The last decade has seen exponential change in the world of educational technology. From social media to collaborative software to iPads, the technology available to a student in 2012 is dramatically different than even 2002, let alone 1992. However, many of the disagreements about technology are no different than they were 10 or 20 years ago: on one hand, there were those that believed that education doesn’t need technology, and it simply distracts from “good old pencil and paper.” On the other hand are those who believe that technology is mandatory to education, because that’s the stuff kids are using anyway. I always considered myself closer to the latter argument, as I was always interested and engaged in the use of technology in the classroom. However, over the last year, I’ve begun to realize something about these arguments about educational technology.
They’re both wrong.
The “pencil and paper” folk are wrong about the idea that the way it was done 20 years ago is as good today as it was then. Contrary to what people believe, it is not that the way people have learned has changed. It’s that today’s schools have the capability to mimic the type of learning that most people only were able to implement outside the classroom in previous generations; the type of natural problem-solving and collaborative work that was literally impossible inside a single classroom is no longer a limitation of technology, therefore, schools are now able to cater better to the ways in people have always learned, i.e. through authentic experience.
On the other hand, those who believe in technology implementation solely for the purpose of “keeping up with the kids” are equally wrong. Technology today, more than any time in history, has given teachers a toolkit by which to develop not only citizens and contributors of the future, but citizens and contributors to this moment, right now. However, without careful preparation and thoughtful pedagogy rooted in a philosophy that gears itself towards the students, those computers/iPads/etc. are merely fun and expensive paper weights. Those who believe that good teaching is good teaching, regardless of technology, are partially right; however, technology is a tool that can make good teaching great.
What’s happened over the last 5-7 years has been a dramatic change in the nature of communication, media and learning. Authentic learning (and by this I mean the type of learning that mimics how people learn in their chosen field of study) is finally possible; technology has made true authentic learning possible. Students can discover, create, and participate in the world in a way never before possible. Everything you learned in your ed program in college about the importance of authentic learning and assessment is finally possible through the use and implementation of technology. However, what must first be understood are the tenets of great teaching. As such, pedagogy must continue to be the focus of any ed program or curriculum design. Technology must be used to support that pedagogy.
But what does this mean for schools as a whole? If schools are capable of so much more now, can we limit ourselves to just how we’re using technology in individual classrooms? I don’t think so. Schools are capable of so much more now; as such, educators need to rethink everything about schools. Space and time are no longer limitations to a school; therefore, the manner in which we use space and time must be rethought. Until schools are willing to step back and re-envision the entirety of their existence, technology will seem like an add-on. Unfortunately, unless space and time are rethought, technology will feel, to many teachers, like a burden. School leaders need to be bold enough to provide a vision of their schools that fulfill the massive potential that they now possess. While a 1:1 iPad program might look good on a brochure, it is but one small piece of the puzzle. Schools, more than ever, have the ability to shape both the future and the present, and we as educational leaders need to seize this moment to provide the roadmap for that to happen.