My friend Kevin Honeycutt used to tell a story of a professor of American Literature who was droning on about a particular short story in his class and became increasingly frustrated with a student in the back row who was paying more attention to his laptop than to his lecture.
Finally, attempting to get the student’s attention, the professor asked the student what he thought of what had been presented in class.
“I think everything you are saying is wrong” replied the student.
The professor, indignant, asked the student why he was so sure of what he was saying when the professor had decades of study in the field.
“Because,” the student said turning around his laptop and pointing it towards the teacher, “I have the author of that story on Skype, and he has been telling me that everything you are saying about his story is wrong.”
I relate this story not to pick on higher ed and droning professors (although I could) but rather the effect of introducing technology in a classroom setting and the effect it has on the teacher. The student could in this story, fact-check the professor in real time on anything that he might be saying, and indeed, caught him professing misinformation. He could even connect with the essential players in the conversation.
That is the power of technology. The shift of power has moved out of the teacher’s hands and into the student’s hands. All of a sudden, the teacher is no longer the font of all knowledge at the podium that they once were. And that shift of power is a monster shift.
It changes things.
It equalizes that which once was not equal.
In the old days, to learn how to solve a complex Algebra problem, students would have to sit at their desks and watch a teacher work the problem out either on a chalkboard, an overhead projector, a SmartBoard, whatever the method. The teaching POWER was at the front of the room.
The students could simply not proceed until the teacher had demonstrated the correct way to solve the problem and then the students could replicate that on the assigned problems. Only until the teacher had completed the problem were the students able to move forward with the assignment.
With technology in the classroom, students can quickly find their resources to help solve the problem, and may very well find a quicker, more efficient way than the one that the teacher presented. (Indeed, there are even websites such as Wolfram Alpha that will work any Algebra problem out from beginning to end in a matter of milliseconds. )
The power shifts when that happens. No longer does the teacher have 100% control over the teaching and learning.
Classrooms are traditionally very rigid in how the power structure is set. Any disruption in that power structure causes a disruption, and in some cases backlash and chaos.
When disruption happens, not only do the old ways need to be reevaluated but those that are most affected, those that used to have the power are often the first and the loudest to complain about the disruption, because, frankly, they probably see themselves as being marginalized.
I think that we are seeing that backlash now with technology in the classroom. Articles are coming out about the “addictive quality” of apps and devices, how students are glued to Youtube, smart devices, and just technology in general. The technology is to blame.
Not about how boring the presentation is.
Not about how nonengaging the course is.
Not about how poorly the class meets the needs of the student.
Not about how the teacher is teaching off of 10 year old Powerpoint slides.
No, the articles are about how the technology is addictive and destroying the natural order of things in the classroom.
I suspect that some teachers, not all, of course, look at technology as a threat to their livelihoods and some look at it as a threat to their egos. The enemy.
Indeed, I have seen teachers at campuses where students have each been given laptops simply refuse to use technology in their classes. Some even punish students for using the tools available to them, that they would actually use in the “real world,” to complete assignments.
The funniest ones to me however, is when teachers get onto social media to complain about students using technology. Where are all those articles that say the internet and technology is destroying classrooms? They are all found in the internet.
You will need to use technology to find them. Some teachers actually use technology to complain about technology. When asked why they refuse to use the tools, I have been given a buffet of responses, blaming time, tests, lack of preparation, lost or stolen laptops, you pick it, I have heard it.
I suspect that no matter the excuse for not using technology, part of it has to do with ego. “I don’t want this machine to replace me.” It is all about me, not my students.
Perhaps Ian Jukes said it best when he stated:
“Welcome to the modern world. Welcome to the new digital landscape. The Stone Age didn’t end because we ran out of stone; it ended because we invented new tools. It’s futile to continue preparing our students for a world that no longer exists. Our job is to help them prepare for their future not the past.”
Educators everywhere, at every level should heed those words. And perhaps leave egos at home.
Author: Tim Holt is an educator and writer, with over 33 years experience in education and opines on education-related topics here and on his own award-winning blog: HoltThink, Read his previous columns here.
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