Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Is There an Uncanny Valley in Education?

Many of you are probably familiar with the notion of the "Uncanny Valley."

The term was originally coined by Japanese roboticist Mashahiro Mori, who was very interested in the emotional responses of humans to robots and other humanoid devices. It helps explain, among other things, while the various Tom Hanks characters in The Polar Express can seem so darned creepy.


Reading it made me think that perhaps we also experience an uncanny valley when we think of schools. It seems as though the further we try to move from a one-room schoolhouse setting, the more uncanny we feel. By the way, I do not believe that it matters if the one-room schoolhouse is the Amish one pictured here, or a more modern version filled with laptops and other technologies.

In my view, we are teaching in a one-room schoolhouse if the traditional patterns of knowledge acquisition (teacher as sole owner/curator of knowledge) and sharing are intact. When I read over the various blogs and other edtech news sources that I peruse each day, I find that the most popular articles are those that match this model. The much less traditional initiatives are less so.

Mori talked about several ways that this valley can be crossed. Here, he discusses eyeglasses. When Mori says "prosthetic hands," read "new education initiatives."
To illustrate the principle, consider eyeglasses. Eyeglasses do not resemble real eyeballs, but one could say that their design has created a charming pair of new eyes. So we should follow the same principle in designing prosthetic hands. In doing so, instead of pitiful looking realistic hands, stylish ones would likely become fashionable.
This is an idea I will be investigating more in the future.

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