Monday, 10 September 2012

Every tool shapes the task...and the brain

Never accept the frequent claim about technology that “it’s only a tool.” Lots of evidence makes it clear, as Ursula Franklin says, that ”every tool shapes the task.” Recent research goes further and points to tools shaping not just the task, but our brains as well.

In the face of this evidence, what is a teacher to do in working with students who live in a media-intense life outside of the classroom?

And what is a school system to do about creating an environment within the school: should the school be integrated with the external environment? or should the school be a cloister that provides space for personal recognition and reflection, free from digital distraction.

These are dilemmas that face teachers and schools in the rapidly shifting environment: questions of immersion or cloister as the strategy for schools.

The tool, the task and the brain

Probably the most famous phrase ever spoken by a Canadian is MarshallMcLuhan’s “the medium is the message.” It captured in a simple phrase a theory about social and cultural change.

The general public impression was that McLuhan was a promoter of the kinds of changes that he saw taking place in the move from print to audio-visual media, including TV. In fact, according to a recent biography by Douglas Coupland, he was actually lamenting what he saw happening.

Coupland begins the biography with a quote from McLuhan that is not so well known:

“The next medium, whatever it is—it may be the extension of consciousness—will include television as its content, not as its environment, and will transform television into an art form. A computer as a research and communication instrument could enhance retrieval, obsolence mass library organization, retrieve the individual’s encyclopaedic function and flip it into a private line to speedily tailored data of a saleable kind.”
(McLuhan, 1962)

Read the rest of this article at

Originally published in Our Schools, Our Selves, the education journal of the Canadian Centre from Policy Alternatives

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