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The Role of Technology In Education
It’s no secret that I have an affinity for new technology in both my personal and professional life. I submit this blog as exhibit A. I love how technology can give access to a world of learning for students who wouldn’t have it otherwise. I admire how it opens avenues of communication and connection across the globe. And sometimes it’s just straight up fun. Even when the future of how wearables or mixed reality tools will be used in schools is still ambiguous, I am still eager to venture into those new frontiers. Students love technology and are engaged by it. There are often more savvy and capable than the teacher showing them how to use it. So from that logic, more technology must be better for students, right? If the answer was that simple, this would be a short post. It’s not. Even beyond effectiveness and the nature of learning, there are moral and ethical concerns that technology raises especially when it is used with a young and vulnerable population.
Despite books like Rethinking Education in the Age of Technology or A New Culture of Learning which advocate the effectiveness of technology with students, there are other news outlets that would have you believe Silicon Valley is only trying to take over classrooms for profit and the brainwashing future consumers. They make it seem like an issue of morality where technology will only serve to corrupt a system already viewed as broken. They are right that there is a moral component to be explored.
There are certainly a lot of reasons to despise or fear modern technology. The abuses of social media are teaching positive digital citizenship is so necessary. It’s why some countries are looking to ban cell-phones entirely from schools, but that seems to only avoid the issue. When people are social for the sake of attention without being substantial or responsible then we all lose, but should our culture and our aspirations be defined by the worst among us? Various technologies including comic books, television, video games, and Twitter have been blamed for the ills of society. While these platforms have given voice to hateful racists and cover for violent sociopaths throughout history, research doesn’t show they are responsible. In fact, it illustrates quite the opposite that digital games can be effective teachers and comics can play a role in social justice. There certainly need to be limitations and regulations, but there are a number of topics related to the morality of technology in learning and beyond that aren’t simply black and white issues.
- TIME SPENT – Technology has succeeded both in giving us more free time and more ways to spend it, but it has also given others (like employers or acquaintances) a way to make more demands on our time. So is having the ability to tap a button for food, laundry, or housekeeping worth being tapped in 24/7? For families especially, it is crucial to set time limits and offline zones.
- ACCESS – It’s so easy to get information and to just Google or ask Siri to answer your questions, but it’s also a lot easier to be fooled by fake information. Not only that, directly plagiarising information is a breeze. There are methods and software to deal with that. The other component of access is giving it to those historically underrepresented which includes the poor, minorities, and people with disabilities. While there have been improvements in some of these areas, we certainly haven’t achieved equity. In fact, technology may be widening some gaps if only the ‘Haves’ have access to it or know how to use it.
- KNOWLEDGE – There’s so much information, but are we learning more or just receiving more input without any insight? Human knowledge is growing rapidly, but what of the humanity of that knowledge?
- ENJOYMENT – Technology has brought a variety of new entertainment formats and new access to older formats through eBooks and streaming movies. Playing, searching, and viewing are entertaining activities, but in the extreme, they can lead to addiction just like many other behaviors or substances. Programs like reSTART can help with recovery, but shouldn’t we examine why/if they are necessary?
- CONNECTION – We are more connected than ever so family from other countries or serving overseas can see new additions being born or have the comfort of a face-to-face discussion about a loss. We are also bombarded with updates about our friends’ lunch decisions and chain letters. Beyond that, we are sometimes connected to trolls who find joy in the annoyance and suffering of others. It’s a trade-off, but there positive ways to deal with even the worst parts of internet interaction.
- INNOVATION – Regardless of our desires or the apprehension of some educational purveyors and participants, the world is moving and changing quickly. When career paths generally included factories, a factory education model may have been useful (at least for companies). Now more is being demanded of both the workforce and humanity. If we want our students to keep pace with the world, don’t we need technology? Or maybe since the tech changes so rapidly, it is less about the tool and more about teaching the inherent 21st-century skills necessary for achievement in any field.
These issues are complex and don’t have simple answers. Technology can obviously be helpful and worthwhile in some instances while detrimental to others. It seems like either extreme of ignoring the challenges or banning it outright will only exacerbate the issues.
While the morality of the issue may remain one of personal struggle, whether its effective seems like something that can be looked at objectively, right? Consistent with their other positions, The New York Times says technology won’t help bridge the learning divide. One benefit of technology though is that it has provided more data for us look at and see whether technology is effective in driving instructional improvements. Lisa Nielsen, The Innovative Educator, would advise that data needs to viewed and used properly along with student insights to really push learning forward. So let’s try to look at it impartially.
I believe that the motion picture is destined to revolutionize our educational system and that in a few years it will supplant largely, if not entirely, the use of textbooks.
I have personally seen technology help bridge gaps like where a non- verbal student become an avid digital communicator, but I have also seen it impede progress/efficiency and even enable laziness/ irresponsibility on behalf of the student or teacher. It’s hard to speak about technology and its worth as a singular entity. For every iPad, there is the Apple Newton. For every Khan Academy, there is are multiple boring death-by-test software. So while many EdTech companies have researched the effectiveness of their product (i.e. BrainPOP), it isn’t always broadly applicable. While there is continuing research showing technology-based teaching and learning is more effective compared to a traditional classroom, it is not definitive and broad enough to mean all tech is good tech. Yes, using ICT tools produces active learning in a classroom that can be more engaging and effective, but the how it’s done is still as important as the what it’s done with it. So let’s look at the best and worst that EdTech offers.
At Its Best
- COMMUNICATION – It’s easier for the introverted student participate when they aren’t required to raise their hand and risk embarrassment speaking in front of their peers. There are platforms that allow student participation in a variety of ways to engage both the apprehensive and the bored.
- COLLABORATION – Writing is often a solitary exercise even if you brainstorm collectively, but Google Docs changed that. Now there are so many other collaboration tools available to students.
- RESEARCH – I remember having to do research papers based on encyclopedias and microfiche. So not only were my resources out of date, but I had limited options for them. Say what you will about Wikipedia, but studies show it’s far more accurate than most people believe.
- ASSESSMENT – FInding out what your students know and what they need can be done much more quickly, accurately, and easily through a number of assessment tools.
- RECORD KEEPING – This may not seem exciting, but keeping track of student work and having quality student portfolios was a massive undertaking in paper and file management. Platforms like Google Classroom and Seesaw now make those much easier.
- ENGAGEMENT – Not all technology is automatically engaging, but when it’s done well students are no longer memorizing information temporarily for an exam. They are instead creating understanding connected to an experience that they will continually be able to recall.
- ACTIVE – The idea of passive learning is gone. The quiet kids aren’t necessarily learning. Good technology will actively engage students in their learning.
- FUTURE-FOCUSED – Educations goal has always been about preparing children for the future that they would become the leaders of. It makes sense to prepare students for tomorrow using the best of what we have today.
- STUDENT-FOCUSED – Some of the best ways technology can be used in a classroom is to take the onus of instruction off of one teacher and put it in the hands of students themselves to investigate and explore the world on their terms.
- EXPANDED CURRICULUM -So much more information is available in so many new formats like interactive eBooks that allow students to make the words come to life through videos and interactive tools.
- EXPANDED REACH – The best you could do in the past looked at a photo or bust out the reel-to-reel for a movie that could expand student’s knowledge of the world. Now there are tools that allow students to explore in ways previously impossible. They can walk right up to an Aztec temple, swim with sharks, or walk on Mars.
- EXPANDED CLASSROOM – The classroom has grown and expanded in multiple ways from changing the classroom models to include flipped classrooms and blended learning to changing who your classroom includes. Your classroom can now easily expand across state and national boundaries using video conferencing tools like Skype in the Classroom.
- EXPANDED AUDIENCE – Students now aren’t just impacting their classrooms anymore. Motivated students now have the power to impact the world through blogs, social media, and activism that can be encouraged in the classroom.
- DIFFERENTIATED INSTRUCTION – Despite naysayers, differentiating instruction based on student need is necessary, but it remains a challenge. There are apps that automatically assess and adjust their pace and have built-in differentiation. The apps adapt to the students and it alleviates the need for teachers to always manually adjust their instruction. Also, the ubiquity of the technology means that a classroom of students may be using 10 different tools to address the same learning standard with it all easily accessible for the teacher. You can adjust for student interest, skill, or learning modality. Those who need to see it can while others can learn by doing.
- ASSISTIVE TECH – There are a number of companies like Ablenet and Don Johnston that focus on creating tools for people with disabilities, but major technology companies like Apple, Google, and Microsoft are making major strides as well. Learning is better when all students have access to it
At Its Worst
- IT’S ABOUT TECHNOLOGY – Any time you are using technology for its own sake in a classroom, you are already losing wasting both your energy and your time with students. I always start with what I want students to know and become and then look for tools to help with that.
- CHOOSING THE NEW – Spending a bunch of money on unproven new hardware or software and locking into one system is guaranteeing failure. See if you can start with pilots of smaller groups for less cost.
- CHOOSING THE CHEAP – Picking a solution because it’s less expensive up front fails to take in the long-term cost of updates, repairs, and training.
- NOT PLANNING – You can purchase great equipment and software and have it be a total bust if no one knows how to use it and there is no plan for training and management.
- TECHNOLOGY = LEARNING – Getting students new computers will no more improve their learning outcomes than handing them a toaster will. The tech alone will not fix all problems that existed before them. They may help, but not without knowledge and effort.
- TEACHER-FOCUSED – Why are you still standing at the front of the room explaining how to do something? Yes, direct instruction can be useful, but technology should empower you to increase independent student learning.
- DISTRACTION – Yes technology can be engaging, but it can engage our students in devices and activities that don’t serve learning.
- NO EVALUATION – Good teachers are constantly assessing and evaluating themselves and their practices. The same should happen with technology. DOn’t just monitor what’s happening, but examine the impact rigorously.
- NOT EMPOWERING – If you’re using technology to homogenize your students’ experiences rather than allowing them to authentically share their voice then you are missing the point and neglecting the fact that yours is a class of individuals.
- NEGLECTING STUDENTS – This is the worst. It used to be that a horrible teacher would have a collection of meaningless dittos they would give to students. Now they just hand them a device with little instruction and give them “free time” which is code for I didn’t plan for this.
The Role of Teachers
“Technology will never replace great teachers, but technology in the hands of great teachers is transformational”
George Couros @gcouros
It would appear that maintaining a moral, equitable, and efficient use of technology in education is dependent on the users. That mostly means teachers and students. So how should they react to these new paradigms in learning? What is the role of a teacher in 21st-century learning?
If you think of a teacher as the holder of information…as the keeper of knowledge that they must disseminate to a population devoid of that knowledge then I guess the end of teachers is nigh. Why do students need you to teach times table if they can get it from a web search or learn to play the guitar via YouTube? If a software can deliver content, assess students, create courses, and offer just in time learning using artificial intelligence, what role is there for the teacher’s intelligence? If, however, you feel, as I do, that the role of a teacher is to feed student strengths, determine student weaknesses, create pathways for improvement, challenge students to seek knowledge where they wouldn’t naturally, and direct them to tools and resources to aid them in that process, then we may stave off the robot takeover of classrooms for a bit longer.
While poverty, family education, and community all play a role in determining student success, of the quality of a teacher is the single greatest factor in determining student outcomes. I don’t expect this to change anytime soon. Good teachers can be seen by their determined performance in the classroom. It isn’t about tenure or education and has little to do with their years of experience. Their dedication and flexibility are far more determinative.
“The power of technology, like a knife, is often determined by the hand it is in. A surgeon can use the knife to rescue someone from death, while another uses it for harm. The same can be said of a teacher with technology.”
I have seen technology help bridge gaps like helping a non- verbal student become an avid digital communicator, but I have also seen it impede progress/efficiency and even enable laziness/ irresponsibility on behalf of the student or teacher. I see many teachers making great use of their limited technological resources. When tablets and classroom computers though are used to occupy or babysit students rather than instruct them than it is not being used responsibly or effectively. Our students deserve better.
The one consistent is that the classroom is changing and we have the power to decide if it’s for the better. So here are some things you should expect.
- change learning models
- change learning philosophies
- change the learning space
- increase the independence of students
- be ever present
- be immersive
- be collaborative
- be mobile
- be accessible across places and abilities
- be driven by data and fueled by artificial intelligence
- accessible across places and abilities
- increase the importance of informed and quality teachers
- lead to change that can’t be anticipated yet
Don’t be scared. Work to be ready.