Sunday, June 07, 2015

Humanizing technology

This week I had the benefit of attending a two day workshop lead by a master facilitator, Liz Lerman, where we learned about and practiced using her Critical Response Process for giving and getting useful feedback on anything you make - from dance to dessert.  I was intrigued by the description that this process "leaves the maker energized and eager to get back to making. "  And sure enough, the two day workshop left me in the promised state.    I'll blog more about the fantastic two days and the wonderful creators/makers I met in a future blog post,  but this morning I woke up thinking about one particular piece of feedback that I received  when I asked my feedback group  "do you see a mission in my work."   Amongst several comments, one particularly struck a chord with me  - "Yes,  I see that you are humanizing technology".  

I'm not sure I would have picked those words to describe what I do -  and not sure its my mission,  but I do see this theme in the types of technology I'm attracted to and how I create and make with technology in ways that does 'humanize technology."

I remember getting all excited when I saw the first laptop whose display swiveled and laid flat, and knew I had to have it as my next laptop.  Not because of the coolness factor,   but because I felt that I would now be able to be in a meeting with someone without the screen/keyboard of our computers creating an artificial barrier/wall.  I believed in this so much that I actually took out my credit card and purchased 10 of these while working in a school to to test my theory.  And although I did not use those words -- the fact that it humanized the technology was part of the reason I was excited about this form factor in a laptop.  (Remember that this was in 2003,  several years before iPads and other tablet computing had been invented).

A similar sense of excitement came over me as I discovered the collaborative power of Google Docs in 2006 and I  quickly set up St. Albans City School to become one of the first Google Apps for Education schools in Vermont.   Collaborating (both synchronously and asynchronously) on a document was a game-changer for many ways,  but perhaps one reason was that it humanized technology.  It's a little hard to describe,  but I think you'll get the idea from this  video clip I recorded after stumbling upon what sounded like a pajama party in the hallway of St. Albans City School.   Turns out this group of giggling girls huddled together over their laptops  were co-creating  a sequel to a play they started to write last year on their school Google Docs account  after school hours (not an assignment) from their respective homes.   Why? Because they could - and perhaps because the collaborative features of Google docs  made it a social activity that they could do together after class from their own homes,  or even while they were together sitting side by side in the school hallway.   The tools distributed power so that everyone had ownership to the piece (anywhere, anytime).   When was the last time you heard students say "It's really fun,  it not really like school,  it just really fun" about a piece of writing?  Feels pretty human to me!

The participants who had called my work "humanizing technology" may not have been aware of this theme in my past work, but somehow they saw it in some current projects I shared with them during the Critical Response Process.   This comment definitely informed my process of making that I'm going through with this emerging project idea -  "a mobile studio for creating and making collaboratively".  

The trouble I'm having with the words "humanizing technology"  as the mission -  is that I don't see technology as the OBJECT in my mission.  Humans are the object  and technology is a tool to "DO SOMETHING ELSE".  But what is the something else and how do I articulate it? 

With  my Tech Savvy Girls and my Girls Make It project,  technology is only the vehicle to efficacy, confidence,  and skills that can be a gateway to so many different types of careers.   So I'm not trying to "do something"  to the technology -  I'm trying to change the girls,  or the choices they have that I'm trying to change. 

When I'm doing a project that leads educators to using technology in new ways,  I'm less concerned with their using technology to make their life easier, as I am in helping them become more confident with emerging technologies and more aware of the possibilities it has to design instructions where students are creating and making as a mode of learning.   For example,  our schools have invested in thousands of dollars of computer stations (iPads, Chromebooks, laptops) so they could fulfill the requirements of administering computerized high stakes testing.   The reason the computers came into the school is disturbing to me, but the opportunity is presents is exciting.  Let's leverage this new technology as a vehicle for creating and making with kids.   Let's make movies,  make music,  or create games that engage students in active learning.  Knowing that most of these computers were Chromebooks with limited video creation options,  I sought to raise awareness (and skills) of educators for using the Chromebooks to create and make.   

First,  I added a CREATE with CHROME to my Create Make Learn Summer Institute  where teachers could learn and practice how to create movies, podcast, animations, music, games, interactive ebooks, and more using a Chromebook.   

Second  I negotiated consortium level contract with WeVideo ( a cloud based video editing solution) that would yielded a 60% savings for WeVIDEO EDU licenses for Vermont schools. In just a few short weeks, the interest in using WeVideo with Vermont students grew to over 10,000 licenses.  So again,  the goal was not to "humanize"  the technology,  but to use the technology as a vehicle for something "more".    But what is the "more"? 

In this case, the opportunities for students to CREATE and MAKE in schools!  This does lead to more multi-modal expression of student voice,  more active learning, more opportunities to create and make (movies, mixed media, podcast, narrated art, etc).  So yes.. it is a more humanized used of technology than (current use of high stakes testing or research papers).   But is the fact that it humanizes the technology the mission?   Perhaps not,  but there is certainly some humanizing of technology in this project, too. 

There is more... so much more..but it does feel there is something important here and  I'm left struggling with wordsmithing the mission to something where "humanizing technology'  is an integral part of 'my mission statement".  Just haven't quite figured it out yet, but I think I'm closer.  (Any suggestions welcomed to the question I'm asking myself lately  "If Lucie combined the many hats she wears into one identity using a mobile studio for creating and making collaboratively,  what might be the mission statement that could capture what I'm creating and making by doing this?" 

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