It's a Means, Not an End

16 April 2010

I find myself occasionally amused by the EdTech zealots---the ones who are convinced that technology in the classroom is the Be All and End All. They are the educators who will tell you that 19th and 20th century schools and their methods will be the continuing downfall of society. These are the very same ones who will shame you for not putting a computer into the hands of every student every class period (and further ridicule you if you don't suggest said computer be an Apple product).

I want to remind these people that my 90-year old stepfather functions just fine on the computer and internet. In his lifetime, any number of new technologies have emerged that his teachers had no inkling of, and he continues to learn and adapt. As teachers, we have always prepared students for an uncertain future---we have no way to tell what the world will be like (or the opportunities available) 5, 10, or 50 years from now. That was true for teachers 20 years ago (when I started) and long before that.

If you know one of these tech zealots, do us all a favour and ask them to take a breath. Technology is not an end we are preparing kids for---it is simply one of many ways and means to help students develop a mental toolkit for engaging with content. For example, blogging is a wonderful way for kids to practice reading, thinking, and writing skills...but it is not the only way to engage students with this work. Plenty of us made it through school and into the world with critical and creative thinking skills honed without ever having access to the internet. Tech can facilitate these things, but to assume it is the only pathway is silly.

I was thinking about this again as I read some suggestions that tech was going to be the catalyst for remaking schools. Sorry, but it won't be. Do I think schooling will look different in time---with learning extending beyond the classroom? Sure. But meatspace isn't going anywhere because it is the place where you learn a lot about forming and maintaining relationships. Being connected online is very different from learning to connect in person.

We spend a lot of time thinking about "ends" (standards, assessments) and not very much about the means (instruction). How do we encourage the zealots to take a broader view and think beyond tools to the possibilities? Do we need to start a "slow teaching" movement like the foodies have done?

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