Agency and Passivity in the Digital Age: Learning with Dewey

In the first chapter, Dewey writes of “traditional” education ,

Learning here means acquisition of what already is incorporated in books and in the heads of elders. Moreover, that which is taught is thought of essentially static. It is taught as a finished product, with little regard ither to the ways in which it was originally built up or to changes that will surely occur in the future. It is to a large extent the culture product of societies that assumed the further would be much like the past, and yet is used as educational food in a society where change is the rule, not the exception (p. 19).”

When using technology as a teaching tool, how do we ensure that learning is not static? In what ways does technology reproduce the “banking method” of education? In what ways can it subvert it?

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4 thoughts on “Agency and Passivity in the Digital Age: Learning with Dewey

  1. Your questions about active vs passive learning re technology are important ones. Our “real world” interactions with technology can often be passive, so perhaps that makes the stakes for learning actively with it even more important. I wonder if the analogy of reading a book and summarizing it or responding to teacher made questions vs reading a book and having students respond creatively and collaboratively or develop their own questions is a helpful one. Passive learning exists in all contexts unfortunately.

  2. I think that passive learning and teaching is less likely in an interactive setting, only because interactivity requires active engagement on some level. Unless, as both Dewey and Bass suggest, there is no effort by the instructor to contextualize the subject matter and the purpose of using technology to explore it. Giving every middle-school kid an iPad with no framework its use as a learning tool doesn’t do much but increase the likelihood of in-class sexting.

  3. I think your question about the promotion of movement in the digital age is so interesting! From a teachers perspective, I know how important movement is, and I try to find space to allow it in my class as much as I can. But in the digital age, it is so easy to avoid movement, and remain at a desk, or on your phone, or your computer for huge periods of time.

    I revisited chapter 5 looking for answers to this question of movement, and what stood out to me was the idea of a fixed classroom, with desks drilled into the floor and students who’s every move is regulated. But, Dewey acknowledges rightly that that behind that uniform stillness is so much! Students brains, imaginations and wonderings are happening even if they’re following the outward code of conduct. Dewey talks about the necessity of external freedom of movement, and that had me thinking about how our digital tools allow a specific kind of movement. When every student has a phone in hand the teacher is not the keeper of the keys of knowledge. If I make a mistake while I’m teaching, if a students interest is peaked about a specific topic, if there’s a question that they don’t want to ask in the moment…there is the internet, ready and waiting to correct, respond, and answer. That isn’t to say that this replaces the need for the teacher, but it’s a particular kind of intellectual movement. Allowing student external freedom to access this material (take out your phone, look it up, walk over to the computer whenever you need to) creates interesting dynamic.

    Dewey says “Impulses and desires that are not ordered by intelligence are under the control of accidental circumstances.” Teaching our students that our digital impulses and desires (to take out your phone, double check something, find a video that connects to discussion, send a friend a message with a question about the work) can be ordered by intelligence, is perhaps one way to think about how to connect digital tools and movement through pedagogy.

  4. This is a great thread with some important questions! Reading the Dewey piece made me think of the Tim Berners-Lee piece I blogged about a few weeks ago. If information in the classroom isn’t organized in a way to encourage new questions/inquiries, it’s not going to promote action. I really like the scientific method analogy and the quote below from the foreword (pg. 4):

    “Scientific study leads to and enlarges experience, but this experience is educative only to the degree that it rests upon a continuity of significant knowledge and to-the degree that this knowledge modifies or “modulates” the learner’s outlook, attitude, and skill.”

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