback on certain types of knowledge and certain types of activities,” he is highlighting the inherent limitations that are in play.
As an English teacher this reminds me of the typical feedback that is given in writing software, particularly the kind that trumpets assessment capabilities. So often it is terrible, completely suffering by its own limitations. Computers do not read, humans do. So the suggestion that tests might be assessed with software instead of humans, it scares me. Riffing off Resnick, we would be giving away, to a degree, the kind of knowledge that is not easily evaluated nor assessed by a computer. Plus, the implicit message sent to students is no human is going to even read what you wrote. How valued is what they write in that context?
The original interview is worth a read too.