Mutually assured distraction

[tweetmeme style=”compact” source=”carl_robinson”]I read the following quote in the Times’ In Gear section today:

mutually assured distraction: NOUN When two or more individuals who are ostensibly working begin to fire off a series of emails, comedy video clips and Facebook pokes at each other in a downward spiral of collaborative non-productivity from which nothing useful emerges.

This does make me smile – I have often seen time-stamped Facebook entries that tell tales on people’s productivity during work hours.

But it does occur to me that this is something that is increasingly prevalent. Another report in the Guardian yesterday pointed out just how addicted we can be to the internet and how it can distract from the simper pleasures in life.

But back to the workplace. Mine’s a publishing company, but yours may be a classroom. There have been many posts on the usefulness of technology in ELT – advocates like Gavin Dudeney promote the benefits (see this post on That’SLife, for example) whilst respecting and acknowledging that teachers are central – that tech is only a tool. There have been equal numbers of those who are sceptical of technology in itself and perhaps see it as a potential distraction from ‘real’ teaching.

The argument goes on (see the recent post from Ken Wilson, and in particular the comments) – I’m not sure there will ever be a winner, or if ever there should be (I wonder how teachers and educators reacted to the advent of paper over chalk and slate, sometimes, when I read the arguments. I bet there were similar discussions in whatever passed for the blogosphere at the time).

But the mutually assured distraction definition and the Guardian article both made me wonder if there was a greater danger of us – publishers, educators, authors – turning concerns over technology into something more than they deserve to be. Are we the ones who won’t let it go? The ones who fire off the pokes and emails, swap blog comments, engage in Twitter arguments while the rest of the teaching world sees ‘technology’ (for want of a better term) as just something ‘to get on with’?

By the way, I am aware of the contradiction in writing a post that in some way contributes to the above. Can’t help myself.

Teachers will either use the tools or leave them – in much the same way as my teachers at school were variously good at making use of an OHP. Does this affect the quality of their teaching? I doubt it – good teachers will always be good teachers (and vice versa) regardless of the tools they use in the classroom. And I know that has been said before.

So perhaps it’s time we left these arguments alone and just acknowledged that (new) technology in the classroom is the current reality for some and soon will be for others – I read stuff almost daily as part of my job that tells me this is so. Otherwise we are in danger of entering into “…a downward spiral of collaborative non-productivity from which nothing useful emerges.”

And that would be m.a.d.

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2 thoughts on “Mutually assured distraction

  1. Thanks for the distraction, Carl – I just wanted to say I agree with the conclusions you make in the post. As a teacher trainer, I have been ‘showing’ and trying to help people use technological tools for the last couple of years. However, over the last few months I have slowly come to realisation that trying to be evangelical about technology probably does more harm than good and fuels what you refer to as the downward spiral. I think I started to feel this way while taking part in an online conference towards the end of last year. There was a discussion as to why there has to be an acronym for technology and teaching – it started with CALL and people now refer to TELL. By giving it an acronym we are also fuelling m.a.d. making it seem something out of the ordinary (almost the same way the term Business English tends to scare a newly qualified teacher). So now when I’m running training, I accept there will always be naysayers, usually be people who have no idea what an IWB is, but realise we can’t keep going back over the same things and so now treat technology exactly as I would treat any other aspect of teaching.

    • Always a pleasure, Shaun!

      My take is slightly different as you know. The (ELT) publishing industry has started to produce lots of stuff to feed the technology hunger out there – so in some ways we welcome evangelists and acronyms – it helps us work out ways to publish for people. However, what is becoming increasingly clear to me is the need for training on the newer technologies – most teachers I speak to take it for granted that technology is just something they have to have; what they want from us is content to use with the technology, and more often than not, someone to help them get to grips with it (the tech and the content).

      In a lot of cases teachers aren’t given much choice – the technology is foisted upon them by school owners, authorities or (misled) government initiatives to digitise everything (misled in the sense that these politicians seem to think it will make teaching cheaper/easier by default) – so they are keen to keep up. In the end, Shaun, whether or not we fuel a pointless debate, your task of training people is probably one of the more important ones. If entering the debate and creating the odd acronym is a bi-product of that, so be it. But perhaps we can avoid wasting energy in non-productive areas of discussion. Tech in teaching is there, we need to deal with it.

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