We Have Always Argued Against Ed Tech

“Classrooms don’t need tech geeks who can teach; we need teaching geeks who can use tech.”
David Guerin

One of the arguments I often hear when it comes to educational technologies is: “we’ve always done it this way.” The idea that we have always done something is such a typical answer about why we use a technique that I once informed a group of academic professionals that I banned that answer from the discussion, and told them if they use it I will ignore everything they said.

Whether or not I would have ignored what they said shall remain a mystery. However, the statement was shocking enough to get the audience to stop and think. Aside from the fact that it is just a lazy answer, it is consummately untrue. What this statement means is in my 10 to 30 years of teaching this is what I’ve always done, or this is what my classes were like when I was a student.

Nothing we do in education has been a part of education since educations inception. Blooms Taxonomy (Taxonomy of Educational Objectives, Handbook 1: Cognitive Domain) was published in 1956, 63 years ago. The Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (1956) and the Kolb Experiential Learning Theory (1984) have both influenced how we teach.  The theory of constructive in education (the late 1800s), the Socratic Method (5th – 4th century BC) and the invention of written language (earliest known 3400 – 3300 BC), in their time all changed education. All these developments fall far short of the 150 – 200 thousand years since modern humans evolved in Africa.

Teaching has occurred from our earliest ancestors take the form of oral histories or skills passed down from elder to youth in small groups likely the family. I would guess this type of education, accounts for more than 90% of human existence. It is not until the advent of modern civilization about 10,000 years ago that some forms of education even became possible.

We always view changes in education with skepticism. Socrates is an excellent example of this. Today we have the Socratic method as a teaching style. However, we do not have any written words directly from Socrates about his beliefs in teaching. In his writing, The Phaedrus Plato writes about an exchange between Socrates and Phaedrus to demonstrate Socrates dislike for the written word because he felt it made the mind weak and would decrease memory.

So, there you have it Socrates someone still admired thousands of years after his death for teaching was opposed to the technology of writing. According to stories he was often found teaching outdoors while sitting on rocks. I would almost be prepared to say the man was a technophobe. But for the fact that he ran his family’s stone masonry business.

Today the value we place on good written communications makes the teaching of writing and its act an essential part of modern education. The benefits of long-term storage of knowledge, the sharing of the thoughts and ideas of a master, makes books valuable to learning. The formation of the modern University was dependent on the rarity of early books. Try and think about what modern education would be like without books.

Technology has defined the shape of the modern classroom. Some because it is just what we do and how we live in our modern world, electric lighting, heating and air-conditioning, and A/V systems. (If you happen to be fortunate enough to live in the developed world.) Other things whiteboards/smart boards the modern descendant of the slate because it solved a problem. The slate (chalkboard) was used in the classroom because the teacher could present to multiple students at once. Is there a real difference for the students if we show material on chalkboards versus whiteboards?

Some people argue, in some cases correctly, society has driven changes in the classroom because of changes in the underlying technology of society. A great example of this is computers and printers. When I was in middle school, I turned in all written assignments in hand-writing. In high school, we had the option to turn it in typed or hand-written. In my undergraduate days, we had to use computer printers on all our assignments. Nowadays I work with people that except writing assignments as digital files or blog posts. These changes have mirrored the changes in how we write in our day-to-day lives. Remember we do things like we always have.

However, the changes from the handwritten to the computer word processor isn’t universally like. For instance, the teaching of handwriting (cursive) has all but disappeared from modern education. The Common Core Standards prefer the keyboard over hand-written words starting in elementary school. Some research, however, suggests that the elimination of hand-writing will affect the development of the brain, especially concerning reading. The effect of handwriting on the development of the mind is an area where more research is needed.

It is essential to be critical about changes in education after all the goal is to provide the best educational experience we can. However, a knee jerk rejection to something, because it is “technology,” is as equally harmful as excepting everything without thought. After all, everything we use and work within the classroom is technology. So, why do we resist change? Part of the reason for this resistance is our psychology as humans; there are psychological effectors that affect our approach to change.  Alternatively, as Ronald Heifetz says, “What people resist is not change per se, but loss.” The Practice of Adaptive Leadership: Tools and Tactics for Changing Your Organization and the World.

Like so many things the truth about resistance to ed tech is more complicated than our expectation. Regardless of which side of the ed tech debate you belong to do you ever think about why the other side is doing what they are doing? If you’re in favor of a new piece of technology have thought about why people might be resisting the change, is there a better way to present your idea? If you are resistant to the idea of new technology, have you thought about why your resisting? It is import that we all engage with new technology so that it can be used thoughtfully instead of being imposed from the outside.

Thanks for Listening to My Musings
The Teaching Cyborg

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