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EdTech Update




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Is education spreading or mitigating the evils of technology?


And so, these are my five ideas about technological change. First, that we always pay a price for technology; the greater the technology, the greater the price. Second, that there are always winners and losers, and that the winners always try to persuade the losers that they are really winners. Third, that there is embedded in every great technology an epistemological, political or social prejudice. Sometimes that bias is greatly to our advantage. Sometimes it is not. The printing press annihilated the oral tradition; telegraphy annihilated space; television has humiliated the word; the computer, perhaps, will degrade community life. And so on. Fourth, technological change is not additive; it is ecological, which means, it changes everything and is, therefore, too important to be left entirely in the hands of Bill Gates. And fifth, technology tends to become mythic; that is, perceived as part of the natural order of things, and therefore tends to control more of our lives than is good for us. Neil Postman

In the article Is the Internet Evil?, Chrisine Elba digs up Neil Postman's old but prescient talk "5 Things We Need to Know About Technological Change" from back in the dark ages of technology - 1998. Both Postman's original talk and Elba's interpretation of it for 2018 are both great thought-pieces when talking about how technology is used in schools and what we teach kids about it.

Even as an "advocate" for information technology use in schools, I recognize that technology also has its negative impacts. Among the many questions I often ask:

  • Are we using too much data and not enough common sense in evaluating students and the effectiveness of our educational programs?
  • Are we communicating with our students and our peers digitally instead of in personal, face-to-face conversations?
  • Are we subjecting our students to "information" sources that are inaccurate and inappropriate before they have the skills to to evaluate and comprehend such materials?
  • Are we dedicating educational dollars to technology that might be better spent on libraries, smaller class sizes, better teacher pay, better facilities?
  • Are we increasing the inequity of learning opportunities between the haves and have-nots by using technological resources to which not all students have equal access?
  • Are students (and staff) becoming more isolated and distracted by omnipresent social networks and smartphones? Is deep, linear reading and thinking being replaced by snippets and tweets and bumper-sticker thinking?

Even if you are the school's biggest proponent of technology, you are probably asking these questions. And if you are your school's biggest opponent to technology, you are probably realizing that technology is not going away.

In These horses are out of the barn, I suggested that we as educators need to accept some realities about technology. But not only do we need to accept them, we need to recognize our responsibilities as educators in helping students (and each other) use technology wisely and avoid the most negative impacts they have on us both personally and societally.

As my friend Carol Simpson always says, "You can't teach children to cross the street safely if you never let them out of the house." How do we teach kids how to use technology well and mitigate its negative impact if we don't give them access to it in our classrooms where we can guide and inform?

To me, this one of our most important professional duties.

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Reader Comments (2)

A thought occurred to me - my teacher training was not about mixing chemicals as I don't teach chemistry. But everyone uses technology at some time as part of their lessons or curriculum. Why is it that only computer science and technology teachers are expected to have training and experience using the tools used?

September 2, 2018 | Unregistered CommenterKenn Gorman

Hi Kenn,

I do think we are seeing universal training in digital citizenship - at least in our district's K-8 curricula. I suspect this will expand. Maybe we can eliminate cursive writing to free up space in the curriculum?


September 4, 2018 | Registered CommenterDoug Johnson

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