A Media Interpretation of the Negative Impact of Cloud Technologies

A Media Interpretation of the Negative Impact of Cloud Technologies

Michael S. Tang, Arunprakash T. Karunanithi
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-4666-9924-3.ch024
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This chapter presents a media studies interpretation of the impact of Cloud communication technologies on traditional academic achievement. According to social media critics following the “medium is the message” theory of Marshall McLuhan, the hidden “message” in the new Cloud communication education technologies conflicts with the old message of the printed textbook, the traditional medium of communication in education since the printing press in the 16th and 17th centuries. The chapter begins with a brief history of media technologies in education to gain understanding into the nature of this conflict and follows with a review of research and studies that document the conflict's cause and consequences with the conclusion that a major factor in the proliferation of any new media communication technology is its commercial value. Moreover, because new technologies in education are driven by commercial interests, its pedagogical value becomes secondary resulting in what social media and other critics view as the dumbing down of the American student. These social media critics contend that not only have American students been declining intellectually, computer technologies, including the Cloud Internet communication technologies are the direct cause of this decline, raising the question, “is education technology an oxymoron?” Given this analysis of media communication technologies' impact on education, the authors then offer a possible way out of the current situation by proposing a more human factors approach towards Cloud technologies based on constructivist educational and cognitive styles theory.
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An educational revolution is occurring today because of Cloud communication technologies which have spread like wild fire mainly through online education technologies. Moreover, just as the rapid rise of the printed book as teaching machine during and after the Scientific Revolution caused much concern, distraught and chaos, the new Cloud learning machines are wreaking confusion and havoc in education today including a shift in higher education from a cognitive knowledge emphasis to an affective service mode driven by what the historian of science, David Noble (1998), called “the commodification of education.” To document this hypothesis of the dumbing down and commodification of education the chapter begins with a brief history of educators trying to put old content and teaching methods into new media technologies with little success and unintended consequences.

A Dubious Record of Using Media for Education Purposes

National Educational Television (NET) was an American educational broadcast television network owned by the Ford Foundation and operated from 1954 to 1970 before being replaced by the Public Broadcasting Service (PBS). PBS is now more known for its cultural programs, social and political commentary and international news with little pretense of operating as a major player in education. The original aim of its predecessor, NET (2012), however, was educational and the program was nicknamed the “University of the Air” because of its treating humanistic educational subjects in depth, including hour-long interviews with people of literary and historical importance. In spite of the great amount of expenditure for the broadcasting station, however, NET was known for its excruciating boring content and attracted few viewers. Consequently in 1963 because of its low ratings, National Educational Television changed its format by airing controversial, hard-hitting documentaries that explored numerous social issues of the day such as poverty and racism. It was during this period when the NET became PBS, having shifted completely from a formal education role to more entertainment venues and public service programs centered on politics, social issues, and news.

Sesame Street

PBS, however, did not entirely give up its original educational role and in 1966 broadcasted its well-known children’s education program Sesame Street with the idea of creating a children's show that would “master the addictive qualities of television and do something good with them” (Davis, 2008, p. 8). The altruistic part of the concept, funded with substantial grants from the Carnegie Foundation, the Ford Foundation, and the U.S. Government, was to help young children learn. After two years of research and development, the recipients of this funding created and produced Sesame Street in 1969. According to Palmer and Fisch (2001), it was the first preschool educational television program to base its contents and production values on unprecedented laboratory and formative research.

However, from the beginning, unlike National Educational Television programs, Sesame Street focused on affective goals while addressing cognitive goals indirectly with the belief that doing so would increase children's self-esteem and feelings of competency and, by realizing such objectives, the cognitive goal of learning to read and write would follow automatically. In time, the goal of increasing self-esteem was followed by other affective goals such as promoting ethnic diversity, a greater sense of community and ecological awareness (Gikow, 2009), again based on the premise that providing such a context will automatically result in increased learning. Sesame Street’s significance in the history of media and education is a case of the tail wagging the dog where its entertainment value and goals overwhelmed its educational intent resulting in the transforming education to the idea the authors of this chapter call the “Sesame Street Theory of Learning.” That education “law” is: “keep them entertained long enough and maybe something will stick,” a dictum, the journalist sociologist, Malcolm Gladwell (2000) called “The Stickiness Factor”.

Key Terms in this Chapter

Media studies: Is a field of study that deals with the content, history and effects of various media with an emphasis on mass media. It is an interdisciplinary field that draws on both the social sciences and the humanities with communication fields such as mass communication and communication sciences and communication studies as its core disciplines.

Cognitive Style: Or “thinking style,” this is a term found in cognitive psychology to describe how individuals think, perceive and remember information and differs from cognitive ability or level which involves measuring so called intelligence by aptitude tests and other similar tests. In this chapter, cognitive style refers to three types: the object, the verbal and the spatial.

Verbal Cognitive Style: The verbal style preferred by professionals such as humanists, social scientists, educators and lawyers who think primarily in terms of written language and coding and decoding information through verbal symbols. The style tends to be highly abstract, linear, explicit, and reductionist where information is processed through the speech brain functions located in the left brain hemisphere.

Object Cognitive Style: The concrete operational mode of thinking preferred by artists, especially visual artists, who tend to process information through vivid, concrete, colorful, and often three dimensional and tactile images. Neuropsychologists have found that object thinking is activated in areas of the brain located in the right hemisphere.

The Medium is the Message: An aphorism coined by Marshall McLuhan hypothesizing that the implicit or background form of a medium embeds itself into the explicit messages the medium was designed to transmit. The phrase was introduced in McLuhan’s most widely known work, Understanding Media: The Extensions of Man , which argued that every medium or technology carries with it a hidden “message” that has a powerful subliminal impact on individuals, society and culture independent of the medium’s explicit content.

Education Social Networks: Platforms designed to help students and teachers learn by using the Cloud to interact, connect and share education content, methods and services such as tutoring, accessing school notices on social and other events, and networking about jobs, graduate school and other information related to learning. As such education networks are becoming virtual communities enabling members to migrate more and more to the Cloud where they can share information, including personal data, such as homework; take online open courses, webinars and workshops; play education video games and engage in other such educational activities.

Human Factors: In engineering, it is the practice of designing products, systems or processes to account for the interaction between machines and the people who use them. As with media studies, the field is interdisciplinary and has seen contributions from numerous disciplines such as psychology, engineering, biomechanics, industrial design, physiology and anthropology. The term is essentially synonymous with ergonomics, which is the scientific discipline concerned with the understanding of interactions between humans and other elements of a system through the application of theory, principles, and methods to optimize human well-being and overall system performance.

Spatial Cognitive Style: Thinkers process information non-verbally with highly structural images such as geometrical figures and other patterned forms abstracted from data and the visualizer’s objects of perception. The spatial cognitive style is the preferred thinking style among scientists, engineers and architects with its physiological processing path found on both the left and right side of the brain.

Cloud Communications: Internet-based data communications where telecommunications applications, switching and storage are used to deliver education services as exemplified by traditional university online courses and more recent internet iterations such as massive open online courses (MOOCS). Until recently, these education services have been visual data-centric but with the evolution of voice over Internet protocol (VoIP), Cloud communications has added automated speech to its multi-sensory delivery modes.

Constructivist Education: An education approach based on the hypothesis that students generate knowledge and meaning most effectively by constructing knowledge from an interaction between their experiences and their ideas, facilitated by a more knowledgeable guide, the instructor. Famous educators who have influenced the development of constructivist education theory include John Dewey, Maria Montessori, Jean Piaget, Lev Vygotsky and Jerome Bruner. The constructivist learning theory is anti-reductionist in that it emphasizes the importance of context, relations, connections and structures over viewing learning as a collection of simple parts which become isolated and fragmented when delivered to passive learners, hence the constructivist aphorism, “the whole is greater than the sum of its parts.”

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