Edgy Teaching: Learning Technologies as Frames for Inquiry

Laptop Compubody Sock
Sock Becky Stern’s Laptop Compubody Sock. (CC BY-SA 2.0) https://www.flickr.com/photos/bekathwia/2414194397/

by Nathan Loewen, Department of Religious Studies

“Down with bezels!” is one of the current technology fads and obsessions. Bezels are the framing edges of the screens that compose the furniture of our contemporary worlds. High praise is given to technologies whose screens have minimal edge surfaces. For example, Mac laptops are being disparaged because they have prominent bezels, and there is an obsession to remove bezels from the 2016’s mobile phones. My hunch about what design principles may be at work is the perception that, if a technology loses its edges, then its presence in the world of things is seamless. Not only are mobile phones ubiquitous, but there should be as little indication as possible where your phone ends and other bits of your world begin.

So what is the connection to technologies losing their edges? Much of what goes on in teaching has to do with framing. I suggest that the possibility of learning almost anything depends on an awareness of how knowledge has ‘bezels.’ A rallying cry for teaching might actually be “Up with bezels!”

I think that one pedagogical design principle is that teaching should be edgy. Edgy teaching designs activities whereby students learn how their worlds are framed. Edgy teaching exposes and pulls at the seams of things in their worlds.

That, in a nutshell, was the upshot of the first keynote at the Teaching Professor Technology Conference 2016 was given by Gardner Campell who describes himself as a computer-mediated communications addict. Dr. Campbell’s talk, Windows Revisited: Computers as Frames for Learning, meditated on the metaphor of framing as it relates to teaching and technology.

Screens are a ubiquitous element of learning experiences in higher education. Those screens are always connected to some kind of computer. The user’s ability to perceive anything on the screen depends on the processes and algorithms being followed by the computer. Dr. Campbell’s talk meant to cultivate the awareness that these devices do not merely deliver content or automate information transfers. Beyond the mundane aesthetics and physics of the screen, these devices introduce ‘bezels’ that frame users’ states of mind, points of view, horizons of inquiry and self-perceptions.

“Networked, computer-mediated communication, what we once called cyberspace, frames both time and space differently from other media, and can therefore situate learners in newly liberating or harshly constraining frames of being.”

With a few deliberate moves, faculty can teach students to learn this meta-cognitive understanding of technology and then quickly put it to use. This is particularly the case if faculty use technology to create participatory cultures where computers are frames for learning rather than a means of delivering content. Dr. Campbell’s example was how faculty at Virginia Commonwealth University transformed a sporting event, which threatened to paralyze the campus, into a course credit-earning learning experience. There may well be events at UA which could fit the bill for creating such opportunities for learning. The potential to do so depends on how technology can be used to frame the world as a learning experience.

I was definitely “the choir” for preacher Campbell. I have written about how collaborative, networked use of technology is a resource for effective learning. I really do think that if technology is to be useful for learning, it should be deployed in such a manner that the very use of technology involves the creation of a disposition towards inquiry.

This semester I have embedded free, open platforms (Hypothes.is and VideoANT) into my Blackboard Learn LMS as the core means of delivering on my promised learning objectives. These tools illustrate the course content by layering a frame onto my students’ experience of the internet, where in-class and homework activities involve marking up “the world” for the mutual benefit of everyone in the course.

As Dr. Campbell stated in his talk:

“… these seemingly abstract realizations can be put to immediate use to catalyze deeper learning and greater student engagement across many different learning modalities, whether face-to-face, hybrid, or fully online.”

My approach is just one possible strategy for using technology in a way that puts ‘bezels’ into students’ perspectives. Up with bezels! Let’s not be losing our edges!