Technology scales, Magic does not

Currently I attend the EC-TEL Conference in Crete. Today, I attended the first keynote of this conference. First, Ralf Klamma gave in his outstanding style an introductionary speech to Bruce Sterling.

Harry Potter and Technology Enhanced Learning

Apart from the standard introduction that starts every conference, Ralf provided us some insights about the things he is currently reading. And since the second speaker of the early keynote is a famous science fiction writer, Ralf choose a slightly different genre of literature: fantasy novels. Apparently, there are not many phantasy novels around that are known to a broader audience, and so Ralf used Harry Potter to compare Hogwart's magically enhanced learning with technology enhanced learning that can be found in todays hi-tech classrooms.

The interesting conclusion is based on the observation that magic is bound to a sourcerer or magician, while technology is accessible to more or less everybody. Thus - so Ralfs conclusion - technology is better than magic, while magic does not. I liked this lovely analogy so much that I choose it to title this posting.

European Education is all about creating little Europeans

Bruce Sterling started his speech with de-constructing the term "technology enhanced learning". He compared the learning domain with the use of technology in literature and he proposed to better call the game "learning enhanced technology", because the technology itself does not enhance the learning, teaching, or education, rather than learning, teaching, and education provide an application field for technology.

Later, Bruce read a little from his latest novel. In the part he described the use of mixed reality in initiating and maintaining social stability within future refugee camps. He called this idea as "mixed reality 5.0" in which everybody receives continous contextual information on the tasks one is performing. In this environment, each action and experience contributes to the person's fame and glory in the community, which is then visible to everybody on their mixed reality head mounted devices. This system was characterized by Sterling as a live-in tutoring system that is created by applying minimal invasive technologies. Sterling uses a marvelous cynical language on the differences in behaviour of gender in crisis situations. Apparently, the female audience had massive problems with that style. But - as Sterling explained - somebody's dream is a nightmare to most other people.

Related to current European policy statements regarding the information society, developing the full potential of technology enhanced learning actually means that education as we know it today will no longer exist. To illustrate this he refered to quakers (self-made medics), which only exist because there are certified medical doctors. However, with the full potential of TEL, the meaning of certifications become obsolete. In response to a question, Sterling drew a more radical picture: the full potential of technologically enhanced learning is already explored by Al Qaeda, because using TEL for recruiting, education, and "project management" is stealthier, saver and more flexible than terrorist boot camps in some Middle East/Central Asia country. It is really hard to detect online distant courses about bomb building via google or - for that matter - via satellites. Learning technology researchers - so Sterling - can learn a lot about effective and efficient learning, security, and knowledge management by looking at how underground organisations use this technology.

However, societies don't have to be too scared facing the future - although it is obvious that the ongoing digital revolution will impact communication, learning, and society at its very fundamentals. To understand what we have to expect for the near future, Sterling analysed the speed of change on different levels. The most rapidly changing domain is the technology itself, which almost everybody can easily observe by looking at the rise and fall of technology during the last decades. Because businesses depend on technology and the market, the adapt rapidly, but as organisations are involved, this does not happen as fast as technological changes. Large organisations such as governments change not as fast as businesses, but still many people can remember different governmental systems throughout their lifetime. Much slower changes can be observed in societal structures, and culture and nature changes even slower and can be hardly observed within a human's lifetime period. If we look at education then it becomes obvious that at least primary and secondary education is more related to culturalisation and thus it is not likely to change very fast.