Technology has allowed education to overcome space and time constraints. No longer are teachers wedded to the clock or the calendar. Cell phones, computers, and video capabilities have allowed schools to become places in which the same types of productive work can be done both inside and outside the time alloted to “instruction.” All of this means we can now do more, faster, right?
It means the opposite.
For teachers, the best way to think about this is something with which we’re all experienced: the difference between “rules” and “responsibilities.” Prior to the technology revolution of the last 5-10 years, time and space were “rules.” They forced us to think first about the constraints and then plan accordingly. However, over the last several years, as time and space have become less relevant due to technology, we have now been given responsibilities. We have time and space to do everything; how are we going to use it? Because we’re given that responsibility, as educators, it is important to by staying true to our beliefs about what is important to education.
Our first step, now that we can go faster, should be to slow down.
Teachers now need to decide not only what the essential content is for their courses, but what are the essential types of activities, skills, and abilities we want to foster in our students. And once those decisions are made, take the time to do them right, and use the time you have with students to focus on those activities exclusively. As technology improves, there is less and less of a need to use face-to-face time for anything other than developing those important skills that are better enhanced through face-to-face communication. We need to spend more time on these skills, as the need to fill that time with other activities that can be done through technology.
I’m in the middle of what has become a four week research paper. It was supposed to be a two-week project, but my face-to-face interactions with students have been so productive that I’ve decided to focus on this project in lieu of moving on to “other things.” Is it uncomfortable for me, as a teacher, to defy my internal clock and stay on one topic so long? Absolutely. However, the interactions with students on this project have been, in my opinion, far more valuable than anything I could have done by pushing forward with the curriculum. Giving them constant feedback prior to a due date (instead of after, when it’s worthless to them) has paid off in unimaginable ways. Meanwhile, if there are topics that I think are important for students to be aware of, I can use technology to keep them informed of them. I’m no longer asking students to write 2-3 essays per semester. I want them to write ONE, but that one should be better than anything they’ve ever written before.
Being able to overcome time means we have to be more thoughtful about how we use that time. We have been given the utlimate freedom and now must act responsibly with our freedom. And the most responsible thing to do, now that we can move faster than ever, is to slow down.