Thursday, January 31, 2008

my brain your brain

The January issue of Technology and Learning provides a brief summary of Daniel H. Pink's A Whole New Mind: Why Right-Brainers Will Rule the Future. (You can listen to Pink discuss the book here.)

The book's premise isn't new (students of the digital age are increasingly required to develop their creative skills to meet life and work challenges). But I'm finding it interesting in light of reading I've been doing about preparing engineers for their professions.

Pink's et al. argument follows something like this: As computing becomes more ubiquitous, left-brain tasks become less important than right-brain tasks. As the need to perform the tasks diminish, certain left-brain skills and knowledge (math, logic, linear reasoning, etc.) atrophy. Filling the gap are right-brain skills and knowledge, such as art, creativity, and abstract reasoning.

What complicates this for me is the gray spaces around engineering practices as design arts, technical communication as craft, and development and deployment as science. It seems that we would be doing students and certain disciplines a terrible disservice by privileging right-brain activities over left-brain activities in the classroom. Removing the human element from the programmatic or linear processes of design and development undercuts the engineer's roles as inventor, designer, tester, etc. We essentially remove the the engineer from equation and dismiss a tremendous of instructional theory.

Maybe that's an exaggeration. But it just feels sticky to me. There's something awfully stereotypical about left-brain/right-brain discussions in that they generalize human activity into clean categories. Too clean for me.

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