Technology Is Not A Teacher

I respect Cal Newport, everything he writes, and take his advice seriously.  Reading his resourceshas helped me increase my productivity immensely.  However, a recent passage in his new book, Deep Work, caught my breath and made me give the ‘wait a second’ stink-eye. 

“The complex reality of the technologies that real companies leverage to get ahead emphasizes the absurdity of the now common idea that exposure to simplistic, consumer-facing products-especially in schools- somehow prepares people to succeed in a high-tech economy.  Giving students iPads or allowing them to film homework assignments on YouTube prepares them for a high-tech economy about as much as playing with Hot Wheels would prepare them to thrive as auto mechanics.”

I heard my mental microphone yelling “Cal, wait a second, technology in schools is a good thing, iPad, Chromebooks, they all increase student learning!”
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Further, he was attacking the very root of integrating technology into schools- preparing our students for a techno-based economy when they enter the workforce.

This article is not about disagreeing with Newport.  It is about me organizing my thoughts on technology’s role in education.  As someone who teaches on TV, whose room is LOADED with technology (I’m the guinea pig in our building for new tech), I need a clear standpoint regarding technology in the classroom.  

So do you, because before we know it, technology will be a ubiquitous feature in all classrooms.

After being thoughtful, making lists, and digging into various resources, this is what I developed:

Technologies role in the classroom is to support and enhance instruction, not replace it.
The use of technology in the classroom is to provide a multisensory experience and not to ‘expose our students to technology so they are better equipped for the real world.’

These ideas are perhaps common sense for you.  For me, they were important because I lacked a concrete stance.  Maybe you agree, maybe you disagree.

So in a sense, I begrudgingly need to note, I agree with Newport.  It is silly to think that slapping an iPad down in front of a student prepares them for the real world.  They won’t make money tapping a screen or making YouTube videos.  They’ll make money designing the next iPad and a better version of YouTube.

The reasons for including technology in the classroom are endless.  It has become such an initiative that there are designated professionals called Technology Integration Specialists; most buildings have one.  I suppose, at the heart of the movement to integrate technology, is student engagement to enhance learning though the real reasons seem convoluted and increasingly difficult to define.  I feel that sometimes technology is pushed because anything associated with the internet is considered ‘good’.

Lets take a look at common reasons for the use of technology and assess them using the stance I defined earlier.

Why do you use technology?

“I expose my students to the technology.”  If the reason you are using technology is to expose your students to it, think again, as Newport emphatically noted.  That is not learning-that is using, and using is not analogous to learning.  I’m not saying that experience isn’t an integral part of learning, it is.  I’m saying that the novelty of new technology can be used as a springboard for larger activities. 

“I’m preparing them for college, so they know how to navigate the internet and submit assignments.”  I argue that a college bound student knows how to use the internet and any variation of Gmail and Blackboard.com that is developed or will be developed.

“Technology is used in my classroom to encourage collaboration”- getting there, but still lacking and shallow.  I would argue that students need to be taught how to collaborate and how to work cooperatively.  Technology is one of the reasons students lack basic communicationskills in the first place.  Teach them how to work through a cooperative effort first, in person.  Subsequently, increase their collaboration by introducing technology.

The above shallow responses have one similar characteristic: They have the technology at the center of the activity and the technology is the lesson.  The technology, in my humble opinion, should be used to supplement the lesson.

Exposing content to your students in as many different ways as possible can be a pragmatic goal of integrating technology because Multisensory learning is deep and meaningful.  We can consider technology as a multisensory tool.

And a tool technology is.  Tools can make work more efficient and technology is no different.  By embracing technology as a multisensory tool, learning, in a sense, is more efficient.

Consider adding technology to your lesson plans not to replace your instruction, but to supplement it.  Add technology not for exposure, but to teach engineering and innovation.  Collaboration is an important skill, but technology can’t teach it, only facilitate cooperative effort.

To conclude: Technology is awesome, no one is denying that.  But its awesomeness lies not in the fact that is it ‘technology’ but in the idea that it can give an instructor endless possibilities to supplement a lesson and make it multisensory. 

The technology is there to make YOU a better teacher, not to be the better teacher.

Thanks for reading.  Connect with The Pragmatic TV Teacher to share how you use technology to support and enhance your instruction.

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