Wednesday, 9 September 2009

Post-technical drawing

I thought I better do a quick post, seeing as I handed out my blog URL at the EduBloggers F-ALT bash last night, and there is a slim chance that I have new eyeballs to annoy.

Anyhow, back to the old postdigital thing again. I've had a couple of quick chats with Dave-o-White about the slight unease that we both share about the term 'post-digital'. I can't quite put my finger on it (possibly because the concept isn't yet anywhere near fully formed), but postdigital just seems a bit of a distraction, especially when you start discussing it with people for the first time, as Dave and Rich Hall did the other night at an F-ALT debate.

During Dave's excellent presentation at ALT-C this morning about the much more tangible 'Visitors and Residents' concept, he inadvertently tried to explain postdigital by saying "actually, it's more post-technical". This instantly stuck me as a more useful term, as it removes some of the perceived anti-digital vibes. It also draws attention to one of the clearer points in the debate: the desire to focus not on the technical aspect, but on the human aspects. We can reject the technical fetishisation of both the digital and the analogue using the term post-technical, and we use the term to remind us that it is the human triumphs, albeit enabled by technology, that should be promoted.

What do I mean? I'm not entirely sure. Perhaps an example might be useful to tease this out a bit.

'The Manual' that we devised and used in the Open Habitat Second Life pilots is an example of a post-technical approach to learning. 'The Manual' does not attempt to teach any technical skills. Pursuing the tasks in it will inevitably lead to the acquisition of technical skill, but it is the broader and deeper learning that is emphasised, as we think it is more important.

Technical skills are not a bad thing. Technical skills are a very good thing. But over emphasising the technical, especially at the start of a project, sets the wrong tone for learning. By dwelling on the technical, we are saying to the students "You cannot learn the deep stuff, the fun stuff, the creative stuff, the uncertain but important stuff, until you have the technical skills!". Not only does this take all the fun out of learning (well, for me and most of my students anyway), its logic is fundamentally flawed. How much technical stuff is necessary before you can start? Do you need to know, and do you need to have been tested on every feature in Final Cut Pro before you can edit a film? When I used to do software instruction, I used to teach my students one technical skill in FCP - a cut edit - and then I asked them to edit a film for the next hour. And then I didn't do any more FCP classes. Seriously. 99.9 percent of edits in any film are cuts. What is important in editing is timing and sequencing and trial and error. Learning every feature in Final Cut Pro won't help you to become a good editor. As an educator, I shouldn't be promoting the illusion that a comprehensive technical knowledge of software alone will enable them to succeed at HE level. Technical skills are important, but they can be gained as and when needed, at a pace appropriate to the individual learner.

I don't instruct my students in the sharpening of pencils, and I don't prevent them from drawing until they have passed a pencil proficiency test. I ask them to bring me their drawing so that we can talk about their ideas.

Oh, I'm rambling again. If you are new to my blog, I should point out that I use it mainly to tame my badly formed thoughts. Don't take it too seriously. Reading my post back, I think I may have some gaping holes in my arguments. I'll have to plug them later. I'm off the the F-ALT09 party now.


Owen said...

I think this is really useful - I much prefer post-technical as I agree, analogue or digital the issues that we are discussing under this heading are the same (I think)

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