Technology in the Classroom

January 17, 2015

Recently, I had a discussion about technology in the classroom on Twitter. I love Twitter, but as is well known, it can be hard to fully articulate ideas on Twitter, and so , here we are. Blog post time.

I am not opposed to technology in the classroom. We should get that out of the way first. I’m not that stodgy. But, like everything, it isn’t an inherent good. The problem with technology in the classroom comes when people assume that all technology aids learning. Learning is about thinking. And you don’t need a computer for that. In fact, there is a recent study that shows that taking notes by hand instead of on a computer, for instance, enhances learning because it requires the note taker to think hard about what to write.

What technology can do is improve access. It makes it easier for teachers and students to access materials.

However, as we have seen, technology is not a required element in learning, and one¬†problem comes with attempts to enforce it as a requirement. In order to use technology in the sense most people expect, you need one of two things: extremely reliable and high quality network access with in a school OR a full population of students with good access to technology. There are parts of the country, no doubt, where this is the case. However, given the percentage of US children who live in poverty, it is not, generally speaking, a reasonable assumption. Further, I can tell you from personal experience that trying to integrate technology is almost always frustrating. It goes something like this: “Hey, I put together this great interactive thing for you all to do, so we’re going down to the lab… Oh, wait, the internet’s down.” And, because the school day progresses, it’s not something that can be returned to. Once it’s gone, it’s gone.

The other major problem with technology in the classroom is that a great deal of what’s out there has very little to do with education. Rather, it’s all about measuring. What did your child do today? How well did they do it? Did they sit still? These are the kinds of things that really don’t deal in actual learning. Further, they encourage achievement learning instead of mastery learning. This is bad.

For those who don’t know, achievement learning is all about grades. It’s all about doing well enough to get a check mark or an A or whatever, and once you get that, you stop. You’re done. Mastery learning is about, well, mastering a topic. It involves taking on¬†intentionally difficult tasks with the idea that you will learn from your experiences and even – gasp! – your failures. Mastery learning is not compatible with a system that penalizes effortful failure, which is what all the metric programs do.

Those same metric programs, I can promise you, are almost always pushed on educators by non-educators. The government line right now, is that all students can be measured by how they do on a test. These same officials, of course, almost universally send their children to private schools, which do none of the standardized testing you see in public schools.

The point is that, if you see something from a school about a new way to track your student’s progress, it can probably be ignored. Instead, talk to your kids. Kids, you will find, are much better at telling you what’s going on than a decidedly un-nuanced number.

Technology is important, and it does have its uses in the classroom, but just as a few decades ago, educational videos seemed like a great classroom tool, we are likely overstating its importance. What kids really need is meaningful interaction with their parents, teachers, and peers. When that happens – whether it is aided by technology or not – learning can happen.

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