Technology Idol Worship

A tech director colleague posted to a forum recently inviting feedback on whether or how he should re-institute a tech committee at one of his schools. Teachers there had requested it, but his trepidation is understandable, and here’s why: tech committees are part of the wrong paradigm. Focusing on technology is educational idol worship—it is confusing a physical form for the ideas and beauty and power—for the spirit—represented by that form.

I’ve coordinated or sat on tech committees of various ilks and intents, and they always feel like a failure because they are doomed to failure—by design (except for those focusing on how to improve access to technology, or those described below…).

If we need committees at all, then what we need are communication committees; or information committees; or literacy committees; or learning committees; or better yet, we need to just do real learning in the real world, and then any technology that can help you will become part of what you are doing, and people will be—communicating; and informating; and becoming literate in critical skills including all of those that technology can be involved in; and learning; and doing.

When the printing press was revolutionizing and democratizing education, the powers that be’ed were afraid not of books, but of what books represented—of knowledge and therefore power in the hands and minds of the people they had so long controlled. Those in control of books and literacy held power because they controlled access to information, and communication. And that is what we need to be focusing on—information and communication, and learning the tools while we do that.

Our students and our teachers need to focus on the powerful things that technology allows us to do; on the spirit contained therein, and not on the body, or conveyance, of that spirit.

I’m constantly endeavoring to mediate that struggle, to get people using the tools they need, but try to re-route the conversation path so that it gets there through the lens of learning, and not through the lens of technology. For instance, in a course I teach for masters candidates for foreign language teaching, which is ostensibly about technology, we approach the conversation not through tools but through the essential components of learning, how those components manifest in language learning, and then on supercharging learning experiences to intentionally and explicitly leverage those components, through technology and otherwise, as appropriate. We also talk about the critical skills and attitudes that come with a healthy and productive use of technology, and how those are the same attitudes and skills that all of our students in every discipline need to develop so they can leverage technology in their lives in intentional and productive ways. In other words, we talk about 21st century skills, and 21st century learning environments, and try not to talk about technology as a specific thing unless our reaching towards a goal would be helped by it. And then we practice, and iterate, and share.

One thought on “Technology Idol Worship

  1. I couldn’t agree more with your sentiment. Every committee I have been privy to, while providing interesting thoughts and (at times) stimulating conversation, ultimately lacks the knowledge and authority to accomplish anything.

    Indeed, the desire for technology in the classroom is much akin to idol worship. The want often overcomes the need. In many districts you will find boatloads of usable technology often under utilized.

    The main issue I see is the typical disconnect between Information Technology staff ethos and curriculum development. In many scenarios, you have two completely separate departments for technology and curriculum. The end result is technology that merely replaces the text book.

    The educators of tomorrow will need to focus on how to blend the two mediums. Technology needs to augment education, not just compliment it. I see many scenarios where tech simply enables a slightly more convenient method of doing the exact same thing people were doing prior to implementation. Computers, tablets, interactive projectors, in most cases, are being used as nothing more than glorified books.

    I blame everyone. Teachers need to get past their wants and examine their needs. They need to rethink the potential, and google some of the many, modern, open-source models that exist. Teachers also need professional development. Admins need to stand up to arbitrary demands; before you buy a tablet, think about how it’s going to be used. What apps will you need? How will it be used in the classroom, and how will it help a teacher do their job? How does the student benefit? How do we record the data? How can we use that data?

    These questions, if even insinuated, frequently go unanswered in the face of spending the money while you have it. IT needs to support professional development, and provide a channel through which teachers and admin can build ideas. Otherwise, it’s the blind leading the blind.

    At the end of the day, it is not technology as our savior; rather, it is the collaboration between the facets of education that complete the puzzle, as no single individual, no single department, has the capacity to do it all.

    Like

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