Extra Credit Reading Assignment

This optional but reading and participating is extra credit. However, I’d encourage you to read it as I think you will find it interesting. You might even enjoy the whole book.

Below is a PDF of 2 chapters from a book entitle The Difference Engine: Computing, Knowledge, and the Transformation of Learning by Eugene Provenzo. The whole book is interesting, if a bit weird, but these two chapters in particular offer something of a counterpoint to our discussion thus far. So far, the majority of this course has focused on the potential for technology to transform the learning experience when used properly. We have focused our attention on understanding and defining the nature of proper uses and how to recognize and develop them. However, I am of the opinion that while technology does offer powerful opportunities its use is not neutral. In other words, there are potential hidden costs that we should be aware of. Ideally, these costs will be minimal with transforming uses, but that is not a guarantee and it’s unlikely all uses are or will be transforming.

I suspect that modern society is at a crossroads. We entered this crossroad around the turn of the millennium and it will take us about 20-25 years to figure out where we are heading. As we are near the midpoint of this journey, it is possible to look at what has transpired over the past decade or so and being to make predictions about the future. If you have been paying attention, it’s not hard to see that technology is greatly reshaping our world. People are becoming more connected but not always in personal ways. We are inundated with information that we largely have to ignore. We are increasingly distracted and there is evidence to suggest that how we access and filter all this information is actually rewiring our brains (see Nicholas Carr’s book The Shallows: What the Internet is Doing to Our Brains for an interesting take on this). None of this is necessarily bad. Our cultural evolution may simply be heading in an unfamiliar direction which will ultimately become both normal and familiar (E. M. Forester’s short story “The Machine Stops” describes such a society though not in a very positive light).

As we wind down the course, this last reading assignment offers an alternative view of technology. It is merely food for thought. It is NOT intended to call into question whether or not we should be using technology at all, but to remind us that technology is not neutral and that we should be cognizant of hidden messages and how a technological interface can color, or even impede, learning experiences.

As a whole, the book seeks to define how the Internet and hypermedia tools combine to create the difference engine and its role in how we access and process information in the digital age. Anyone interested in understanding the potential broader implications of technology and in particular its impact on society and education should read the entire book. For now, we will look at chapters 5 and 6. Sorry for the quality. Not sure where that line came from.

Post your reflection by 12/1 for credit.

Difference Engine chaps 5&6