This Week in Tech
So we are IT / CAT teachers. By definition we encourage the use of screens and tech. How ambivalent does that make us feel when countless headlines from the media scream out reminders that 'screen time' is bad for kids and should controlled / limited / eradicated completely? I know that I have felt the inner conflict at times. Surely so many pundits and experts can't be wrong? Is what I am doing actually bad for the children under my care?
(Here are some examples of the dire 'screen time is the apocalypse and is turning our kids brains to mush' warnings out there: New York Times "I am convinced the devil lives in our phones." and here (Oct 2018); Business Insider; Quartz; The Guardian; IOL; and many, many, many more.)
To add to this I want to / have taken things a step further. I believe that an online, interactive textbook is a better tool for our learners than a traditional textbook - and I have gone ahead and "put my money where my mouth is" to create just such a thing (check it out at LearningOpportuinities.co.za).
And yet I still have this nagging question inside me about whether I am only making things worse....
But, here's the thing. Deep inside me I know that this hysteria about screen time is wrong. Screen time is not the problem. It's how the screen is used and what is on the screen that are the cores of the problem.
Screen time is often used as a nanny / pacifier (dummy) by adults too busy and caught up in their own lives to become involved with their children on a meaningful level. The screen keeps the kids quiet and out of your hair for hours at a time. It's a miracle of modern technology! Give it to the kids and they go away and don't bother you.
The screen time most known and feared by concerned adults (parents, teachers, researchers and especially sensationalist media) is the passive, vegetative watching of meaningless video (YouTube), hours of gaming and other isolating, unproductive activities (which to my thinking should include use of social media).
Screens, especially the small screens we carry around with us all the time - smartphones and tablets) are technological incarnations of the Dr Jeckyl / Mr Hyde (free ebook here at Gutenberg.org) dichotomy. They are not all bad (and not all good). They can be used for reading (as an avid ebook reader since before the advent of the iPhone and tablet I can and do sing the praises of the wonder of a library in my pocket). Not all videos are bad (there are many useful tutorial videos on YouTube as well as the mindless gunk). Some games are really great (if you have not tried - and made your learners play - Human Resource Machine then you need to stop reading this article now and do so; it's a great way to understand how a CPU works!).
So what do we do when confronted by people telling us that screen time is bad?
My response is to ask how the screen is being used.
Is the kid given a screen and expected to go away, shut up and keep themselves busy in an unsupervised way? Yes. That kind of screen time is bad.
Do you spend meaningful time with kids doing all sorts of activities (including outdoors activities, chores, sports, games and screen time) and so naturally keep a balance in their lives? Do you share screen time with them, discuss what is on the screen - and make sure that the things available on their screen are not all mindless drek? Do you encourage the use of the screen to discover, explore and create new things? Do you encourage and foster independence and self reliance by showing how the screen can be used to find solutions to problems?
These questions direct to a realisation that handling the screen differently can transform what could be bad into something good.
It's about time we protagonists of tech took a stand and said that IT doesn't have to be this way!
This rant is prompted by finally seeing an article "In defence of screen time" on Tech Crunch, reading it and feeling that it does not go far enough.....
This weeks news links:
First, the right to have personal data minimized. Companies should challenge themselves to strip identifying information from customer data or avoid collecting it in the first place. Second, the right to knowledge—to know what data is being collected and why. Third, the right to access. Companies should make it easy for you to access, correct and delete your personal data. And fourth, the right to data security, without which trust is impossible.
One of the biggest challenges in protecting privacy is that many of the violations are invisible. For example, you might have bought a product from an online retailer—something most of us have done. But what the retailer doesn’t tell you is that it then turned around and sold or transferred information about your purchase to a “data broker”—a company that exists purely to collect your information, package it and sell it to yet another buyer.
The trail disappears before you even know there is a trail. Right now, all of these secondary markets for your information exist in a shadow economy that’s largely unchecked—out of sight of consumers, regulators and lawmakers.
Let’s be clear: you never signed up for that. We think every user should have the chance to say, “Wait a minute. That’s my information that you’re selling, and I didn’t consent.”
VR seems to be going the way of 3D TVs. You saw a lot of hype about it for a while but are seeing less and less as time goes on. Why?
That's it for this week. Happy teaching!
Welcome back. A question for you: Would you prefer fewer news links with more 'in depth' though provoking pieces - or do you like the flood of news that tended to happen towards the end of last year? Please let us know in the comments. To give you an idea of the alternatives - the last few blog posts of last year were in the 'list of items' category and this post gives you a little sample of what a more 'in depth' approach might look like...
Automation. It's the big bogeyman of tech - the process of getting rid of the human factor in the name of increased efficiency and productivity at the cost of jobs for real people. We often only tend to think about it in abstract - as something that happens in big factories where robots stand side by side in long rows on assembly lines. The reality is that automation happens everywhere - even in small businesses and offices. A small example with significant consequences is the automation of parking payment systems in malls. There's even a field of study devoted to devising new ways to automate things - anyone want to be an Automation Engineer?
We talk a lot about the consequences of automation - the loss of jobs, the fact that people need higher levels of education and training to qualify for the new jobs available (because all the low skilled jobs have become automated). Does anyone think about the people who come up with the automation ideas - or have to implement automation in their workplace - and how it affects them?
Brian Merchant at Gizmodo has a piece on the topic well worth reading. It's called So you automated your coworkers out of a job.
The types of jobs that are lost to automation are also changing. Here's a take (from FastCompany) on jobs that will be at risk in the future. This is not the list of jobs that you typically associate with robots and automation - but is a trend that is emerging and is well worth paying attention to.
How many jobs are at stake? Well, according to this study from McKinsey and associates up to 73 million jobs in America alone could be lost to automation by 2030. That's after the over 500 million jobs already lost worldwide to date.
Maybe we should pay more attention to the discussion about the potential need for (and feasibility of) a GBI (guaranteed basic income)....
Sysadmins. The guys behind the scenes who make sure that your tech runs smoothly. The guys who manage your networks, keep your encryption up to date, make your backups... Also known as tech support or the IT dept.
Sysadmins have more insight, power and knowledge than you might be aware of. In fact, the biggest 'Gangsta' trial of this century - that of the drug Kingpin El Chapo - hinges on information gained when his Sysadmin was convinced to become a witness for the prosecution. You can find details at Gizmodo (again).
Remember that the next time you are rude or inconsiderate to the IT guy.
For some fun videos on the trial and tribulations of life as a Sysadmin look at this playlist on YouTube. You can also try to get hold of The IT Crowd (a BBC Chanel 4 comedy). It's also fair to warn your learners that this is the most mainstream career path for many IT professionals - and I'm pretty sure you can also entertain them with many stories from your own personal experience.
It might be a good idea to draw up a profile of skills needed by IT people (and a separate one for programmers) that we can use during subject choice discussions in grade 9 to help learners know how well suited they are for the subject.
Hope you like the new format - PLEASE leave some feedback in the comments section.
All the best for the new teaching year!
The EU has taken one step further down the road of messing up the internet for everybody. They have voted in favour of the law mentioned in an earlier post. There is still a slight chance it might get blocked or changed, but don't hold your breath! The most interesting thing about Apple's new iPhone Xs? That it uses a 7nm (nanometer) manufacturing process - which makes it the first smartphone processor to use more advanced manufacturing tech than any current desktop CPU.
Programming - Bugs
Hacks, Malware, etc
Hi all. Not much news this week. Telkom might give you a reason to change your mind about letting your learners use the school computer enter for gaming (some prestigious schools involved). The video on VPNs used to bust the airline's ticket pricing racket is worth a watch - and perhaps a try if you are planning to travel...
Hacks, Malware, Etc.
VR / AR
Hacking, Cyber Crime
Fake News / Video
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