Education – digital or dialogical?

by Carl Bossard

Internet and big data radically change learning. Does the future belong to the digital student, then, the “Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung” recently asked and added: That would be alarming. An attempt of clarification.

“The belief that education can be replaced by a computer program is a myth. Human contact and mentoring make the decisive difference in learning outcomes,”

By now, digital technology has conquered our environment. One cannot imagine life without computer, Internet and social media any more. Digital technologies have penetrated almost all areas of life; they determine our everyday life. Unconditionally. We all use them. There is no turning back.

The digital technologies dominate everyday life

The digital panopticon of Internet, smartphone and Google Glass also determines the young people’s environment – and changes teaching. Everyday school life and learning routine are digitised. This has consequences.
The consequences must not be accepted blindly, giddily and in a state of intoxication. They should be gauged and considered. But “thinking through to the end is a hard fate,” the former Chairman of the Board of Directors of the Swiss Banking Corporation SBG, Dr Robert Holzach wrote.1 Thinking ahead and trying to get to the bottom of the law of unintended side-effects2 is mandatory in such a radical change in paradigm as is the digital education revolution.

“Online Education will change the world”

The self-determined student is learning online and debating in the e-forum! The slogan seized almost everything. In 2012, Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs) were the hype of the season and were celebrated as the greatest revolution since printing and compulsory schooling. The “New York Times” declared “The Year of the MOOC”.
 From many people’s point of view digital technologies make it possible: Education for all via MOOCs, personally tailored learning, big data for study counseling as well as computer games instead of testimonies for job applications – a small section of what is currently revolutionising our world. This is said to be the future of learning. And this future is coming to us like a tsunami. Orwell realised what Humboldt dreamed of: democratising education and making it accessible to all. It now exists like off-the-peg-suits: as mass product. The education experts Jörg Dräger and Ralph Müller-Eiselt of the German Bertelsmann Foundation believe this.³

The virtual tutor as teacher of the future

The two protagonists go even further: the latest hit of digital education is no longer the collective MOOC, but the virtual tutor. He teaches pupils and students as well as lifelong learners personally – namely over their entire educational vita. Only electricity, WLAN and a tablet are necessary.
It goes like this: Every day a student receives the curriculum tailored to his needs; a datacenter does create it overnight. The learning software determines the optimal subjects for each student and supervises his work steps. Algorithms analyse his learning progress and convey feedback to him, recognise his mistakes, and show solutions. This also includes the expected final grades. A company lets the same student serve sushi in a virtual restaurant. The computer game predicts the professional success.
In their publication Jörg Dräger and Ralph Müller-Eiselt predict that this is the digital future of learning, machine-controlled and individualized.

Controversial high-tech use in the classroom

The Zeitgeist therefore speaks of education 4.0: Learning and education can be completely tied to media and technology – and thus to digital learning factories, in which an incorruptible algorithm carries out his pedagogical duty. Digital instead of analogue, reliable high-tech instead of defective human being. This is one view, the digital one – and with that the future, if you trust the Silicon-Valley-digitalists and the two Bertelsmann experts.
Diametrically opposed to this position is the other view, the dialogical one: “I strongly resist the belief that you need technological tools to teach grammar to children,” says Alan Eagle, a Google employee in Silicon Valley, California, and father of two children. He is constantly involved in new technologies; but his children, aged 11 and 13, can hardly handle Google. “The idea that an iPad-app should better be able to teach my children reading or arithmetic is ridiculous,” Eagle said.4

The power of corporations

Digital or dialogical? When teaching, there is no either-or. Although it is possible to distinguish between the school high-tech laboratory and the technology-free forest school. However, such polarity thinking misunderstands that teaching and learning are always a discipline of both-and/as well as.
It is therefore all the more annoying that industries and internet groups, supported by cantonal education authorities, are pushing the digitalisation of schools with all their might and are converting teaching unilaterally to digital teaching tools and methods – with largely uncritical support of media and the public. Who wants to meet the beautiful new world 4.0 with skepticism? He would be considered hopelessly backwoods.

Any significant understanding wants to be thought through

However, the accelerated development of technological teaching and learning structures neglects, indeed negates the human and social dimensions of teaching and learning. Personality and dialogue fall into oblivion. And the fact is underestimated that people get accustomed to doing what the digital engineering machines predict. In addition there is the control via the network and big data mining. Digital education makes the learner transparent. In the net he leaves indelible traces.
Today’s lessons do not get along without modern media – that is beyond doubt. However, learning must not be determined solely by digital technology. Every understanding that matters is intended to be acquired intellectually. There is no machine to save those troubles. The vital teacher who is on the spot, the professionally convincing lecturer, therefore, keep their place in the classroom. The effect values arise from their lessons and from personal contact. It depends on them and their work. This is shown by all the results of the extensive John Hattie Study as well as by the research results of neurobiologists Gerhard Roth and Joachim Bauer. And from our own school days, we all know it.

Does man learn digitally?

The shower of confetti of information and the many data heaps do not necessarily promote understanding and recognition. This is one of the curiosities of modern media. And no empirical study can prove that the early use of electronic media would do this and would have positive effects. On the contrary, it is people who make us understanders.5 In analogous dialogue and Socratic discourse. Education is always and necessarily tied to individuals.6
“The belief that education can be replaced by a computer program is a myth. Human contact and mentoring make the decisive difference in learning outcomes,”7 says German IT researcher Sebastian Thrun. He knows what he is talking about. He teaches as professor of artificial intelligence at Stanford University.

Education needs relationship

Thrun’s statement is based on an educational knowledge that sees trust and relationship as the basis of learning. This insight emerges from the results of empirical learning research. Also for digital technology and new media they postulate the didactic principle: teaching is a relationship work and thus an intersubjective event between teachers and learners. Tablets and smartphones remain normal learning materials such as pencil or rubber.8 They are means, but not an aim.    •

1    Holzach, Robert. Gedachtes und Nach-Gedachtes. Anmerkungen für die Freunde. Weinfelden 1987, p. 22
2    Spranger, Eduard. Das Gesetz der ungewollten Nebenwirkungen in der Erziehung. Heidelberg 1962
3    Dräger, Jörg / Müller-Eiselt, Ralph. Die digitale Bildungsrevolution. Der radikale Wandel des Lernens und wie wir ihn gestalten können. München 2015.
    The one author is chairman, the other education expert of the Bertelsmann-Foundation.
4; the whole publication:
5    cf. Roth, Gerhard. Bildung braucht Persönlichkeit. Wie Lernen gelingt. Stuttgart 2011. p. 287 ff.
6    Bieri, Peter. Wie wäre es, gebildet zu sein? In: Lessing, Hans-Ulrich/Steenblock, Volker (Ed.). “Was den Menschen eigentlich zum Menschen macht …”. Classical texts of a philosophy of education. Freiburg, Breisgau, Germany, p. 205 ff.
7    Lankau, Ralf. “Ohne Dozenten geht es nicht.” In: Die Zeit, from 9.1.2014, p. 61
8    See Burri, Anja. “Die perfekte Lehrerin.” In: NZZ am Sonntag, from 12.3.2017, p. 23

Source: from 19.3.2017

(Translation Current Concerns)

No computers for infants


NO to the digital kindergarten! YES to constructive educational investments!

All individuals having signed this petition are concerned about the healthy development of future generations. They all want to actively support constructive educational investments in kindergartens, child care programs and preschools and intend to develop a network helping this initiative to reach these goals quickly and in a convincing way.
Reasons: One third of all one-year-old children in the USA today use computers before they can walk or speak. In Germany 70% of 2- to 5-year-olds currently spend half an hour a day with a smartphone. The most commonly used application in Germany among 6-year-olds is Facebook. All pre-school age children watch television, often far more than an hour a day. The prevailing attitude of many adults is that it is unavoidable or even useful for the child getting involved with digital technology at a very early age, especially since well-known politicians responsible for education impress the public with high investments in this area. Even more horrifying is the extent to which risks and side-effects of digital information technology on children are not taken into account. The younger the child, the more damaging these risks and side-effects are – due to the plasticity of the brain at this early age. The younger the child the more it is endangered by false stimulation and disruptive influences. For this reason, investments allowing and supporting healthy development make much more sense than investing in digital education – the earlier in age the more – as demonstrated in the following illustration. Thus, for example, finger games foster mathematical capacities and development of the frontal lobes of the brain, whereas tablet computers do not have this effect – because cognitive achievement is provided by areas of the brain that receive their signals from activated sensory and motor areas. We are all asked to get involved! Neither can we leave health and education of the next generation – our future – nor the basic pillars of our free democratic society to economic interests of the richest companies in the world! Therefore we demand that our educational facilities, above all kindergartens, preschools and child care centers, must be kept free from the scientifically proven negative influences on our children! By demanding this we are doing nothing less than defending the fundamental values of our society against an overly powerful economic lobby. If we do not get involved, we are proving a lack of responsibility toward the next generation, to whom we have already left a sufficient legacy of problems, including debt, conflicts, and a trash-filled planet. or directly: We thank each active participant in civil society, each expert, each institution that supports this call to action. The more we are, the better we can point out the importance of our position to politicians responsible for education. We will start with these actions in the first quarter of 2017. With heartfelt wishes, in the hope that this call to action will serve the protection of childhood and the dignity of the child!
Initial signers: Prof Dr med Dr phil Manfred Spitzer, Dr med Dr hc Michaela Glöckler, Dr med Silke Schwarz, Elisabeth von Kügelgen, Oliver Langscheid, Michael Wetenkamp, Frank Linde, Mathias Maurer and the 600 participants of the symposium “Recht auf Kindheit” (Right to childhood) of the Waldorf Kindergarten Association in Hannover on 19 November 2016. In the name of all signers.

Neustadt an der Weinstraße, 2 Jan. 2017

(Translation Current Concerns)