The Dark Side of Technology

February 12, 2008 · Posted in Teaching 2.0 · Comment 

My favorite teaching assignment is a class titled “Teaching with Technology.” In this class, we examine not only how to teach with technology but also why to teach with it. We look at ubiquitous computing environments (“one to one programs”) as well as a variety of other models for the effective use of technology to increase student engagement and performance. We have some very thoughtful discussions on whether or not an over-reliance on technology is appropriate. Can too much technology be a bad thing?

According to a recent editorial from the Washington Post–A School That’s Too High on Gizmos–the answer may be yes. Patrick Walsh, reviewing the situation at T. C. Williams High School in Alexandria, VA, found that the school’s propensity to buy every latest tech toy and to force the teachers to use them is reducing moral among staff and even causing students to wonder whether or not technology is a useful tool. School administrators seem to thrive on headlines made by the acquisition of the latest and greatest technology, and that “technolust” appears to be driving educational decisions usually left up to classroom teachers.

Clearly, this situation has been brought about by a deep misunderstanding on the part of the school administration about what constitutes good teaching. Gadgets do not produce good teaching. In fact, they may have just the opposite effect if they are not employed properly. Providing tools that teachers need–and ask for–is critical to the success of any school. Case in point–The Denali Borough School District, headquartered in Healy, AK, has a very successful one to one laptop program. There are several factors that are critical to its success. They began by moving to a standards-based assessment system that essentially provided every student with an individualized academic program. They brought teachers in on the decision making process and provided (and continue to provide, in the fifth year of the one to one program) a half day of professional development per week during the academic year. They provide tech support that is oriented toward the needs of educators and not the needs of an IT department. And, they know when to ask their students to close their laptops.

The folks at T. C. Williams seem to have it backwards. They buy the technology and then try to figure out how to use it. Successful programs–and there are many–decide how technology can help them teach and then find ways to acquire it. There’s a huge difference between those two approaches.