Our students are in many respects already cyborgs. I’m not sure educators have fully adapted to this reality.
We adjusted to chemical enhancements in athletics by implementing drug testing. But the truth is that nowadays most of the chemical enhancements are things that would be used regularly and not just on the occasion of a competition, to build muscle strength. This is also the approach we have taken to the earliest technological enhancements: the internet, the phone, the ability to print a label for a soda bottle with the ingredients replaced with crucial information you need to remember when taking a test, and so on. But once an artificial limb is the relevant technology, the issues for athletics become different. Many of us have wondered what will happen when technology that allows for consultation of the internet becomes integrated into our bodies. But the issues are here, long ahead of such science fiction technology.
I’m thinking of websites and software such as EasyBib and Grammarly, but also of software like Word and even library databases. I had a student insist that they could not have plagiarized since they use Grammarly to check that what they submit is entirely their own work. My response was that this is checking whether plagiarism is detectable by automated means after the fact, whereas avoiding it involves approaching the process of writing itself in particular ways. Something similar happens with bibliographies: students copy and paste a URL into EasyBib and assume that what it churns out will be formatted correctly. They see no red underlining in Word and assume that they have written something that contains no errors of spelling and grammar. They use a database and assume that they have found reliable information.
In other words, our students are cyborgs, but not very impressive ones. The added technology is not making them better at some of the really important things they need to be learning to do. In other words, the current state of our technologically-assisted students is not like the Bionic Woman, and at present shows no prospect of being that. It is more like the suit in The Greatest American Hero – it would be a serious enhancement if they knew how to use it properly. Rather than prohibiting students from using technology, we need to realize how many ways they already are that we take for granted, and how many they ought to be yet are not or at least are not doing so wisely, efficiently, or effectively. We need to design activities and assessments that teach them and then evaluate them on their ability to do the things we have always been trying to train them to do–write, read, research–in a manner that does not rely on technology to tell them whether they write well or how to format a reference, but teaches them what they need to know in order to create a bibliography using Word’s built-in function, discern which search results are relevant and credible, and whether the words they have strung together make good sense regardless whether their word processing software has things underlined or not. Currently they are like Joey Tribbiani using the thesaurus function writing a letter:
Technology such as that featured in the clip above can help, but you have to know the words that a thesaurus offers you to be able to choose one that works. Writing well cannot be automated. That may be the first thing we need to drive home to students. But then we need to move on to teaching them how to use technology wisely, which includes appreciating what it is capable of and what its limitations are.
Since I’ve been talking about software enhancements and the like, let me share some things of interest related more broadly to technology and the work that I do on ethics and computing, in particular artificial intelligence:
Previously here on my blog: