Up close and far away

Here are a few scenarios that may be familiar to most of us.

A family having dinner, with the television on in the same room. Family members are looking at the events unfolding on the screen (war in Afghanistan, election rally in some part of the country, six heads in a shouting match) or tuned out.

Commuters on a bus, every other person peering intently into their mobile phone, or eyes closed, listening on a headset while the city (or countryside) whizzes past, unseen.

Sitting at a computer, multiple windows open as we attend a meeting, skipping between a search on Google or scrolling through email as we listen, our attention divided into multiple slivers.

We are simultaneously here, there, and everywhere in this networked world. What does it really mean when, as the cover of this issue suggests, the world is opened up to us through our devices? Are we really, like Alice, stepping in through the looking glass to experience something that could never be accessed otherwise? What do we leave behind, or ignore, when we step into these many other spaces on our screens – in the process splitting ourselves up into multiple, distributed selves?

These are complex questions, pointing to the many conundrums that face us in this brave new world of technology-assisted life. Educational technology is just one part of it. The articles on the cover theme look at the many possibilities of edtech, and the ways in which schools – and service providers – are applying it. Educational technology is many things beyond online instruction; it enters the realms of school structure, organization, monitoring, management and evaluation. It sets up the possibilities of a mega template for the system as a whole, and while we may have the option to take it on piecemeal or in entirety, it is important that we consider what we are signing on to and the implications of it.

But let’s for a moment look at one narrow of technology-enabled education, one that has helped systems keep going during the pandemic. It’s true that our networked devices have conquered distance, and brought the world into our hands and our homes. This is something that has certainly benefited learning in many subjects, allowing teachers to draw on material and methodologies that expand what is possible within the confines of a classroom. But at the same time, we may wish to consider what it takes our attention away from – the immediate, the present, the proximate. There’s no denying that we need to understand the distant and the global, particularly in this era of planetary crisis. But we also need to bring care, attentiveness and energy to what’s around us, and learn from our neighbours and our surroundings.

So in all this celebration of technology, let’s try to stay grounded even as we fly across cyberspace, and encourage our children to do the same.

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