More disruption

My recent post on disruptive activism and Edupunk provoked some good discussion, not only on this blog, but also elsewhere on Twitter and on my own Facebook account, where I had shared the link.

In particular, there was an interesting exchange between two highly experienced educators Walter McKenzie and Graham Davies, which (with their permission) I am sharing below.

Walter and Graham raise a number of pertinent issues in relation to the nature of technology, disruptive change and learning, and I welcome further debate on this blog.

Walter McKenzie: I understand disruptive activism....disruptive technologies not so much. It's how we use the technologies. Technology in and of itself cannot be disruptive...
Sunday at 22:50 ·

Graham Davies: Disruptive technology as defined by Christensen is not necessarily a negative term. It usually takes the form of an innovation that we may initially resist but finally accept when it becomes clear that it works better than it's predecessors. Many new technologies are poor performers in their early stages and take a while to become stable and reliable. Some never make it, e.g. CDI which was pipped at the post by DVD.
Monday at 00:34 ·

Walter McKenzie: My discomfort isn't with the concept of being disruptive, but the personification of technology as being able to be disruptive simply by its existence. It can only be disruptive if it is applied in such a way by people...
Monday at 00:44 ·

Graham Davies: No, technology can just be disruptive. Back the wrong horse in a period of change and then you are in trouble. I'm a watch-and-wait person.
Monday at 00:52 ·

Walter McKenzie: Please explain further? I'm probably just slow....I need more context to understand what you are saying....
Monday at 00:55 ·

Graham Davies: What I am saying is that it is essential to wait until it is clear that a new technology really works better than its predecessors rather than seizing a new technology before it has settled down.
Monday at 01:02 ·

Walter McKenzie: OK I agree with that. No need to be jumping on bandwagons without thoughtful evaluation of them first. But ultimately it is how we use them and assess their use, yes?
Monday at 01:10 ·

Graham Davies: I agree.
Monday at 01:12 ·

Walter McKenzie: Thanks for your patience in talking this through with me.
Monday at 01:22 ·

Graham Davies: No problem. I am rarely an early adopter, but once I am convinced about the advantages of a new technology I am keen to promote it. I adopted CD audio quite early on, but held off going completely digital with iTunes until a couple of years ago. Now I am just pissed off with having to convert my huge collection of 33rpm LPs to digital format. That IS disruption :-) Maybe I'll just hang on to my 16-year-old Kenwood deck...
Monday at 01:33 ·

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Downes said…
The thing is, they're both wrong. Technology can be disruptive all by itself, without being used.

Eg. a gun in the room is just disruptive. It doesn't matter if nobody uses it. Its very presence - and what it implies could be done - is in itself disruptive.
Steve Wheeler said…
Thanks Stephen - I remember a psychology experiment related to your comment. It was a study on aggression by Berkowitz in which a gun was left visible in a drawer. Participants who saw the gun subseqently behaved differently, usually more aggressively. Objects such as technology can change behaviour purely based on their affordances - i.e. the perception that they are capable of performing specific functions.
P@ said…
I presume this doesn't refer to technology as in the dictionary definition, then. Because if it did, you have to look at all the ways the piece of kit is used, or affects the behaviour of people (as Stephen so aptly suggests, and you summarise).

It would be so handy if people defined what they mean by a common word when what they mean is not what is written in the dictionaries ;-)

Not that I am against evolution of language - and dictionaries (now there is a "technology") necessarily denote old usage of words, with a rare glimpse of current use - but when cohorts adopt a narrow use, it makes dialogue ever so tricky.
Steve Wheeler said…
Pat -thanks for the comment. Not sure what you are getting at here? Are you saying the use of the word 'technology' in this discussion is misplaced, or that the examples we use are wrong?
IGH said…
Doesn't this line of thought rather assume that technology is object like in nature? Guns are very obviously technologies and also very obviously discrete concrete objects. However, virtual social networking is also clearly a technology (or perhaps a collection of technologies) but not nearly so obviously a concrete and specific thing. After all, you wouldn't mistake the PC, smartphone or whatever for the social network that it accesses.

I think I agree that the mere existence of at least some technologies alters the social situations they are found in. However, thinking of them in terms of concrete particulars might obscure the ways in which this happens. Coincidentally, I think the study Steve is referring to was from the late 60s by Le Page and Berkowitz derived in part from Milgram's methodology.
Mark Smithers said…
Moving on from the debate about whether a technology can be disruptive just by being (I agree with Stephen Downes BTW) I think the question of disruption and disruptive activism is an interesting one. I'm not sure that the exchange that you have posted really hits the mark. I don't think that the speed of adoption really matters or, for that matter, the technology concerned.

For example, we are now seeing disruption to the Australian retailing industry twelve years after online shopping became widely available. Disruptiton continues to occur worldwide in the music and publishing industries but it is happening over a number of years (albeit much more quickly than disruptions to industries in the past). Other disruptions such as tablet devices happen much more quickly.

I think what really matters is the degree of fundamental change that occurs within a specific industry or activity. You can argue that publishing, journalism and music are all being fundamentally disrupted by a combination of technologies.

It's interesting that higher education continues to remain largely immune to fundamental disruption. There are certainly high profile attempts to disrupt HE such as edupunk, open education etc but the core model of delivery is remaining remarkably traditional and seems robust at the moment. This is not a good thing. I suspect, amongst other things, it it is because of the commoditisation of higher education and entrenched control over the 'product' by a limited number of providers.

But that's too big a question to attempt to answer in a blog post comment.
Amispec said…
While I agree with Stephen Downes in the broad sense, is his analogy relevant to technology 'in the classroom'? I'm sure we can all point to schools which have invested in technology which has the potential to be highly disruptive, but end up sitting unused because teachers don't have the time, inclination or ability to make use of them.
Walter said…
I think it's interesting that Stephen Downes presumes everyone would be intimidated by a gun. It depends on the perception of each person who might walk in the room and see it. Now....a person holding the gun could propel a more disruptive interpretation by most reasonable people. But a gun just laying on a shelf or table? No - I think that actually makes my point. Thanks Steve for continuing the discussion!
Lindsay Jordan said…
I can honestly say that having a gun in the room - regardless of whether it was on the shelf or the table, rammed down my windpipe or locked in a drawer - would scare me shitless.
Lindsay Jordan said…
...mind you, I'm the same about balloons and christmas crackers.

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