Sunday, March 1, 2009

Swimming with a School of Red Herrings

My December post, Wrap that Red Herring in Paper, concerned a brouhaha at school over whether digital communication should eliminate paper altogether. Framed in such a ridiculous way, the debate allowed technology Naysayers to indignantly defend their use of paper. We never even discussed the reasonable matter of whether digital communication might not be better suited for many of our communications (rather than all). In this context I used "red herring" to describe a diversion that distracted from the main argument. Since that time I have encountered some other ed tech red herrings.

"I don't have time to integrate technology". Interesting. Isn't this the same lame excuse we hear from our students? Implicitly speaks to priorities, doesn't it? As applied to technology I find the excuse rather ironic, since in many cases time would be greatly saved in the long run (see Using Mp3s in Education). And if the ever-so-busy teacher means classroom time, it might be useful to have someone else look over the syllabi and suggest where time savings might be realized. It's been my experience that teaching a particular lesson class after class sometimes gives us the idea that it is essential. A few nips and tucks might give us more time.

"We Mustn't Lose Face to Face Social Interaction". Simply because technology allows for collaboration to occur anytime and anywhere does not mean face-to-face has no value. When I assign collaborative projects, I always allow for in-person meetings. These sessions are provided for hammering out logistics rather than tooling around on the computers. Social media does not eliminate the usefulness physical meetings, unless by "face to face" the teacher means "I want you to take notes while I talk and see your face." I hope these teachers who fret about losing valuable "face to face" opportunities to technology also reconsider the social benefits of work sheets, reading time, lectures, etc. What exactly is the social benefit of those in-person activities? By the same token, administrators who are calling for more collaboration should reconsider how the school schedule might be adjusted to fit more flexible meeting demands.

"We have to use technology because these kids have grown up with it". The ed tech evangelists love to point to Facebook, cell phones, YouTube, and video games to argue that popular technology has made our students receptive to or even dependent upon technology for learning. Sorry, but down here in the trenches an assignment is still an assignment for my students. And they are still inclined to look for short cuts and complete the bare minimum even if all the bells and whistles of technology are used. They need to be prodded and encouraged whether the demands include technology or not. Those in the ivory tower would probably blame this on "bad design." Nonsense. Our students need to learn to solve problems and think and sometimes their lack of curiosity and motivation undermine the method regardless of how much it resembles their favorite past times. Challenging students and teaching them to problem solve is more important than giving them toys. An engaged, inspiring teacher will always be more critical to their education than a delivery system.

Are there any tech red herrings that bug you? Perhaps some of my own? Please join in.
"red herring" Flickr photo with permission by JudyGr

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