Thursday, October 22, 2009

my rant about thinking, experiencing, and doing.

Today in Technology-in-Education class we had to attend an online conference. There were live sessions and exhibits, all accessible through the internet. One of the sessions I attended was called "Three Types of Immersive Interfaces: Implications for Learning and Teaching."

Basically, it was encouraging teachers to immerse their students in a subject via Virtual Reality, Second Personality, and Augmented Reality. The speakers demonstrated and explained a huge range of ways this can benefit students in your classroom. I was really intrigued with the possibilities that Virtual Reality offers for learning.

One of the speakers noted that VR provides students with new ways to explore and learn "like Alice in Wonderland ... through the monitor."
(Sorry this isn't cited; I don't know which speaker made this statement.)

The idea of virtual reality being used to enhance experiences seems appealing to me, in theory. I like to use books to explore the world, and this takes it further - exponentially. But I think that exploring the world (a world) of VR is done in a different frame of mind than the frame of mind in which reading (and, I will argue, thinking) is done. The loss of the environment of quietness and solitude in which reading takes place is a very steep price to pay.

With books, you can snuggle up somewhere warm and quiet. You can think about what you are reading while you are reading it. In contrast, I find that I struggle to think and process simultaneously when i have gone 'through the monitor.' It is very difficult to think about texting while I am texting, for example. A book, however, isn't something that is happening. It is a noun, not a verb. Technology is all about verbs; and the technology IS the verb. You don't send-a-text: you text. You don't look-at-facebook: you facebook.

I know the presenters were talking about 'immersion' in a subject being possible via virtual reality; however, I don't think that the medium of virtual reality is immersive in the deeply thoughtful sense that a book can be. Of course, I realize you can become addicted to VR, play inside it all the time, choose to live your VR life over your real life, etc. VR internalizes you - wraps you up inside of it. It generates alternate experiences for you ... and that's what these presenters are saying. Immersion, "augmented reality," is educationally a good thing.

I completely disagree.

There is something very precious and very still about a book. A book is incapable of verbing. It doesn't say anything or communicate unless you pick it up and read it for yourself. When you leave it alone, it doesn't turn itself off, hibernate, or suspend. It just is.

We are the bosses when we read books. We do all the verbing. We pick them up, we put them down, we turn the page, we drop them when we fall asleep. We fold their pages and save our places and drip coffee on them. They just are.

To quote Marshall McLuhan, the medium is the message. And I don't want to send the message to my students that technology can do the doing for them. I want them to do the doing.

Doesn't Virtual Reality provide an opportunity for students to do the doing, in ways and places they couldn't normally do it?
I would have to say no. It doesn't. The VR creators have done the doing, and students do the experiencing.

I argue that experiencing is entirely different from doing. In "experiencing," the student is a recipient of external stimuli. In "doing," the student generates action from within himself/herself. I'm not saying that "experiencing" is negative in itself, but I am saying that I believe it should not (and cannot) replace "doing."

I want my students to DO. I want them to become good friends with their own minds, to understand the way they form thoughts, ruminate, reflect, and think. I don't want them to be simply savvy manipulators of technology to get the right answer.

I want them to be able to think independently from within the blissful solitude of a quiet mind.

I want them to be able to imagine more than a Virtual Reality, to be creators of thoughts and not just information-gatherers. No wonder students have problems with plagiarism ... it's more common to find someone else's thoughts than to think for oneself. No wonder students see one another as obstacles and variables to be manipulated ... that's life in VR.

My mission, as an educator? To teach my students to think, to really, deeply, think.

and that ... is my rant.


  1. BRAVO!!! I agree 100%, although I wouldn't have been able to put it as neatly, or elequently. Go Books. Go Real Life!

  2. hey janelle, you know what my new favourite part of working nights is? YOU BLOG MORE :) hahaha
    there's another verb ... blog. not, write on your blog. haha