Last week, Geraldine Timmins wrote an engaged and interesting recap of the 2017 Ascilite conference, held in Toowoomba. Attending this conference not only afforded the opportunity to interact and connect with individuals across the sector who are not only interested but also deeply invested in the effective, meaningful, and mindful development, implementation, and support of technology in learning and teaching. It was a centring and positive experience.

This conference also provided exposure to trailblazers in the field, not only in the participants but also through the featured keynotes. All three of them – James Arvanitakis, Marita Cheng, and Amber Case – raised relevant but provocative questions and interrogations that explored not only their own experiences, but invited participants to more deeply probe their own challenges. While all of these speakers delivered talks that were inspired and inspiring, I found myself reflecting most on Amber Case’s presentation on “calm technology” and its relevance to the various approaches to uses of technologies in learning and teaching.

According to Case, calm technology’s primary mission is to keep a person’s primary task to being human. She explains on her site,

The terms “calm computing” and “calm technology” were coined in 1995 by PARC Researchers Mark Weiser and John Seely Brown in reaction to the increasing complexities that information technologies were creating. [They] felt that the promise of computing systems was that they might “simplify complexities, not introduce new ones.”

Weiser believed that this would lead to an era of “calm technology,” in which technology, rather than panicking us, would help us focus on the things that were really important to us.

During her talk, she introduced eight tenets of calm technology that not only related to but also foster a better understanding of the use of technology in the classroom. While there are many practitioners who approach the integration of learning technologies into their teaching with ease, for some technology feels akin to an intrusion, an interloper, or an obstruction. The philosophy of calm technology helps to demonstrate the ways that technology should, as Weiser said, “help us to focus on things that [are] . . . important to us [rather than panicking us].”

The eight principles of calm technology:

  1. It shouldn’t require all of our attention – only some of it and only when necessary;

  2. Technology should empower the periphery;

  3. Technology should inform and inspire calm (ambient awareness);

  4. Technology should amplify the best of technology and the best of humanity (machines shouldn’t act like humans and humans shouldn’t act like machines);

  5. Technology can communicate but it doesn’t need to speak;

  6. Technology should consider social norms;

  7. The right amount of technology is the minimum to solve the problem;

  8. Technology should work even when it fails.

Overall, these principles demonstrate the ways in which effective and meaningful technology should be in classrooms. Technology should enhance and transform good teaching and learning, not disrupt it. In order to achieve that, it shouldn’t be the “star”. Rather, the focus of teaching should be the content and meta-content and the focus of the learning should be the student (and the instructor).Technology is meant to empower the participants in this teaching-learning dance while maintaining the boundaries between human and machine.

There exists a fatigue around learning technology use and implementation and, to me, this fatigue is explained through something very simple: we’re not employing calm technology. Changing technology too often inhibits the ability to develop a routine with and around it. This amount of change also requires too much attention being paid to it. Further, we don’t always need the latest and shiniest to find what best empowers the good work already happening in classrooms – and sometimes less is more. In the end, Case isn’t saying that technology doesn’t have its place – of course, it does. Technology enables us to continue to grow and expand with and in response to the ever-changing demands placed upon higher education. But the relationship with technology in the classroom must be one kept in balance and that prioritises the foundational tenets and players in learning and teaching, not the tools.

Posted by Tanya Rose

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