Soft and hard technology

In #change11, this week we have a conversation with Jon Dron on technologies for learning. He organize it from the perspective of the difference between hard and soft technology. The distinction made is as follows. What makes a technology soft or hard is the degree to which the orchestration of the phenomena is actively executed by humans. Soft technology requires human intervention to achieve the purposes for which it was designed: it is flexible and nedeed, and so, supports creativity and change. In contrast, hard technology is rigid and complete, containing both the processes and methods to accomplish the purpose for which it is designed.

The distinction seems important to me. The hardness or softness of the technology is not described by its degree of materiality. There are human process consisting of hard technologies, consider the manufacturing processes that require a human doing the same ever and in all its operations. The Internet could be a soft technology as offering great potential for expression and interaction with others. The distinction that points Dron has to do with the effects and implications for the state of the world and humans. To the extent that we harden the technology, the human becomes part of a machinery and the world’s ecosystem is changed depending on the energy exchanges involved. To the extent that technology is soft, adjacent possibilities for humans and ecosystems expand.

The design of learning technologies from this perspective helps us understand the means and ways that expand the possibilities of humans with the growth of adjacent possibilities offered by the proposed technology.

For this week, including a set of reflections, Dron proposes a game, I have found fun and interesting, which is to design a learning technology using a not sophisticated email client . Here is my design.

Use: an organizer of conversations.
The email client’s capability of sending and receiving messages, the ability to send to multiple individuals, the ability to show a subject line, the ability to identify individuals to whom mail has been sent and from whom mail has been sent, the ability to find, store, sort and organise messages.

The orchestration:
The teacher initiates a conversation with an e-mail sent to all students, putting in the “Subject” “theme #: descriptor: Conversation. Add text in the body with the fundamental ideas, references to documents that can be found by students, and a question.
Each student responds by typing “received” at the beginning of the “matter”, the rest just leave it. This is for the record and logistics tracking. The teacher saves received messages in a folder called “theme #: descriptor: received”
Each student sends an email to the teacher with a copy to everyone else. The subject is the same. In the body of the email write their reflections on this matter and finally a conclusion or position on the issue. The teacher keeps those emails in the folder called “theme #: descriptor: conversation.”
The teacher, with the help of one or two assistants, analyzes emails and distinguishing those conclusions or positions that are similar, those that are opposite and those that add some nuance. Saves each set of emails in a subfolder with the name “theme #: descriptor: Alternative #”.

The teacher placed on a email the different conclusions or positions, described in a systematic way and concise, and the nuances. In the “subject” puts “Conversation: item #: descriptor: positions: shift #”, and sends it to all students. At the end asks arguments for and against both positions, as well as views on the value of the nuances. Save the mail in the folder “theme #: descriptor: conversation”

Each student sends an email to the teacher adding the word “received” at the beginning of “Subject,” the professor save them in the “received” for that matter.

Each student sends an email to the teacher with and copy to all other students, with their reflection on what the teacher asked. The teacher keeps these emails in the subfolder “theme #: descriptor: conversation”, and sorted alphabetically.

The process is repeated until, in the analysis of the teacher, finds that there is  consensus or clarity in the postures.

The organizer should explain this to others through an initial mailing.

Al ensamblar más tecnología, dejando algunas partes blandas, el proceso se organiza, puede hacerse con mayor limpieza y claridad. Esto lo hace más fácil. Podría añadir una tecnología de reconocimiento de texto para identificar las posturas; sin embargo, esto implicaría que el profesor deje de analizar los contenidos y, así, hacer más deficiente la retroalimentación: sería contraproducente al propósito general del aprendizaje.

Esta es una tecnología blanda en tanto que requiere de la intervención de personas a lo largo de todo el proceso. La parte dura consiste en

  • El contenido de la línea del “Asunto:”
  • Las personas a quienes se envía el correo.
  • El tipo de correo que se envía: “recibido” o “reflexión”.
  • El ordenamiento de los correos en carpetas y subcarpetas.

Las partes blandas son:

  • El contenido del cuerpo del correo electrónico.
  • El análisis de los textos.
  • La elaboración de la síntesis.
  • El cierre de la conversación.

Las habilidades para operar esta tecnología: enviar y recibir correo; pensar, escribir, argumentar, sistematizar, distinguir.

Podríamos pensar en otras tecnologías más duras que hagan este trabajo. Un foro o un wiki nos dan la ventaja de tener toda la conversación en un mismo sitio; aunque requeriría de mayores habilidades de los participantes en cuanto a la organización de la información. Quizás el gran beneficio de esta tecnología es que la organización es sencilla y está dada de antemano, sin requerir que cada alumno tenga que colaborar en ella.

Some thoughts on this technology:

By assembling more technology, leaving some soft parts, the process is organized, can be done more cleanly and clearly. This makes it easier. I might add a text recognition technology to identify the positions, but this would imply that the teacher stop analyzing the contents and thus make poorer feedback: it would be counterproductive to the general purpose of learning.

This is a soft technology as it requires the intervention of people throughout the process. The hard part is

  • The contents of the line of “Subject”
  • People who are sent the mail.
  • The type of mail that is sent “received” or “reflection.”
  • The arrangement of the emails in folders and subfolders.

The soft parts are:

  • The content of the email body.
  • The analysis of texts.
  • The preparation of synthesis.
  • The closure of the conversation.

Skills to operate this technology: sending and receiving mail, think, write, argue, organize, distinguish.

We could think on harder technologies to do this hard work. A forum or a wiki give us the advantage of having the entire conversation in one place, but require higher skills of the participants in the organization of information. Perhaps the great benefit of this technology is that the organization is simple and is given in advance, without requiring that each student has to work on it.

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