Technology is Still the Wrong Answer, In My Humble Opinion

MY 2011 MEGA MeetingEarlier this week, I posted a blog entry about Lucas Gillispie’s work with video games in the Pender County schools (North Carolina). I had run into Gillisppie at a MEGA meeting/expo, a group that formed out of North Carolina State University’s College of Education eleven years ago. MEGA stands for Middle Education Global Activities. As I recall, the organization’s initial focus was on science education, but it diversified over the years as did interest in elementary and high school education. Becky Reed, MEGA’s manager, spent a few minutes at the end of the event reviewing some pretty impressive statistics that described their growth, both locally and globally

— and it was an impressive expo.

The picture above shows only one of three rooms filled with representatives of showcased schools from across the state, examples of what they’re doing with technology in their classrooms, some students to give the learner perspective, and lots of local educators who’d come to be wow’ed.

Becky makes a big deal about how I travel the world, this big technology guru, but what impressed me was things that I saw here that I didn’t know about — how classroom teachers and their tech facilitators are playing with emerging technologies — and I use the term play with the most respectful and admiring intent.

I’ve written about QR-codes, those two demential bar codes that can be used to access web pages and other information resources with a smart phone. I’ve used them for more than a year in my presentation slides, on my business card, and even in my latest book, A Gardener’s Approach to Learning. But for the first time inside the U.S. I walked into an education event, and they were everywhere. Every business card handed to me had a QR Code. One of the schools is using them to direct elementary students to the proper video tutorials on their iPod Touches.

There were teachers there from the school system I served as tech director 20 years ago. They’re experimenting with Nooks, the eBook reader that runs Android — some interesting potentials there.

Yet, with all of this impressive show of mostly appropriate utilization of ICT in classrooms, I remain unsatisfied with their answer to my prevailing question…


I honestly believe that these educators are seeking new ways to use new information and communication (literacy) technologies in teaching and learning for the very best reasons. But we need better answers than, “Because it’s technology. Our children will do anything if it’s with technology.” ..and “this is the engagement!” pointing at the an iPod Touch.

I continue to maintain that the little box is not what engages them. it is what happens through that box. It is the information experience that…

  • Is responsive
  • is fueled by questions
  • provokes conversation
  • is rewarded with currency
  • Inspires personal investment
  • is guided by safely made mistakes

When we talk about modernizing formation education, this is what we should talk about, not the technology.

– Posted using Blogsy from my iPad

26 thoughts on “Technology is Still the Wrong Answer, In My Humble Opinion”

  1. Sat through an inservice a couple years ago talking about technology in class. Best line from the talk was something along the lines of that if the students are fascinated by the technology you’re using then they won’t remember the lesson. Sure, it’s cool that we can have students use their phones to text in answers during a discussion, and even better that some administrators are actually allowing it. But the class will remember that they got to use their phones in class, not what the lesson was.

    1. Within the context of your setting, I agree with what you are saying, Ryan. However, if learners, as a general part of the lesson/class, are engaging in meaningful conversations about the topic through contemporary ICT (smart phones, netbooks, tablets), then the technology goes away and the knowledge provoking conversations become the focus.

      This is why I do not consider the occasional handing out of laptops from a laptop cart a true 1:1 practice. The ICT needs to be a handy personal literacy device that becomes a appropriately regular part of the learning environment.

    2. @Ryan,

      Hello Ryan,

      In response to your comment I agree that many times teachers feel that if they use technology then the engagement will be there and they will learn. But as you stated many times the students only remember that they got to use their cell phones. Teachers need to be sure to plan effectively and have a clear outcome for the students while they are able to use their phones. Education is moving toward technology but regardless there will always be content that needs to be remembered. Teachers have to be sure students are engaged and at the same time learning the content at hand! Great point!

  2. “When we talk about modernizing formation education, this is what we should talk about, not the technology.”

    I slightly disagree. Which tools my students or I use will affect each of the elements you listed. A nuanced discussion of the affordances and constraints of the technology available should happen at the exact same time. There is always a balance to be struck between the content (including skills), pedagogy, and technology. I’ll miss many powerful learning opportunities if I don’t consider the technology at the same time as the other two or at least in an iterative fashion. (Or, my students will if they don’t consider it when selecting their tools.) I bet if you asked the teachers/students a slightly different question along the lines of what does the technology used afford that other tools wouldn’t, many could answer. If not, at least you’ve got them thinking about it.

    1. Exactly! My point is that it is the actually engagement of (responsiveness, conversation, inspired investment, and trial & error learning) the experience that we need to learn to talk about and not just the iPod Touch or the handy netbook.

      I guess what I’m saying is that we need to talk about pedagogy and not just “the tool.”

      Of course, that is exactly what you just did in your comment! 🙂

  3. This discussion is on point with exactly what is happening in our urban public high school right now. We have some great tech tools with some teachers using them really it seems just to keep the students from falling asleep or from texting friends during class, but not necessarily for enhanced learning. These same teachers display this use of technology as somehow advanced teaching method and superior pedagogy, but I’m not so convinced. I have often thought about this question: “How can we measure that learning was enhanced using technology?”

    I have recently created a voice thread presentation for my public speaking class where students will respond to one of several slide visuals with a recorded poetic “mini-speech” utilizing 5 sense imagery and figurative language.( See following which launches with my model for students who visit our language lab next week to do their audio uploads: )

    I will assess them for quality and content, it’s true by my professional albeit subjective critique. Will the student recordings by themselves provide sufficient evidence that the technology itself enhanced the learning? Not sure, but I am having fun creating the task for them and I can’t wait to see what they do in return. Using voice thread has certainly amped up my own motivation and I hope/imagine it will do the same for them, especially because it is a public display of skill. Doesn’t the technology tool allow me to create a more engaging, full sensory learning experience that is more likely to stick in the long run? I agree that “there is always a balance to be struck” between content, pedagogy and technology, but like the original BASIC programming language, won’t using it by experimentation help us learn how to use it better going forward? Why knock the “play”?

  4. I am a technology support teacher in my building. While I DO enjoy the use of technology, I cannot stand technology use for the sake of using technology. It is a tool in my view, not an end. In chemistry, we make a mistake and we do not get the desired result. Simulations on the computer often do not allow such mistakes. Where is the learning? Sure technology has its place in the classroom, but it cannot and should not replace human interaction, real live discussions and meaningful learning experiences.

  5. The task drives the choice of tool, and technology is simply a tool (or set of tools). Technology gives teachers a broader range of tools for teaching and learning; however, a tool used for the wrong task or used incorrectly is merely a poorly utilized tool. Technology doesn’t create effective student engagement. A well planned, meaningful lesson does.

  6. In your article Technology is still not the Answer in My Humble Opinion, I agree with you that technology is evading the purpose of education. In a world full of constant new technology, the youth of the world will do just about anything to get their hands on technological advanced devices. Technology snatches the minds of youth before education. I believe that technology is not becoming a help to education, but rather completely taking its place. America is ranked 14th in the current standings of education in different nations. Education is one of the leading causes of this I believe. I believe to get America back on track, education systems need to rid of all the worthless gadgets and go back to plain old boring pen and paper. Technology is not the answer to educational issues.

  7. Teachers and students demand engagement, institutions and funding demand analytics. The promise of technology is that it offers both. With any good classroom technology I can show thousands of data points that (insert random dept here) requires with minimal effort. Educational technology is the marriage of data collecting and student engagement.

      1. I have never seen an institutional requirement asking for those data points. The data collected from technology is the data that’s required from institutions. The soft skills you are referencing are rarely (if ever) required as valid measurement isn’t possible. The day II see “Little Johnny’s creativity improved by 10% this semester, good job” on a report card is the day I’m scared 🙂

        1. But aren’t those the sorts of things that people (and projects) are labeling as “21st Century Skills”? And, aren’t a lot of schools and districts promoting those? Will they be satisfied not measuring them, drop them, or find ways to provide data points, whether valid or not?

    1. I agree with you! Technology engages students and is a fantastic tool that allows students to truly enjoy the learning process. Why can’t learning be fun?

      I also believe that technology makes collecting data so much easier! My district uses a program called AimsWeb. This program is a tool for collecting data on students. The information is directly transformed into a graph, which gives a visual to teachers and parents and makes it easier to see whether or not students are making adequate progress. I think that technology is very important!

  8. I stay at home with my four little kids, but at some point I will probably go back to teaching in a classroom.
    I don’t home school but I still work with my kids daily reviewing what they are learning at school. I use technology every day to help them. We also use many pencils and go through a lot of paper. I don’t think it should be an either/or question. Let’s use the best of both to help kids learn. Some kids learn great with technology and some don’t.

  9. I slightly disagree with you, I think it’s good for the kids, an early beginning is always good in a long run, fact is that children learn faster and can adapt to changes relatively easily. If they are trained during their school years, they have high chances of becoming experts in technology.

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