If we were to consider different points of view regarding the value and usefulness of technology in education, then we would find no two opinions more polar opposites than those of Neil Postman and Roberto Joseph.
Postman is of the opinion that technology reduces an individual’s options (Postman, 1993). He suggests that school is primarily for socialization of a child into the larger society and that individualized learning and digestion of information is not an outcome or goal of participation in school (Postman, 1993). Finally, Postman feels that technology has served only to create a glut of useless information that is in turn undecipherable by any reasonable person (Postman, 1993). Ultimately the tone of Postman is one of preference for the ‘good old times’ and a desire to embrace a simpler life.
Joseph conceptualizes the historical purpose of schools to be one of sorting children for future roles in the workforce as labor and management — the system was designed to provide the most resources to intelligent individuals destined for management and very little resources to those who would comprise menial labor (Joseph, 2002). He suggests that individualized learning would better serve the advancement of every student rather than a select few (Joseph, 2002). Joseph advocates the use of technology for cognitive development and nurturing of problem solving skills (Joseph, 2002). According to Joseph, conceptual learning gained through interaction with simulations that eventually lead to community based learning would be an ideal solution for the needs of a modern, collaborative workforce capable of independent thinking (Joseph, 2002). Ultimately, Joesph believes that if we take the time to consider new uses of existing tools, rather than teaching old methods with new tools, we will realize increased return on investment both for infrastructure as well as human resources utilized in delivery of instruction (Joseph, 2002).
So on one side we have an author who thinks technology is bad and another who believes that technology is essentially good and a necessary element of a successful future. Neither author touches on the differences that are unique to each individual learner. Some people learn better by interacting one-on-one in a verbal and visual fashion while other learners make better connections by seeing examples (whether in a book, diagram, or online), practicing, revising, and trying again. Some people feel psychologically intimidated by technology (e.g. there are a lot of unknown buttons, menus, and things to navigate). Others feel like they need more buttons to press — just so they can press each one to see what will happen.
A good teacher is able to connect personally with their student and nurture conceptual knowledge and understanding to the point where the student can apply and transform the knowledge on their own. These outstanding teachers know how to help us acquire the necessary experience to reach the point where suddenly the new stuff all makes sense. A teacher has to be quick and able to adapt in reaction to their audience. If a lecture or activity on a topic results in blank stares, then we have to try something else to get the knowledge and message across. I think one of the disadvantages for technology right now is that we spend a lot of time building a tool that doesn’t lend it self to being customized on the fly. While we can consider the different learning models, cognitive theory, and psychology associated with education – we struggle to un-make our lesson and transform it into something more effective at connecting with our student when our dazzling PowerPoint falls flat.
For me, all or nothing is a blind and stupid way to approach using technology in education. Personally, I think I have missed out on learning and being challenged as much as I could have – because this degree is taught completely online. Granted, I am a different learner in some respects — I had 10 years of experience using technology in higher education prior to starting the degree. Most of the tech stuff wasn’t that new to me. Though if I were to compare the online courses to the research methods class I took in Summer 1 (which was face-to-face) I would have to say that there was no comparison. The course was challenging and kicked my butt (new concepts and methods for me). The instructor really was a gem (mentally sharp and quick, lots of experience and examples to share that were relevant). I felt more engaged and learned more interesting things in that one course, than I think I have learned thus far in this program (apologies and much love/respect to Dr. Horvitz — I think he kicks butt and takes names as a prof.).
What I am trying to say is that technology ideally should enrich the communication, conceptualization, and visualization of concepts. There should be a human dialog as well as an engaging narrative. If you find one student needs the basics — get them the basics. If you have an advanced student — help them to get the most out of their time with more advanced things. Share ideas. Help them to build their own personal connection with and awareness of technology’s potential. Use the tech where it makes sense, use the old stuff that “ain’t broke” for the rest. Dialog, listening, nodding, talking is still an amazing thing. Personal attention is an magical thing.
One other opinion I would like to share is that students should NEVER be experimented on with untested technology. It ruins the educational experience for everyone involved. Just because we can do video-interactive-everything doesn’t mean we should. Don’t overdo it — technology isn’t an elixir that cures all ailments. A mix of the classics along with that ‘hip new sound from way out’ may get you the maximum return on your investment.
Reigeluth, C.M. & Joseph, R. (2002). Beyond technology integration: The case for technology transformation. Educational Technology, 42(4), 9-13.
Postman, N. (1993). Of Luddites, learning, and life. Technos Quarterly, 2(4).