The Zen of Educational Technology

Yesterday Jonathan Martin posted a wonderful piece on the tension between using technology as a necessary and critical part of modern education, and the inevitable hard-wired connection that we are all developing to and with these tools.  We all feel this, for our students and for ourselves.  We want and need to be connected to this incredible new world of ubiquitous information access, but we also want to step away, to embed, embrace, and connect with our world without the interfering interface of a screen, a data stream, a wire, a battery, a plug, a keypad.

The tension that Jonathan so deeply describes reminds me of my studies of Zen many years ago.  I have no formal training in this marvelous area of philosophy, nor do I count myself a good adherent.  But at a first order I think it is a place to look when we see these tensions, these dualities in life.  To me, Zen is the closest way we have to describe the simultaneous nature of both being and non-being, of inclusion and exclusion, of full and empty.  Does this not give us a model for the dichotomy we face in our classrooms: the “with and without” of our connection to knowledge?

We feel the need to connect via technology to the knowledge of our world, both because we can and because we are knowledge seekers.  The connection makes us more full.  Yet the connection comes with two requisites: if the connection breaks we feel un-full, and if we rely on the connection we strain our ability to connect in non-technology ways.  Both of these make us less full. Technology allows connection to people and places that are distant to us, which makes us more complete, but if it comes between us and our sensory participation in the world, we are less complete.

One could write many koans, the marvelous questions without answers that Zen has enriched us with, about this use/non-use of technology in education.  There is no answer, there is only understanding (and man, do we need to know the difference between answers and understanding!).  As always, it is likely that understanding lies in the Middle Path for our students and us.  See both the power and the weakness of educational technology.  Turn it on but also turn it off.  Use it as a tool, but use many other tools as well. At times let go of all tools and allow unfettered inflow of awareness. Understand that being full of knowledge is not the same as fulfillment through knowledge. Gain with technology so you can also confidently gain without it.

I could go on all day!  So many commentaries from the masters whose insight applies to this, and to all that we do as teachers. But surely less is more, and in backing away from the keyboard and going out to pick some avocados maybe I will know a little more…or not!

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