We Are Conflicted: It IS About the Technology

Separating the two ideas of ‘pedagogy’ and ‘technology’ … can sometimes provide an easy ‘out’ for many educators who see the use of technology as irrelevant in their classrooms. If it is about ‘pedagogy’ and NOT ‘technology’, then why would I ever have to use it?  …. Sometimes when the statement is made, ‘it is not about technology, it is about pedagogy’, you … hear the roars of approval, and off we go on our merry way with nothing changing for many students. – George Couros

The use of technology in schools sometimes involves a double-edged contradiction, well-articulated by people like George Couros, Scott McLeod, Mary Jeanne Farris and Eric Scheninger, to mention just a few crusading EdTech advocates I respect. When we claim that our desire in schools is to see deep learning, not just technology use, we can unwittingly provide teachers with the opportunity to ignore what is best for students. The logic goes something like this for some well-intentioned (and often highly talented) teachers:

  • Students are using too much technology already
  • I am giving students a healthy break from screen time like the “research” says
  • They will not always have a computer in their hands in the “real” world
  • I’ve taught this successfully without technology up to now
  • Some people learn better on paper and that’s the best way to learn
  • They don’t get to use laptops in the external examinations

When I hear the excuses listed above, my temptation is occasionally to think in terms of the advice that Don Wettrick’s father, a retired school superintendent, offered him as relayed in Pure Genius: Building a Culture of Innovation: “‘Don, I don’t care if you teach for the next twenty years; just don’t teach one year twenty times.’ In other words, you can teach for twenty years; just don’t do the same thing for twenty years.”

One of the most articulate expressions of our need to use technology to empower students is, I believe, that provided by Scott McLeod in his TED talk: 

At The International School of Brussels, we are looking forward, with great enthusiasm, to working with Scott and other inspirational innovators in 21st century learning. Our expression of ambition for both our students and teachers is something we have tried to capture in an event we call “In The Zone”. We know that we are obligated to do what is best for students and we know that we come from a different world as educators to the one our students reside in. This is how we think as a school. We have defined our technology beliefs with an explicit view that all of our decisions are guided by the following, agreed, fundamental principles:

  • Appropriate technology use is an essential component of optimal learning environments.
  • Technology creates new teaching and learning opportunities that improve student understanding. It contributes to an environment in which teaching and learning are learner-centered, collaborative, engaging.
  • Technology provides the means for equitable learning opportunities. Technology allows teachers to meet the diverse learning needs of students by adapting to individual goals and learning styles.

For technology integration advocates who readily identify with the umbrella concept most frequently described as innovation, a genuine note of caution is needed. The so-called excuses for technology integration have some validity. Couros and others are absolutely right:

  • Teacher-student relationships are more vital than technology use
  • Technology in the hands of a poor teacher is not going to improve learning
  • We need to balance student screen time with a focus on health and mindfulness
  • Successful technology integration does not mean that the computers are always “on”
  • The teacher is more important than Google, perhaps now more than ever

But there can be no excuses. Our obligation is to do what is best for students, not what is most comfortable for us as educators. It is what we are seeing on a daily basis and proud to celebrate each day. We are in the business of learning. We keep striving to do our very best.

Wettrick makes a compelling case for why our schools should be about the technology:

We do our students a disservice when we prepare them for a world that no longer exists and fail to empower them with the skills and abilities they will need to navigate rough and shifting seas. We don’t need students who can fill in bubbles on a multiple-choice test; we need students who can create, innovate, connect, and collaborate. We need students who can identify and solve complex, real-world problems. Changing the way we educate students is not only necessary…it’s a moral imperative.

We should not be apologists for not using technology, but we should understand the complex issues and the need for balance in our schools and in our lives. The truth is, the kinds of learning our students need today means that, more often than not, it really IS about the technology.