In this article, Chris Franek considers the risk to teachers posed by new and ever-evolving technologies.
Is technology a giant meteor that is threatening teachers with mass extinction? Are teachers perhaps like the infamous Dodo bird that mysteriously went extinct from its remote island off of the eastern coast of Africa in the late 17th century?
Dodo – such a funny name. In the contemporary use of the word, the Oxford English Dictionary defines “dodo” as “an old-fashioned, stupid, inactive, or unenlightened person.” This more modern association with the word might have relevant application for the purposes of this post as well; as such a person can also find himself on a path to extinction – be it in the literal or metaphorical sense. I was curious about the dodo in writing this blog post so I did some quick research using our good friend, Wikipedia. One theory about the cause of their extinction centers on the idea that because they lived on a remote island without any predators higher up in the food chain, when they encountered humans, they were unafraid and easily approached. This inevitably made them easy targets for capture and, ultimately, a meal.
I wonder if our lack of fear or respect for technology as teachers (as people in general, really) is a correlation to the lack of fear dodos felt towards humans. Are we teachers being unwittingly preyed upon by our love affair with technology?
In the last decade, there has been an explosion of technological advancements, including wide access to broadband and mobile access to information on an unprecedented scale. Through the popularity of touch-screen smartphones and, most recently, the explosion of touch-based tablet devices coupled with an associated rise in the development of mobile applications or apps, information has never been more abundantly accessible.
Consider this scenario: just 10 years ago, if you had showed up at a restaurant and discovered that there was a one hour wait for a table, it wasn’t easy to search for other nearby dining options. Now, if the same thing were to happen, you could just take your smartphone, open up an app, and quickly find not only dozens of restaurants nearby but also reviews on all of them. Now, with the speed of the new 4G LTE technology, you can actually complete this task much more quickly on your smartphone than you could on your computer using your home broadband. This is where the technology zeitgeist has brought us. Not only is information highly accessible anywhere but it has increasingly been presented in more visually intuitive and engaging ways.
Now, education institutions are racing to catch up to the technology curve. They’re trying to figure out how they can get this technology into the classroom and the learning experience. Often, the results are mixed at best. Education administrators are frantically trying to figure out how to get an iPad into every student’s hands when the answer is getting students access to better teachers. I’m not here to say that technology shouldn’t or can’t play a role in the learning process. However, I am here to say that technology is not the learning process.
Technology in the classroom is pretty worthless without a great teacher. With all of the incredible technological advancements that have gone into race cars, the fact remains that they still need a great driver to win a race. What the student and the learning experience are more in need of is not more iPads but more imaginative teachers to drive the learning process. Imagination is not the exclusive domain of Apple. We can’t rely on applications and iPads to teach our classes; they’re only tools. But those tools can be misused, and often are. The accountability for a great learning experience ultimately falls squarely on the shoulders of the teacher.
I often observe that teachers look to technology as a source of creativity rather than using technology to support their own creativity and imagination. In removing ourselves from the creative process, technology has made us lazy. The underlying premise behind technology is to increase our productivity in order to make our lives more convenient through helping us to use our time more effectively. This is the endgame that is sold to us and we readily buy into it because it’s too tantalizingly easy. It’s far more difficult to teach a class with creativity and imagination than it is to hand out an iPad that has a bunch of cool apps that can chew up a nice chunk of class time, thus lessening our burden as teachers. Again, this is not to say that there aren’t some useful applications for the iPad in the classroom but when it becomes a major part of the classroom experience, I think we as teachers are losing touch with our craft and our connection with our students. I can promise you this: no iPad can compete with a gifted teacher in terms of creating an engaging and connected learning experience. It doesn’t even come close.
We need to be able to distinguish between the useful and the useless employment of technology. How can you know the difference? For me, the difference can be found in whether or not the use of technology still engages your brain. When technology is uselessly employed, it merely distracts, which is in reality the definition of entertainment, not education. It’s as if the mind is a car in neutral, engine turned off, being pulled by a tow truck. It reminds me of the wonderful 2008 animated Disney movie, “WALL-E” which depicts a future in which people go everywhere on personal hovercraft-like loungers because they’re unable to walk anymore.
Conversely, useful technology never disengages the mind. For example, I’m writing this entire blog post using the dictation function on the iPhone 5. It has worked beautifully. It has increased my productivity in that I can create large volumes of content without having to sit in front of a computer screen and use a keyboard. In this case, the productivity gains are the result of a reduction in physical effort, not mental and creative effort. Too often, technology is used to reduce both physical AND mental effort. Once the mental effort is removed from the equation, all of the benefits of the technology are lost.
As teachers, if we do not go the extra lengths to bring creativity, imagination, and wonder to our classes, there is a great risk that we will be the unwitting and tragic catalysts of our own mass extinction. Technology, when it is properly leveraged, can be a useful resource to us but the key is to leverage technology to assist us in teaching, not to replace us.
In a future blog article, I’ll talk about what an engaging teaching approach looks like, as well as continuing this thread of technology in the classroom. Visit my website at http://www.premiere-english.com/Blog/ to see other blog entries that continue the topic of technology in classroom.