Sunday, March 15, 2015

Hey Teachers, We're Lying to Ourselves

There's a big problem in educational technology in most classrooms, and it's a problem we've created for ourselves as educators. It's not a problem in purchasing, or implementation, or anything like that. It's a problem in the way we look at technology.

By Martin Luff from Christchurch, New Zealand
[CC BY-SA 2.0], via Wikimedia Commons

What we think:

When I talk to educators about technology, there's a recurring theme. We talk about getting kids to use technology safely. About getting them to understand how to interact online. We go on and on about how we need to make sure that we're doing the right thing in terms of their digital education. These are all good points, but they might be based on a false assumption.

Most educators tend to view "real life" and "digital" as two separate things. When I was young, this was actually true. Dial-up internet meant that a connection was relegated to one computer in the house (at least, one at a time), and the speed (or, more accurately, the lack of speed) meant that spending a lot of time on the web was an exercise in patience.

Things have obviously changed. Many people carry the internet with them in their pocket. Music, friends, photos, and answers to life's questions are right there, waiting to be accessed.

This, of course, doesn't take the digital divide into consideration. I certainly think we need to focus on mitigating it as much as possible, but that's a topic for another post.

What's wrong with how we think?

First, it's the false dichotomy we're imposing on our students, of life being divided into "real" and "digital" realms. These two things are not separate, distinct, or isolated. The truth is that our students live in a seamless blend of face-to-face and digital interaction, and to separate these two is not only unrealistic, it teaches students that we, as educators, don't really understand their lives.

Secondly, it's the binary existence we impose on students when we forbid the use of their typical digital behaviours to foster learning. Many of the policies in classrooms aim to forbid students from using their devices (e.g. cell phones), their networks of connections with others (e.g. Facebook, Instagram), and their avenues for personal expression (e.g. YouTube) as an opportunity to learn or to share their learning with the world.

What should we do about it?

Fortunately, there's a simple remedy for the reality rift. We need to stop imposing our own preconceptions on students, and let them see that how they live offers so many opportunities for learning. They should be encouraged to share what they've done in school with their online communities. They should be encouraged to take out their devices and use them as a tool for learning. They should be encouraged to expand their networks to include experts, visionaries, and thinkers. The world is shrinking, and they've got the tools at their disposal to connect with learners around the globe. We need to shift how we think, so they can shift their thinking. As educators, we need to have empathy for our students, understand their lives, and figure out how we can use that knowledge to help them expand their horizons.

Basically, we need to stop imposing this falsehood that learning happens when you've turned off your devices. The opposite should be true: great learning happens in concert with using your connections to discuss, share, and understand others.