Holding back our children


Digital technologies are magnifiers and amplifiers of our humanity. They extend the reach of our human voice. They increase a millionfold our capacities and inclinations to find, connect, and share with others. They boost exponentially our abilities to collaborate with others, do meaningful work, and contribute to the overall good.

Can you exercise human voice without digital technologies?
Can you find, connect, and share with others without digital technologies?
Can you collaborate with others, do meaningful work, and contribute to the overall good without digital technologies?

Sure. We did so for millennia. But in the digital, global world that we now inhabit, decisions to marginalize technology are intentional relinquishments of potential and power. In the digital, global world that we now inhabit, decisions to ignore technology are willful disconnects from community, society, and the way the world works.

In schools, we are supposed to be empowering children. We are supposed to be preparing our students to be not just competent – but hopefully adept – in today’s and tomorrow’s information environments, work climates, and learning landscapes. But instead of recognizing and seizing the affordances that these new tools provide us for learning, teaching, and schooling, we pretend that our students can be masterful WITHOUT learning how to use digital technologies authentically. Or meaningfully. Or powerfully. And by doing so, we do our students a horrible, sometimes shameful, disservice.

By now it’s clear that digital technologies are here to stay. By now it’s clear that they’re having transformative impacts on everything around us. And yet we hesitate. We dig in. We resist and we rationalize and we make excuses for ourselves and our institutions. And every day that we do so, the gap widens between our practice and our reality. Every day that we do so, our youth lose another opportunity to be better prepared for our present and their future.

Educators, policymakers, professors, and parents: Our lack of vision and our limited understanding of our technology-suffused landscapes are holding back our children. Why don’t we care more?

Bigstock image credit: Tired girl with many books


6 Responses to “Holding back our children”

  1. Scott, the key word for me in your whole post is “authentically”. With such powerful communication tools at our fingertips there are few reasons to prevent us from ALWAYS asking our students to develop, present, collaborate with a REAL audience.

    In many ways, asking the students to present a Powerpoint for the teacher is as disappointing as asking them to present a poster for the teacher! If we do not make use of the infinite combinations of communication possibilities todays technological tools offer, we are REALLY missing the point of HOW this technology suffused landscape is leaving its mark.

  2. Interesting post, Scott. I find myself agreeing with Bruce on this…the key for me is authenticity. Adding technology for its own sake, to me, is missing the mark. And this is the case for teachers and students alike.

    That said, I agree that students of today definitely need to know how to use tech tools. Makes me wonder, Scott, what you think of the Waldorf School movement?

    One last comment: for as important as it is for kids to learn to use tech tools, I think it’s still important for them to learn to do things without those tools and “in person,” if you will…for example, collaborate with others, have a conversation, negotiate with others in real time, etc.


    • I’m not in disagreement with anything you say, Karen. But we can’t use that as an excuse to ignore or marginally integrate tech. As I said earlier today, I cringe when teachers or parents take statements to focus on learning first and tools second – or that of course we need to pay attention to the non-digital world – as ‘permission’ to not use digital tools at all or in only marginal ways…

      • Agreed, Scott. The part that is especially silly to me is that focusing on learning at all requires tools, be those low-tech or high-tech. Either way, the kids need to learn to use the tools. And learning to use the tool in the context of the learning tasks makes the tech the most relevant.

  3. I think we’re missing two bedrock aspects of using technology: 1) Using technology is not a special thing for our learners, not using technology means not engaging them and 2) Using technology removes the barriers that have traditionally kept learners from going as far as their desire and ability can take them. Technology allows learners virtual access to all the information in the world at all distance from its origin: primary, secondary, tertiary, interpreted, folded, spindled, or mutilated. It allows learners to find multiple, unrelated sources of information on the same topic in order to determine its credibility. A perfect example was posted on the TimeMaps blog where a BBC special had its inaccuracies pointed out. I made a big deal about that with my students so they learn not to trust any single source, even me!
    Returning to the first point, if technology is not a large part of the learning process then you are asking young people to work in your world instead of theirs. I don’t want to go out on a limb, but I think this technology thing is going to hang around. They need to multi-task or take more Ritalin.
    Flip your viewpoint; instead of trying to incorporate technology into your lesson, try incorporating your lesson into your technology. PowerPoint? I have traditional 3rd graders creating tours of state capitals using Google Earth (make sure you download the State House layer, watching those building pop-up as they approach Carson City drives them wild) and Kinders creating wiki pages with their parents about trips they’ve taken (with pictures, a Google Map, and a few sentences about what they did; we even had one student without digital pictures, so he drew pictures of he and his family that we scanned in).
    What I have learned in eleven years is that the greatest roadblock to using technology isn’t the student’s ability, but the teacher’s inability and fear. I had students, traditional 5th graders, learn how to use Microsoft Telescope because I just didn’t have the time; they lead the class, including me, in creating products about the planets. I hear teachers say how hard it is to learn to use something, but it seems even harder to relinquish the lead to the experts in the smaller chairs.

  4. I am just reading “Now You See It: How Technology and Brain Science Will Transform Schools and Business for the 21st Century” by Cathy Davidson. It provides some powerful arguments for and examples of the use of digital technology (especially multiple player games) to enhance learning. I am particularly interested in her comparison of end of grade and multiple choice testing with the possibilities to continuously assess learning through the use of digital technology. Much of our problem in education is that we continue to look forward through a rear view mirror as McLuhan said. If we could just drag our eyes away from that mirror and look to the future through the windscreen we would see how rapidly it approaches.

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