Thursday, June 13, 2013

The Struggling Technologist

I'm teaching an EdTech course for our graduate program this summer. I've taught versions of this course before, and I thoroughly enjoy it! I've again assigned the class to read Technopoly by Neil Postman.

I love this book.
I hate this book.
This book is such a great help for me in
critiquing our culture and thinking about 
how we use technology in schools.
This book makes me feel rotten about 
where our culture currently stands
 in regard to technology;  how 
technology has seeped into every 
corner of our lives, including schools.
This book gives me hope that 
hands-on, face-to-face learning 
is still important and valuable.
This book reminds me that I'm teaching 
an online course to teachers--some of
whom I've never met face-to-face--and 
we're all somehow okay with this...
Technopoly reminds me that there is still
a huge need for good pedagogy, and that
technology should not--and truly cannot--
replace a heart-driven teacher.
Technopoly makes me wonder about the
future of our culture (most broadly) and
school culture specifically. Where are we 
headed anyway?


I love my iPad, and I often find myself sitting in my recliner in the evening with it in my lap. I think of this as a way of relaxing and really as a form of entertainment. But is this the only way iPads are used? iPads and other tablets have wide acceptance in schools today--to what end? Why are the iPads there? Do they really make better teachers? Do they really help students learn more? Or is it a case of, "Ooooo...shiny!"-syndrome?

Image by flickingerbrad (CC BY 2.0)


Postman makes the point: "What we need to consider about the computer has nothing to do with its efficiency as a teaching tool. We need to know in what ways it is altering our conception of learning, and how, in conjunction with television, it undermines the old idea of school." (p.19)

I'm acutely aware of this point when I'm thoughtful about my own iPad usage at home. What am I giving up to be sitting there in my chair with my feet up, glued to the little screen in my lap?

And then put this into the classroom context: what are students and teachers giving up to be glued to their screens in the classroom?

I'm no Luddite, but every time I read this book (I believe this is my fifth pass through it...) I'm convicted again with my own computer over-use...and I wonder whether I should quit it?

What do you think? How much do we rely on computers, and tablets, and SMARTboards, and the like in school today? Do we over-rely on such tools? Or is this just business-as-usual for schools today?


  1. I can say that I used the smartboard too often when I did my year of PDS. Nearly everyday it was used to guide the lesson and I think with that, students just see it as commonplace and after a certain time, they are bored with it. When smartboards first came out, they were all the rage and now they are just another piece of the classroom. When they are used too often, students are not intrigued by what they can do anymore. What I know I need to learn for myself is how to only use them when they will best fit the lesson, and not make the lesson fit the smartboard. And now going into a school with iPads I need to be able to find that balance as well. Keeping them available to use when needed, but not so much as to make them too much of a commonplace object.

    1. Tyler, my friend, you are wise beyond your years! Blessings to you as you discern how to best implement technologies to support your teaching. (Come take EDUC 508 and we'll talk a LOT about it!) :-)

  2. I feel backed into a corner on this honestly. Since I am not, and have not been in my own classroom for a few years, technology has just happened, exploded really, in the classroom. I hear friends and my sisters talk about that technological tools they are teaching with, like 1 to 1 iPads and I kind of panic. I would have no clue how to teach a classroom full of students all on their Ipads. I am not even old, maybe just old school! The thought is overwhelming.

    At the same time, I am in the Resource Room with students who are very low academically and socially. Some cannot carry on a conversation or use the restroom without assistance but they can show knowledge that is tucked in their schema with that IPad. They can communicate and tell you exactly what they need or want. It is absolutely amazing. I need to embrace it because this is the future for schools and it is the future for my children.

    1. I really appreciate your struggle between "I love this book" and "I hate this book." That is exactly how I feel about technology. There is a part of me that wants to return to the days before cell phones, computers, and even TV's. (I know, that really dates me, but I was nine when we bought our first black and white TV.) I still remember the simplicity of life before these "modern" technological devises. I raised three children before cell phones and then two after they became a "necessity." I see the good, bad, and ugly in technology, but it is here to stay. So, I have decided to embrace it and use it to bless others.

  3. I think SAMR is a fine test for the "Ooooo...shiny!"-syndrome. If most of our classroom/school's use of technology is simply substitution of a task that could be accomplished without tech with similar ease and outcome then we wasted a lot of money. When used thoughtfully, technology creates learning opportunities that wouldn't otherwise exist (or at least not easily or regularly).

    Skype, Twitter, etc. can allow students to talk to the authors of the books they read or to students who live in the places they learn about in social studies.

    A basic whiteboard/screencast app allows many options for students to demonstrate learning. Instead of 25 practice math questions (odds only), students could demonstrate and narrate the process of their calculations and problem solving. Both teacher and student would learn much more about student number sense and understanding using this method. Language students could listen to the teacher's voice on such an app and then record their verbal responses. A one-on-one verbal exchange for homework that would otherwise be impossible with a full class of students.

    These modified and redefined teaching/learning activities require changes in classroom planning and practice, but have big potential for learning.

    Most importantly, our students and their parents already use these technologies; witness your fondness for your iPad. As Christian teachers we want our students and communities at the forefront of the formative conversations about the use and development of technology. That's not going to happen if A.) the tech isn't in our schools and B.) we aren't using it intentionally to shape our learning, our communities, and our world.