27 October 2011

Silicon Implants

I think a lot about the purpose of integrating digital tools and devices into the educational setting. I have been called "techie," but it is not an adjective I use to describe myself. It's not one I admire or have any desire to attain. I am not someone who claims that digital is always better or that just because kids were born into a world of computing that they should be surrounded by it 24/7.

In the circles I move in, I'm definitely the minority. I have to wonder how much this impacts things---both from my perspective and the other one. There have been times when I've been in a room of 12 people and been the only one without an iPhone. And if an iPhone is the norm for a group, I worry about how that might skew the decisions that get made. There becomes an assumption that everyone has access to an iPhone, which then drives the discussion about what to showcase or pursue. My concern is that this increases the digital divide. When what we offer is only about a single platform or expectations, the people or districts which can't afford the technology (or broadband plans) or who don't live in a particular service area will continue to be left out.

More and more, I hear about the promise that digital content and connections will have for rural schools. I agree with part of that---the increase in accessibility can be a good thing. But this promise is almost always coupled with the concept that connectivity will replace all professional development for teachers. While you might say that something is better than nothing, I don't know that creating a division where urban teachers get direct access to expertise and classroom coaching while rural teachers get ether represents a step up. How about asking rural educators what they want and how they want to learn?

And ditto for students of poverty. The constant push to infuse computers in the classroom so kids can have interventions really sets my teeth on edge. What will happen when the students with the greatest needs for relationships get 1:1 learning with a machine?

Finally, I'm not convinced that the goal of a digital learning environment has any real purpose. I see lots of pictures of kids in a cubicle-like learning space, each with their own computer doing their own thing. That there's some real disruptive innovation. The greater goal, in my mind, is to help each student learn how to learn. Some of them will want pencils and paper. Some of them will want tablet computers. "Paperless" should not be a goal any more than the endless parade of standardized tests.

Technology in the classroom isn't going to go away. It will increase, driven first by the rise of testing, and then secondly by instruction. It can help in some wonderful ways. But we need to quit looking at it as a panacea for whatever we think is wrong with today's classroom: the teacher, the distance, the student. And we need to quit admiring it for the logo it sports or the fact we can now toss our year-old model in the landfill. Tech has consequences, just like any other choice. It's time we started thinking responsibly about its use.

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