OPINION: Ed Tech is not a silver bullet
Author's Note: This op-ed was originally published at Wicked Local.
All too often, educators hear lofty promises about the potential for emerging technologies to improve teaching and learning. Companies make bold claims that software will save teachers time and improve student outcomes. The teacher response is often skeptical. One Chicago teacher, Michael Beyer, suggested that even if software works, he’d argue against using it.
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Of course, there are no silver bullets. Students and classrooms are different. School needs and infrastructures vary. While it’s obvious that technology alone is not going to revolutionize education, we are often presented with a false choice between adopting emerging technologies and investing in great teachers.
Tech savvy teachers are often frustrated by a national discourse that seems to ignore what is actually happening in today’s classrooms. Education is far from experiencing the massive disruption that we often hear about in other sectors, but we’re not living in the dark ages either. Teachers are using technology tools to get organized and improve basic processes, enhance the student-teacher relationship, provide students access to high-quality multimedia content, and help students demonstrate what they’ve learned in ways that are more meaningful to them.
Just as teachers strive to meet students where they are, technologies can be personalized to reflect the subject areas and teaching styles of educators. I use Evernote to keep digital notes. Several educators I respect prefer OneNote or Google Drive. What is important is that these tools provide a way for teachers to stay organized, track their thoughts, and then look back at those thoughts for more formal reporting.
My students find digital note keeping beneficial as well. In an article my students and I co-wrote, one student said, “It is far neater than a bundle of papers that are randomly organized. Even a messy person is forced to be neat.” Note taking and organizational improvements are not revolutionary advances, but they make a profound difference in the classroom. Without these tools, teachers and students fall back into the old problems of folders and lockers bursting with papers that are torn, outdated, and often thrown away—along with the valuable information and learning they represent.
These tools are not meant to replace great teaching and high-quality relationships between students and educators. My students made it clear to me early in the school year that their relationship with a teacher is the best predictor of how engaged and successful they will be in any given class or subject. Ed tech tools often enhance, not diminish, those connections. Technology ensures that I am available to help my students more effectively than ever before. As a high school educator, I see each of my 120 students for only 55 minutes a day, but learning does not start and stop when the bell rings. Communication and social media tools like Remind, Twitter, and email guarantee that I can be there for my students when they need me. Rather than removing that essential interpersonal aspect of education, technology can enhance it.
Ed tech-enabled content presents an opportunity to help learners access the high-quality multimedia resources. When I was a student and it was time for a video, the teacher wheeled in a heavy television and VCR on a cart and we all sat passively, all watching the same video. Today, tools like eduCanon, Bubblr, and Teachem enable students to view and interact with videos that meet their individual needs and interests, and even assess their understanding as they watch.
While the educator is usually the content expert in the room, students are experts when it comes to their own learning. The way students choose to demonstrate and communicate that learning provides invaluable insight to inform “assessment.” Standardized testing only addresses a small percentage of what our children are learning, and software geared to standardized testing should not be our exclusive technology focus. I agree with Beyer that, “Instead of a factory-model of education, we need a lab and studio model of education.” I applaud his call for a model “in which the students design the questions and create the tests themselves.” What he fails to appreciate, however, is that technology makes this type of learning model easier to implement than ever before.
Ed tech tools will never replace great teaching, but they are helping great teachers develop better relationships with their students, and deliver high-quality content. The goal of any curriculum or teaching aid has always been to boost student achievement and technology is no different. It isn’t a silver bullet, but it’s not something to be scared of either. It’s simply one more tool in the toolbox.