Cathy Adams nominated as finalist for Last Lecture 2015

The Department of Secondary Education is pleased to announce that faculty member Cathy Adams has been nominated as one of the three finalists for the 2015 Last Lecture event.

06 March 2015

The Department of Secondary Education is pleased to announce that faculty member Cathy Adams has been nominated as one of the three finalists for this year's Last Lecture event. Voting is open now until March 20, 2015 - be sure to visit the Last Lecture page and cast your vote!

Cathy took the time to answer some questions about her proposed lecture topic and share some insight into her field of expertise.

Q. What will your lecture be about?

A. My Last Lecture title, In Search of the Secret Body of the Digital, is meant to be somewhat ironical and provocative. It reflects my larger research quest in education. And in terms of the lecture, I believe that the question of the digital is an increasingly urgent one-for teachers, for society, for all of us. Over the past few decades, computing technologies have been quietly but persistently transforming our lives-how we live, how we work, learn and play, and even how we think and feel. And these transformations are far from over.

It is easy to forget, for example, what life was like before smartphones. Or ATMs. Or even PowerPoint. If we stop to look around us, we realize that we are now living in the midst of an increasingly dense network of smart sensors and devices. What does this require of us as educators? We need to understand how the digital is taking the shape of an immaterial body or corporeal sphere that secretly enacts reversibilities upon our physical and psychological being and existence: as we make it, it remakes us, as we touch it, it touches us, as we incorporate it in our educational policies, it corporates our practices. For example, as teachers integrate new media technologies into their classrooms they are often unaware that the very shape of the knowledge they teach may be changing from deep learning into more shallow forms of knowing, that the relations they hold with their students may be shifting from an inter-personal pedagogy to impersonal processes of "learning" measured in terms of outcomes.

Q. Is this related to your course, Pedagogy of Technology: Teachers and Students as Cyborgs?

A. Yes. As more and more scholars turn their attention to the digital and its implications for our personal and professional lives, it is becoming clear that technology is far more than "just a tool". The relationships we share with our technologies are co-constitutive. As we grasp hold of these powerful new technologies, they, in turn, take hold of us. Philosopher Andy Clark says, we are and always have been "natural-born cyborgs". The fact that we're just realizing this now-that our humanity is intimately intertwined with and linked to the technologies we use-is likely because digital technologies, unlike technologies in previous times, are infecting and penetrating nearly every aspect of our lives today. The digital is ubiquitous: it is seductive and pharmacological-it both empowers and poisons us.

This recent philosophical recognition of the primal significance of technology in human becoming, has opened new questions, questions that are crucial for teachers to reflect on in their pedagogical work, and important for all of us to consider as we imagine our future with computing technologies.

Q. Is that what you will be talking about in the Last Lecture?

A. In my talk, I take a closer look at what it means to grow up and live in the age of ubiquitous computing and the internet of things, where networked collections of sensors and chips, gadgets and devices sleeplessly perform their "smart" work along the withdrawn, pre-perceptual surfaces of our everyday lives. I ask: How do young people (and their elders too) experience relationships and the realities of intimacy when new media act to collapse all distance into nearness? How is the formation of smart, atmospheric infrastructure reforming our educational and communicative experiences of reality and initiating us into new ways of being, doing, and thinking? What does it mean to engage in human and social science research when interiority becomes indistinguishable from exteriority, when subject melds with object, and when we humans are becoming aware that we are always already "the Borg?" These are the sorts of questions my students and I grapple with as we explore and research the influences, impacts and meanings of digital media as it is taken up in schools. In the lecture, I step outside the classroom to address some of these questions, and reflect on the significance of the digital for all of us.

Last Lecture is an annual event organized by the University of Alberta Alumni Relations office. Inspired by the internationally recognized lecture delivered by Randy Pausch in 2007, the University of Alberta has hosted this event annually to recognize the instructors that have made an impact on the lives and careers of UAlberta students.

Several members of the Faculty of Education were recognized on this year's list of Last Lecture nominees, including Secondary Education's Bonnie Watt, Jessie Beier, Jim Parsons, and Robyn Shewchuk. John Ewing from Elementary Education, Lynette Shultz from Educational Policy Studies, and Anna Altmann and Margaret Mackey from Library & Information Studies were also nominated.

Last Lecture 2015 will take place on Thursday, April 9 in 1-430 CCIS & PCL Hall from 7-9 p.m. For more information on the event, please visit the Last Lecture website.