Howard Gardner on Ethics in New Digital Media

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I found myself constantly stopping, jotting down quotes, and replaying this video of Howard Gardner. It reminded me ethical guidelines belong in every field, and therefore must be discerned with new fields or new discoveries. I think of the new technologies of nuclear warfare and stem cell use, for example. One of my favorite quotes by Gardner along these lines was: “No medium is benevolent or malevolent in itself. You can use pencils to write sonnets or poke people´s eyes out”.   I also happen to be rereading  Brave New World by Aldous Huxley at the moment so how to use new technologies ethically is very much on my mind!

As far as using new digital media in education, I think Gardner hits it on the head when he says “It is up to those of us who care about young people or care about the future of the planet to understand these forms [of digital media] but not to let them dictate what´s right”.  The trouble here is, society has yet to agree on “what´s right”!  For example, for certain groups of people, exposing specific parts of the body is unethical and for others not. This goes for the pictures we publish, the language we use, and everything else we share on digital media. So in that respect, the conversation of ethics is not new, but it must depend on the family and the local culture of the school.

Another point Gardner made was about how education must change since so much information is so readily available. He says teachers must become more like coaches: “didactic aspects of teaching are not as important because the information is so prevalent”. I think many educators see that as at best a challenge, and at worst a threat. Technology may scare many teachers who felt secure “having all the answers” if you will. I had a recent example a bit ago that informed my opinion on this.

I was teaching a Spanish class on numbers to second graders. We were looking at the connections between number words and other words. We started  looking at three/tres and its related words: triangle, triplets, etc. Then, we looked at siete (7), ocho (8), nueve (9) and diez (10) related to the months; September, October, November, December. The students soon noticed that September wasn´t actually the seventh month! They of course wanted to know why. I knew that the calendar had been changed many times over the course of history, and had the basic facts, but each child had an iPad, so we looked it up and pieced together the history of the evolution of the calendar as a class. One one hand, the class derailed a bit from simply Spanish, on the other hand, the students would have never thought to randomly google “history of the western calendar” if it hadn´t been for the connections I had been helping them draw.

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