Cyborg learning isn’t as sexy as it sounds.
It’s not this:
It’s more like this:
Yesterday, Brian and I had the opportunity to attend Dr. Reed Stevens’s talk, Cyborg Learning: How our Mobile and Networked Lives are Transforming Learning and Education.
He defines cyborg learning as such: people learning a practice of any kind WITH devices or tools, in which the devices and the humans are both constitutive of the practice [emphasis his].
Dr. Stevens studies learning that occurs outside of the classroom; he sees only a slight overlap between school and learning. He noted a shift in our relationship with digital companions (and their pervasiveness), referencing Siri, Google Glass, and the quantified self. In fact, the main questions that structured the lecture were: 1) What directions will companion tech take in our near future lives? and 2) What do these directions mean for learning education?
If you have ever been afraid of losing your job to a machine, you may or may not be consoled by this next part. When it comes to knowing who is replaceable, the issue is not in assessing mental vs. manual tasks, but the routine vs. nonroutine. So, for example, stock analysts and parole board members are in trouble. In contrast, cooks and gardeners have nothing to worry about.
So, how does this relate to how we learn? I’m getting there.
Dr. Stevens, through his ethnographic studies, has identified the following categories of teen usage of digital media:
1. Inter-generational making and building
- Parents are interacting with their kids around media. The generation divide with media that you hear in papers is largely unfounded.
- Examples: Watching cooking how-to videos on YouTube together, finding lego blueprints online
2. Collaborative play in virtual worlds (e.g., Minecraft)
- Often played in the same room at the same time as other teens
3. Digital media production and online sharing
- Unmediated in kids’ lives
4. Families who use media to coordinate with each other
- Examples: email, google calendars to organize family activities
- “This is incredibly ordinary in middle class families.” (Though I greatly beg to differ on that one)
5. Previously unplugged activities have a digital component
- Example: learning the piano and using digital metronome
Everyday life already integrates with all this media; work and school are headed this way, too. People are getting work done by spreading it across themselves (distributed cognition). What would distributed learning look like at school, Dr. Stevens wonders.
He uses math as an example to further illustrate the pervasiveness of digital companions. Kids are asked to solve the same kinds of problems over and over again using some kind of algorithm. But, as computational devices move forward, we decide to blackbox certain things we do by hand and mind (like finding a square root, logarithms, long division). So why not use digital tools as distributed cognition for math? Why do kids have to BE calculators? Denying them use of these devices further alienates them from math. Couldn’t people’s minds be put to more creative uses? “Are we just training slow, poor computers?” His question is met with scattered nods of agreement across the room.
Back to what distributed learning looks like in learning. It just so happens that Dr. Stevens is one of two principal investigators of FUSE. FUSE is an in-person, interest-driven learning environment for young adults. It allows participants to explore STEAM topics through leveled challenges. There are 30 studios located in and around the greater Chicago area.
FUSE Introduction from OSEP on Vimeo.