We recently had the opportunity to talk with Illah Reza Nourbakhsh (author of Robot Futures) about robots now and in the future. As robots are getting easier and cheaper to make, Illah describes the growing problem of robot smog:
We talk a lot about smog in general as kind of a pollution, this haze that is a distraction from what you hope, in terms of what you want to see around you, and the air you breathe that has long term health consequences. And one of the interesting things about robotics is that  you can build robots. But as more and more people build robots of every kind, the physical world that fills with robots of our own creation feels more and more like the digital world when people started making all sorts of websites with really bad flash animations on them…
You can get a 3-D printer – and they’re getting cheaper and cheaper – and now you can start building these things. And you have your Arduino, so you have your brain for your robot, and now you can have a body, and yeah, wifi is getting cheaper,  so your little robot that you build on your 3-D printer can be online relatively quickly, it can be controlled online, it can send pictures online, it can move around in the physical world. And oh, by the way, it can fly. Flying robots are getting cheaper really fast. For $10, $15 you can make a robot that flies. So now you go take a walk in the park, and the walk in the park is like looking at really bad flash pages on the web. You keep seeing these moronic robots.
Immediately, I began to draw parallels in education. As schools have greater access to technology and online tools, there is a real danger of creating edtech smog.
EdTech smog happens where students use technology with no real purpose or aim. There might be a hope that students will better understand technology concepts and operations in using a specific tool. However, no matter the enthralling wonder that the tool summons from limited student attention, we are still left with an educational outcome that has no real purpose. As moronic robots have the potential to fill our physical landscape, moronic technological distractions can also fill our digital classrooms.
Edtech smog is nothing more than using technology as a distraction from what you hope your students should learn.
Illah has some ideas of how educators might have students use technology to solve a real problem. Listen to this clip to hear his thoughts that speak to appropriate technology integration:
P.S. In his blog, co-host Dale Basler puts Voki and Animoto at the top of #EdtechSmog list. I think I can easily add Blabberize and Prezi to that list. What’s on your list?