Keeping humanity at the center of teaching; human-centricity as a guiding principle in technological evolution and remote learning tools

Streamed Session Blended

Brief Abstract

Millions of us choose – or have to choose – to learn from someone physically distant. But as all of our interactions become increasingly rooted in remote digital experiences, what are we actually losing besides the proximity of other people? What are the risks of this loss and are they avoidable?

Extended Abstract

Living, working, and teaching in the Remote Age

Digitization is another step in the evolution of technology that accompanies human history. It’s characterized by the replacement of traditional tools, processes, or content with digital facsimiles – digital copies meant to be the closest possible representation of the original. The rise of the internet in the digital age has given birth to a new era: the Remote Age. The pace and scope of change in this Age is greater than in any previous epoch. Yet while we’ve allowed our personal interactions, our interests, and our work to change so substantially, why are we resistant when it comes to schools? Why doesn’t the percentage of students learning remotely keep pace with the corresponding trend in the workplace?

The answer to the above question lies in the inherent human-centricity of the teaching process. By definition, teaching involves an active transferrance between at least two people. And whether we’re consciously aware of it or not, that transferrance is more effective when those people are close to each other. Ask any teacher about the importance of body language or of eye contact – both as an inherent part of their craft and as a feedback loop from their pupils. You’ll invariably receive the same response: it’s fundamental to successfully sharing knowledge or stimulating thought. It’s fundamental to teaching. Add to this the well-known social aspects of learning in a group and the significance of human proximity becomes even clearer.

The necessity of remote learning

Why would anyone want to disrupt something so fundamental? Why would someone deliberately choose to put distance between themselves and their educator?  The answer almost always revolves around some form of necessity. In some cases, it may be that similar learning opportunities are not afforded locally, or within one’s economic reach. Sometimes there are specific obstacles keeping us from attending school in person – both locally (e.g., water issues) or globally (e.g., pandemic). Very rarely do we choose distance learning on a whim or because we think the distance itself is actually a benefit. So if remote learning is chosen out of necessity or strong personal preference, what’s the big deal about human-centricity? Is it still important?

Impact of dehumanization in education

Unfortunately, we have plenty of information to answer this question. During the COVID19 pandemic and in the resulting lockdowns, much of the world unwittingly participated in history’s largest study concerning the dehumanization of education. The results were clear: removing human-centricity from an inherently human-to-human interaction undermines its effectiveness and, indeed, introduces new risks. 

During the pandemic, many schools switched abruptly to remote learning, replacing a human-rich experience with a predominantly digital one. Students, separated from peers and teachers, were relegated to looking at files and applications on screens. Small talking heads beside those files were often the only remnant of humanity left in the learning experience.

Though some students thrived in the new environment, the broader negative results were well documented and visible at every level of education. Many students experienced mental health and social issues. Those suffering before the pandemic started, experienced further deterioration of their conditions. And learning loss was observed across the board, with certain minority groups being more affected than others. Many studies have been done to understand the reasons behind these effects but the documented observations point squarely to at least a contributing role of excessive digitization – and, even more so, remote digitization.

Non-negotiable human-centricity in remote education... and in all technology

Because distance learning is often a result of necessity, it’s arguably even more important to fight for every inch of human-centricity. New technologies now make it possible to deliver a familiar, engaging, like-in-class experience to remote students. Just as a good teacher makes the complex simple, so well-fitted technology can essentially disappear: putting the focus on teachers and their message, not on files and interfaces.

Moreover, the concept of human-centricity can and, indeed, should be applied to the evolution of technology itself. Too often are we willing to take on the burden of change when new technology emerges. Too often are we willing to adjust our own behaviors and preferences, simply to use a new tool. This willingness carries with it risks - notably, that in our speed to adapt to technology, we'll unknowingly compromise the objective we are trying to achieve when using it. Worse yet, in this process we may actually lose fundamental skills as a society, introducing truly civilizational risks. Responsibly developed technology should not only build on our core skills but, in a best case scenario, require no behavioral change or learning curve whatsoever.

Level of Participation:
In this session we will do a live compare and contrast between select remote teaching tools. We will demonstrate how new technology can be used to not only engage in-person and remote viewers simultaneously but how that technology can be used with zero training. Audience members will be encouraged to contribute both in the role of students and educators, depending on how the session is setup [SEE NOTE BELOW]. Live audience interactions with new technology without any prior exposure will vividly demonstrate the principle of human-centricity as a guiding factor in technological development. Both in-person and remote audiences willl participate directly.

NOTE: This session would be best suited in a true hybrid environment (with in-person and remote viewers participating simultaneously). It is critical, however, that the presenter has access to a sufficiently large whiteboard during the presentation. This is why the Virtual option has been identified as a preference. If, however, the conference organizer could guarantee the presence of a large whiteboard, an Onsite presentation (with active participation from online viewers) would be most impactful.

Session Goals:
Individuals attending this session will be able to discuss the impact of human centricity on their work and on their pedagogical effectiveness. They will be able to identify the best technologies for delivering effective hybrid and remote learning. And most importantly, they will be able to interact with those technologies live, while experiencing the zero-learning curve promise of human-centric technology.