Of Plato and iPads: Should We Use Technology in the Classroom?

Elise Italiano fears that the push to “personalize” education through technology will, in actuality, individualize education and hamper classroom relationships. She wrote a thoughtful piece Thursday at The Public Discourse on the subject:
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The very design of these technologies is to multitask, not to concentrate, analyze, contemplate, or wonder. When a teacher is lecturing, students can easily disengage, looking at other apps (some for school and others surely for entertainment), perusing websites, and checking email. Schools that value teachers’ wisdom, expertise, and guidance will wind up undermining their work by asking them not only to deliver meaningful content but to monitor students’ attention constantly. When competing for attention with a device, teachers are implicitly asked to become entertainers.

Her points are valid and well reasoned. Technology’s distractions could very well harm students’ ability to concentrate, reflect, and be still. Additionally, teachers may find themselves scrambling to procure the “next new thing,” for fear of losing their students’ interest: once you decide to use the latest technology to connect with students, you must be prepared to keep up with the trends. Thus there is a cost—monetarily and intellectually—to using technology in the classroom.

Italiano also sees a communal cost in technology’s isolating tendencies. Tablets, phones, and laptops make it easier for students to “tune out.” The focus in a technological classroom changes from student-to-student and/or student-to-teacher to a student-computer relationship, with the teacher occasionally breaking into this primary bond. The human equation in education, including the use of words to bond and instruct, becomes secondary to the visual, interactive, and individual.

Despite her emphasis on communal learning, Italiano also stresses students’ need for silence and solitude—for the “still, quiet, and intentional pursuit of truth.” This is one reason I think school and public libraries are absolutely vital to the education experience, and need to be preserved. They serve as “quiet zones,” where students can step away from the hubbub. School libraries could even enforce a “no cell phones” rule, where mobile devices and other distractions are left at the door.

The above points in Italiano’s story are all very strong. But one of her comments seemed a bit simplistic: she writes, “Though it is becoming clear that technology is changing the way we learn, it is not yet clear that it is improving it.” Read More>>

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