Digital tools are for thinking together

I neglected to share a short piece I wrote in response to The Manifesto for Teaching Online (Bayne et al. 2020) which was published in Postdigital Science and Education 4, 271–329 (2022).

The journal issue assembles other responses, and I am honored to appear among so much insight, like Sean Sturm’s consideration of the differences between paying attention, hyper attention, deep attention, and attention that pays.

Indeed, the prominence of technology in the education mix rewires more than just machines…

The article’s editor and editorialist, Alison MacKenzie brings explicit attention to the socio-materialist component of online teaching – a point expanded on by Lisa Markauskaite:
[…] accumulating evidence about negative effects of online education on mental health and well-being leaves me with an uneasy feeling that something important has been overlooked. As Hutchins (2010: 712) argued: ‘Activity in the nervous system is linked to high-level cognitive processes by way of embodied interaction with culturally organized material and social worlds.’ Therefore, when we talk about online teaching, we should also talk about human bodies and minds.
My consideration of the Manifesto‘s “sociomaterial attention to the wider network of materialities” considers promoting “access to and awareness of the design of tools that are available”, especially free software. It is called Digital Tools are for Thinking Together, and here is an excerpt:
Alternatives can be hard to find as they do not always come up in Internet searches. One example is free software, which respects users’ essential freedoms such as the freedom to run, study, and change it. ‘This is a matter of freedom, not price, so think of “free speech,” not “free beer’’’ (Stallman 2021). Consideration of free software raises ethical questions, like the difference between ‘open’ and ‘free’ in licensing or restrictions on modification. I’d like to see more awareness of how we can start to lobby for having a say right down to the level of the code of the tools we use.

There needs to be further discussion about whether it is fair to expect everyone to run the same software and whether it is acceptable to use tools that come at the price of tracking, like the aggressive JavaScript in some academic sites.

In the online classroom, questions should be raised about how to select digital tools and why, whether the tools create user-centric features or lock users into systems they have no control over; whether surveillance influences free speech, and how to assemble a set of digital tools that users feel brings out the best in themselves and in others.
You can access the article here.

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