What is the true price of the technological arms race that we are see currently seeing in many schools in the Western world? According to this author, the answer is blowing in the wind, for the new and so-called smart technologies in the classroom are …
New technology is finding its way into the market at an increasing pace. Teaching institutions, which often compete over giving their pupils the best career opportunities and most promising prospects, are responsive to good ideas and new stories about technological miracles. As a result, the technology also finds its way into schools, out in the classrooms and down into the pupils’ bags, in the shape of things like interactive electronic whiteboards as a replacement for old-fashioned blackboards and via increased inclusion of computers and other IT in the teaching.
However, what is the true price of this technological arms race? Could the money perhaps be better spent on smaller class sizes or other measures, such as an assistant teacher? Who has asked for the new technologies, and should the pupils embrace them in school? What new technologies can improve teaching, and which are ill suited? What’s best for a teacher: mastering an old technology fully or being barely proficient with a new one?
This article does not attempt to answer all these questions in any conclusive manner. The thesis for the article is exactly that this isn’t possible and that experts actually know very little about what’s currently really happening around the world.[i] The development and implementation of technology in schools is a technological experiment of global dimensions that nobody is really in control of.
First and foremost, this article advocates that the tech companies should work closer with the schools and take more responsibility for the new products they bring to market. The burden of proof of the technologies’ concrete effect should be placed with the companies. In addition, it is also important that school leaders and teachers also know how to say no thanks to new technology.
A skilled teacher
Many people probably have memories from their own school days about a really skilled teacher who managed to motivate and explain without using sophisticated technologies, just by using his or her voice and perhaps a piece of chalk and a blackboard – and naturally the tool above them all: the human brain. Such a teacher is often characterised by personal commitment, pedagogical insight and professional competence. Our memories of him or her should be kept in mind and should form the basis for sound judgment when the focus falls on technological marvels in the classroom.
New technology brings a lot of important things with it, but particular care should be taken in schools and when experimenting with children’s learning. Just because pupils are often enthusiastic about using digital technology during breaks and in their leisure time, it doesn’t necessarily follow that this technology is a means for better learning in schools. Perhaps the children actually see the digital leisure time as a decent alternative to something even better, namely analogue quality time with parents, siblings and friends? And to teaching borne by personal commitment rather than new technology?
The challenge of new technology
Acquiring new technology is always connected with a need for new learning, particularly if you are responsible for making this technology work for the benefit of other people. In other words, the potential of the new technology depends on someone taking the time to become proficient with it. This learning process, however, takes time – often a long time, and time that is taken from other duties.
New technologies actually share a number of basic characteristics with technology that doesn’t work. From the first-hand perspective, this is a matter of how you as a teacher are unaware of how to tackle even very fundamental functions of the new technology, or that you have forgotten it because the new competency hasn’t been repeated often enough.
When you are standing in front of a class of more or less impatient pupils – or just pupils who have the right to expect teaching without pointless interruptions and disruptions – it is immaterial whether it is the teacher who doesn’t know his stuff or if it is the technology itself that fails. The result is the same – the teaching is interrupted or put on standby.
Even from a societal perspective, we can compare new technology with technology that doesn’t work. Because new technologies are constantly being introduced, and with increasing rapidity, we get less and less time to test the technologies in practice, and to adjust them in accordance with user experience. This results in non-mature technologies being let loose on the market, often with flaws and shortcomings.
This is controlled by the companies’ desire for profit, for if a company manages to create hype and demand for a new technology, so that it can be sold in both a version 1.0 and the year after in an updated and better tested version 1.1, then the company has in many ways profited twice from the product. This economic inducement can contribute to reducing the quality of products on the market. Even though a company may lose esteem by selling an unfinished product, the excitement among many users about new technical functionalities is often so great that they disregard flaws and shortcomings…..
[i] See the Aarhus University (DPU) research team working with these and similar issues at http://technucation.dk/