OLPC technology uses

I decided to write about the different uses children give to the technology provided by the One Laptop per Child Program (OLPC) in Uruguay. Although, there is a lot of studies on children and technology the OLPC program is shifting a lot of paradigms on how children and adults use technology. Such is the case that less economically privileged families with several children accumulate larger numbers of computer in one household. There is not much in depth literature on this topic yet, mostly quantitative data and short reports that do not address how different children use this technology at home or school in this program.

The use of technology changes the according to the type of technology, the amount of technology and many variables that do not relate with technology. Even though I have extensively read about children and different use of technology it was not until a couple hours ago when I had to leave my own computer at the shop for repair that I truly experienced the differences. Blogging from an iPad changes the way I express, the length, depth and external resources I bring into my blog.

The more I read preparing for my research in Uruguay the more I come to terms that I can only find a guidance in the existent literature. The computers and “universal access” to all children in Uruguay is shifting many many paradigms and new in-depth literature needs to be created to understand the complexities and commonalities created in a specific context.


Social problems requires social solutions: ICT and social inequality

In 1995 Nicholas Negroponte described many of the social transformation in relation to digital technologies that we would get to experience in the years to come.

However he didn’t recognized an economic or cultural divided rather a generational divide in information technology. While academics had rapidly moved away from Negroponte digital divide, governments and development agencies have maintained techno-romantic vision of ICT.

Neil Selwyn (2006) outlines many of the romantic views and assumptions of the potential of ICT to foster democratic practices (Kenway, 1996) and boost social capital (Welburn, 2005). Not acknowledging the importance and advance of ICT in our lives would be naive but we need to frame ICT practices especially when talking about education in the same context of social and economics inequalities. Digital inequalities in ICT practices replicate the familiar “social fault lines” of gender, age, income, race and education background (Golding, 2000).

Neglecting the broader social dynamics and accentuating on universal access to ICT causes a technologic determinism where outcomes are credited to technology. This vision also highlights the effect that similar techno-initiatives must produce more or less the same results in all cases (Halloway & Valentine, 2003). In addition it disregards the ways people articulate and perceive the meaning and implementation of ICTs (Selwyn, 2006). The intervention and constrains of how technology should be used are reflected not only upon the use of ICT in education but the implementation and delivery ICT in schools. This approach ignores the depth and layers of social inequality and oversimplified the view and conceptualization of technology (Hudson, 2003).

For Selwyn this is partly a consequence of a conceptualization of digital inclusion addressed in macro societal levels and the diminishment of the individual. Marked by the flawed presumption that ICT use in schools is determined to an educational and empowering activity. When in reality the digital divide crated between use and access to technology in schools and homes often extend the digital divide in ICT classrooms (Buckingham, 2007).

There are several empirical data that shows the different use, appropriation and meaning of technology in different social spaces. The different uses and limitation of technology creates different types of user – not all users become power users and content creators in ICT. People’s ICT engagement is often monotonous and humdrum (Selwyn, 2006) and school’s engagement is often more of a routine rather than reflective process Selwyn, 2010). This raises the question that ICT in formal structures that not people might perceive ICT as empowering activity and might feel that the y don’t want to take part of a very restrained digital inclusion.

I agree with Neil Selwyn when he argues that government and authorities should adopt a more realistic stance toward encouraging youth with ICT but more importantly is finding ways to enhance civil participation and engagement. ICT should be perceived and presented as part of the solution and problem of inequality.

Community of practice, schools and technology

It was in the highlands of Ecuador in 2003 while working on a project testing the educational use of PDA’s in very isolated schools that I become intrigued with the potential reach and complexity of technology and media for educational purposes. Despite not having the anticipated outcome, the project exposed a different mode of collaboration and learning. Our lack of cultural capital, local language deficiency and inability properly introduce the technology in the classroom resulted in students, teachers and parents working and negotiating together to discover the added value of PDAs to their realities and needs – a valuable exercise for all involved.

In 2004 I went to Chiapas, Mexico to work in a community radio project with an Internet center for indigenous communities. This time the methodology to introduce and implement the technology was much different, but the modes of learning and assimilation were very similar to the experience in Ecuador. The main difference was that the radio station created a new social enterprise with a particular domain. The experience of radio – both broadcasting and listening – served to mold and reify their identity.

In both cases community members developed social mechanisms that enhanced learning. In this learning, individuals engaged and contributed to the practices of the community, while for communities learning reified their practice.  Learning was embedded in the modes of participation and the construction of identify in relation to the technology and the communities.

My objective in study media and communication is to understand models of learning that could potentially lead to new modes of citizenship.  Recently I have been thinking the complexities of formal education systems – including Cartesian approaches in schools and the development of communities of practice as empathetic places that enhance learning environments.

In short – a community of practice is a group of individuals bound together by a shared mutual engagement, a joint enterprise and a shared repertoire (Wenger, 1998 p. 72-73). This definition allows us to think of learning as a process of participation. In his book Communities of Practice (1998), Wenger proposes a framework to understand and articulate the processes of learning in relation to practice.

New media and the transition to a more interactive web 2.0 bring a new semi-fertile universe with no physical boundaries where people are more in contact than ever, even when in physical isolation. Technology and new media has changed the configurations and forms of communities and therefore we need to rethink the practice of stewarding technology for communities (Wenger, White & Smith 2009). Jenkins takes a much more utopian though very inspiring theory of how people are finding this new universe as a space for collaboration and participation (2006). He observes a decline in formal education and a shift to the digital arenas of wider audiences with more common interests.

Online forums are good examples of collaboration, negotiation and dispute. Generally the Webmaster reacts according to the gratifications and discontents of user interaction with the content of the site. On the other hand, users reflect and develop their practices and identities over the content that they are exposed to. No one member holds all of the knowledge of the community, people learn how to follow social patterns or resolve issues from the sum of interactions in the community. Knowledge is held by individual members of a community as a form of collective intelligence where it can be accessed in many forms and ways (Levy 1997, p. 214). The direction of the community is not driven by the individual actions but rather a collective sense of participation and negotiations that happens within the community.

At schools learning outcomes are expected to happen in a one directional interaction – the teachers impart knowledge to the students where little negotiation happens among different agencies. Of course there are several informal learning spaces where students and teachers alike learn from interaction but theses spaces and time are limited and sporadic. A common mistake or misinterpretation is assuming that learning is an individual activity that takes place in specific spaces  — this is where new technologies and school struggle so much.

Although there are different approaches to education and different pedagogies, for the most part students are taught to solve problems individually. This is the result of a Cartesian tradition in knowledge and learning; a methodology that grounded the way formal education has been structured in western societies. Cartesian teaching reinforces the notion of knowledge as a kind of substance that is transferable from teacher to student, and where pedagogy operates as the vehicle to transfer the knowledge  (John Seely Brown and Richard P. Adler, 2008). Educational systems have emphasized the transfer of knowledge and skills from teacher to student rather than the transformation of knowledge and skill among students (Vera P. John-Steiner and Teresa M. Meehan, 2000 p. 31).

Education has fallen behind in understanding technology as learning tools, the environmental changes, and what it means to learn (Siemens, 2004). When schools try to introduce ICT to their curriculum they often depend on the same Cartesian pedagogic environment. Rather than focusing on teaching new modes of thinking with the world of new media educators often use technology as a gratification to non-technological activities and as a routine rather than reflective process (Selwyn, 2010). The current approach to technology in schools might result in a stage of technological or informational determinism (Buckingham, 2007). Where most students feel that the controlled use of Information and Communication Technologies (ICT) in school as less inspiring than at homes (Selwyn et, 2010).



Reflexive Blogging: learning from the activity

I think I mention this before but anyhow, lately I have been reading and writing a little bit about Wenger’s theory of community of practice and Jenkins’ participatory culture from a learning perspective in formal and informal settings. At the same time I am starting to engage in blogging in more consistent way and trying, yet slowly, to make some more meaningful analysis. I am not where I would like to be but I am enjoining and most importantly learning lots in the process of blogging.

Bartlett-Bragg’s article “Blogging to Learn Flexible Learning” does a fine job articulating blogging as an educational experience and the processes involved. Bartlett-Bragg and many other academics recognize the importance of drifting the education experience from the formal settings of the school to more personal and dynamics levels. Education should and I believe it can be perceive it as an activity outside formal settings. It is a common generalization or misinterpretation to assume that learning is an individual activity and that takes place in specific spaces such schools, institutes or other academic bodies. That been said, I don’t want to fall in the generalization that every activity is a practice of learning, though it can be. There has to be a process of internalization and reflection, a conscious process in where people are aware of what their engagement entail as learning. Rogers (2003) refers to this process as formalized learning – a learning process that enhances learning. Formalized learning is it not exclusive to formal education it happens in various places in our life.

Blogging entails a deep process of formalized learning, it pushes the student to think and reflect on what there are writing and hopefully feel passionate. So blog on something you feel passionate or it is meaningful!  Start blogging for yourself, it takes a bit of time to be one and don’t think who or how many will be reading your blog to start off. Expand your imagination and reflect on what has been striking in your mind if your blog does not connect with you, it will be hard to find people that will feel that way. Soon enough you will communicate with a whole audience and hopefully you being one of them.

Bartlett-Bragg defines 5-stages of blogging in educational settings: 1 establishment, 2 introspective, 3 reflective monologues, 4 reflective dialogues and knowledge artefact. I found this hermetic and artificial separation useful to see where we might be standing. This is a quick recapitulation of her 5 prosed stages of blogging:

Stage 1 – Establishment

“Students set-up a blog and initiate the practice of recalling and recording learning events, paying attention to and expressing their feelings”.

Stage 2 – Introspection

“Students are encouraged to continue recording learning events, while starting to pay attention to their emotions and to start evaluating the experience. Some software challenges can still dominate the experience and often detract from the reflective process”

Stage 3 – Reflective Monologues

“Students start to become consciously aware of the full range of reflective process, from simply answering structured questions to considering the experience and extracting some meaning for further evaluation. The expression of emotions can alter considerably. The emotions now relate to the learning events and are not directed to the intended reader.

The writing appears to be for themselves, thus the naming of this stage as reflective monologue”.

Stage 4 – Reflective Dialogue

“Further encouragement towards a deeper reflective process requires the students to consider their style of expression, intended audience and publication of their thoughts. Students that reach this stage acquire a ‘voice’ or style of writing in the new genre that moves away from surface level reporting to personal knowledge publishing that exhibits a more considered writing style. Some students develop journalistic qualities in the reporting and opinions on their learning events and experiences”.

Stage 5 – Knowledge Artefacts

“Students move from personal knowledge publishing to reflecting on the knowledge learned and providing guidance to readers, who may use the knowledge to enhance their own experience and learning, as knowledge artefacts.

At this stage the students may start to read each others’ blogs and make comments in contrast or agreement – intentionally providing their experience and opinions as an opportunity for others to learn, so creating knowledge artefacts”.

From my own experience I think Bartlett-Bragg misses a very important stage that I would have named stage 0, reading stage.  Stephen Downes points out how blogging is first about reading – reading what interests you. Reading blogs will teach you to develop a tone and style for this medium and will help you to know how connect and share your ideas with others.

Both reading and writing a blog is a cultural practice in a sense that it requires gaining an understating and knowledge of the practice in order to coexists. If we lack the literacy skills to construct a learning dialogue we shall fear to never get out of the reflective monologue and putting the survival of the blog at risk.

In my experience in blogging has helped to re-engage in some communities that I retired from such as Technorati or Twitter and join some new ones such a Digg. Yesterday 51 persons visited my blog, I know it does not sound a lot but it is for a student who started blogging a couple of weeks ago. Blogging is not only a mental reflective process is a tangible practice as well.  Blogging is shapping my online behaviors and use of social networks. The way and reason why I use Twitter has changed since I started blogging allowing me to think what it means to produce a text to share with larger audiences.

Blogging reflects and connects concepts that contextualize its meaning through interaction and sharing (Rosie, 2009). This has helped me to become conscious of the learning process it takes to develop a blog and the potential of it. Richardson indicates how blogging is about engaging in an online communities and reflecting is part of bringing life into learning.

HTML Identities

I have been thinking to write a piece on identity in my blog for quite a while now. I also have been thinking about my own identity how to define this; I finally came to the point that perhaps I should be talking about identities or identifications rather than identity. In this sense identity should then refer to a constant stage of formations that encapsulates different processes of identification.

I struggle myself with my personal identities at the different levels, again identity sounds too over simplistic even if this one is in constant transformation. I juggle two main identities on my every day life; the one who speaks English and lives in London and the one who speaks Spanish and likes to thinks he maintains a Uruguayan identity whatever that means. A third one more complex and multidimensional is one I have created over the thousands of hours I spend online both interacting in English and Spanish in different spaces.

In this regard, the use of technology has allowed me to contract a performance that reflects new identities (Thomas, 2004). Then audiences determine the construction of those identities that I project my persona — the processes of identification in my blog are quite different than my Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, Gmail or Skype. The construction of a narrative of the self becomes a practice in relation and recognitions in direct contact with the audiences (Hine, 2000). As Buckingham states identity implies a relationship with broader world, defining our identity is an individual process but it only exists if recognized and confirm by others. Both Giddens and Bauman recognize the complexity of self-identification in modern cultures as an ongoing fluid process, a self-reflexive project that explains themselves to themselves.

As for my blog I have just been letting a few days pass to re-post a quite interesting story I witnessed in my Facebook feed. I found two interesting elements in this Facebook story, one it reflects how identity is a constant process of interaction with others and two, the risks of which involves producing those identities online. I came to the conclusion I am not even going to ask the person for permission to post that story in my blog. I know I perhaps should, but I want to come across of the dangers and risk of online identities and show in fact how identification is a social process. I will be constructing and reflecting on my identity in my blog with someone else’s story, which I believe it is party mine since it was on my feeds.

As for me, I would quote Tapscott where using technology is a natural as breathing. Yet I don’t want to fall in the technological determinism of conceiving the idea of technology as an autonomous force independent of human society (Buckingham, 2008). The ongoing processes of identifications take place in all dimensions of our lives yet we are defined not only by our practices but social perception.

Rethinking education in media times

There are a lot of things we could argue in this video. Web 2.0 is neither going to solve nor eradicate power structures, hierarchy, modes of production or identity issues. But we need to understand that the web does not have a life of itself we make it alive by our actions and interactions. As it happens in communities, societies and nations participation is not a consistent activity; there are different degrees of integration and negotiation that by nature it creates different conditions over a period of time. Working together creates similarities as well as differences – then the resulting relations reflect the full complexity of doing things together.

Problems of power structures, inequality and so are the results of our practices in the offline world and therefore we should expect them to persist in the web 2.0 world. That said, it does not mean that the online world is a pure reflection of offline practices because the way we engage and negotiate are especially different to each environment and time.

But there is something interesting about the duality of the off and on-line world and is how our habits in both of those realities are affecting they way we perceive and interact in those two separated but closely related worlds. We bring our traditional way of thinking and doing into the web and at the same time we find ways to bring habits we developed in the digital world to our off-line lives. The line between the off and on-line world is becoming very fuzzy, just think of your identity among those two realities and think, who you really are.

The paradigms of online power, hierarchies, production and identity are changing the way we think and therefore the way we develop our thinking. We learn from both worlds offline and online sometimes we learn more from one than the other but both are affecting each of us. Schooling help us understand and internalize what we learn from the web as much as online contexts and communities help us understand our schooling. What I am saying here is that web is fast moving driven partially by larger communities of people and on the contrary schools systems. They tend to be static and driven my small groups of people who have little in common with the students interests and needs. We need to rethink the role and nature of formal education otherwise it will always talk about the theoretical potentials of the web. I would like to formal education and academics need to adopt common practices from the web 2.0 such as sharing and circulation of knowledge.

It is a strong contraction to read about peer-to-peer learning and the collaborative knowledge processes that take place on the web from books that are not posted online for larger audiences. No wonder why students read more from blog and websites than books. There are millions of sites, they are only a click away, they are free (though not always) and lots of time are shaped and formulated by the people who are interested on it. I am not advising to get rid of books and libraries but they should exist in both environments equally. Otherwise formal education will look at the web as competition when by all means they should complement each others to create healthier and stronger learning spaces.

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