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!
This week there's a mishmash of news with no single strong clear theme running through it. So you get JABOL (Just a bunch of links). Enjoy!
VR is a buzz concept - something exciting whose time is almost always 'about to come'. I remember its first manifestation in the early 90's. Huge headgear. blocky graphics. Lots of buzz. VERY high prices. Few sales. Today we have smaller headgear. Much better graphics. Lots of buzz. High prices. Better sales. But no real market penetration (check out Digital Trends's article detailing sales of VR gear on Amazon).
The fact is that VR headsets are bulky and uncomfortable. Sure, they track and sense your head motion and update what you see accordingly, creating an 'immersive' experience. Except its not quite good enough (hence the quotes around immersive). Even dedicating a top of the line computer with top of the line GPU to the VR experience is not good enough to fool the body. What you see lags your bodies movements - by an infinitesimally small amount its true - but it is still enough to disconnect from the inner ear and make many people feel nauseous or get headaches.
Besides that, beyond the display, VR has still got a long way to go to provide satisfactory and intuitive input. The completely immersive rigs of Ready Player One and other works of fiction are a long way off.
The final two nails in the coffin are the cost of VR kit and the lack of compelling VR software at present.
VR is interesting. A first encounter with it is amazing. After that it comes a bit 'been there, seen that...' meh. The potential of the technology is undeniable - so is the extent of its improvement in the last 30 years. BUT... it still has a long way to go.
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