Can Technology Value Reflection over Engagement?

So much edtech marketing tries to sell the idea of “engagement”; I've written before about why I find that phrase so pernicious. While I'm still bothered by the way that selling “engagement” through technology makes it seem like what teachers do is inherently not engaging (e.g. “boring” lecture, plain old non-technologized classrooms), the more damaging part of buying into the marketer's story, that technology's goal is “engagement”, comes from the way such framing distracts from the more valuable — and undervalued — part of teaching and learning: reflection. I would put it starkly: knowledge and the act of knowing comes not from engagement but from reflection percolating and punctuated over time.

Reflectiveness is not commonly (ever?) a stated value of major educational technologies. Why is that? Is it that it's too hard? Or is it that this is so obviously the business of human to human interaction that to claim a technology allows students to be reflective is a bridge too far? Or is it that the lure of engagement so nicely meshes with the way that people think of technology? Engagement is, in my mind, simply the acceptable way to claim technological stickiness, made to sound like it's a good thing rather than good-for-the-platform, not-so-great-for-the-individual behavior modification, e.g. Facebook or Instagram or Candy Crush or any other semi-addictive technology which aims to maximize clicks and eyeball time (aka “engagement”) on their platform.

Outside of education, what technologies foster reflection more than quick hits? This is a fairly pressing issue as we struggle collectively to figure the role of social media in public and private. Some platforms, particularly those for writing and blogging, do often foster reflectiveness. (e.g.!). There are plentiful calming and stress-relieving apps or sites (let's say, as examples somewhat at random, tinybuddha, zenhabits and similar) So I don't want to be unfair to educational technologies. This is a general technology problem. I suppose though that what matters to me here is that the need for valuing reflection is higher in learning environments. We should more actively try to maximize the ability to be reflective while using technologies in learning environments.

With that in mind, we turn to a typical LMS and... ahhhhhhh!! oh. sweet. @#%@%. Why must I click so much and go through all this just to get a single assignment put into the system? Why does my gradebook run like Lotus 1-2-3 on vacuum tubes? Is there someone updating that database by hand and carrier pigeon? And why are cells not really spreadsheet cells and why is that number now different from what I entered and @#%@#% this is already stressful. I haven't even gotten to the student experience and it's already just... messy.

LMS-es are easy targets, because they have to do too much for too many people. I'm sympathetic to that problem, as it will always lead to a bad outcome and compromises. But I'm genuinely curious whether there are softwares out there that people regularly use in education that foster reflection more so than surface interactivity and “engagement”. My sense is that we're not used to thinking about technology in general in these terms, outside perhaps of some writing tools — and even there that's not necessarily how many people use them.

How do we make technologies that facilitate reflection? What would technology that helps with that look like? Or is reflection what we do when we take a break from technology?

#minimalistedtech #learning #teaching #edtech

Postscript: One of my favorite methods in classroom teaching has long been a form of technological disruption. Not me, but similar to things I have often done: Changing the technology we use for classroom things, whether going high-tech or low-tech, always leads to interesting insights and questioning of assumptions. In thinking about how to foster reflection through technology, I am thinking especially of how breaking from current technology is usually the source of reflection. Perhaps current technology is simply too present to allow space for reflection. But the example of digital tools I enjoy for writing or making music or sketching lead me to believe that this is a matter of habit and design choice more than anything else. Why can't edtech be zentech?