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I have banned the use of electronic devices in my classroom. Maybe I have become a grumpy old teacher unwilling to evolve with the times. I don't think so. I was grumpy as a young teacher. But I am starting to have considerable reservations about the use of technology in the classroom.
By making my classroom device free I am following my intuition which has generally served me well in my lengthy undistinguished teaching career. In lessons when I want the students to use their devices I ask them to reach into their bags and pull them out. But I have no desire to spend my teaching day staring at a sea of young people staring at screens. I can have this experience in any cafe, mall, bus, train or outdoor area.
I am not anti-technology. Some of my best friends have cellphones. Technology has been a life-changer for me as a partially sighted person. The use of Kindle on my iPad has allowed me to continue reading which is a huge part of my life.
I was using PowerPoint in the 1990s while lecturing at a tertiary institute. I can appreciate the value of technology in teaching for research, simulations, video clips, reduced paperwork, sharing resources and keeping kids busy.
My concerns about the unbridled use of technology in the classroom are varied. Several years ago our school became an iPad school. This was phased in from year 7. As a teacher of senior classes, I have watched and listened with dismay as this tide has headed towards me. Issues include students forgetting or losing their device. Devices not being charged and therefore not working. The unreliability of access to the intranet or internet has also been an issue.
But my overriding concern is that the required use of these devices locks a teacher into a certain mode of teaching. It removes a large element of autonomy from the teacher in the teaching process.
The use of technology in the classroom has become the mantra for quality teaching. Those with reservations are regarded as out of touch or Luddites. Their concerns are lightly dismissed. I would like to share some of my observations about technology and teaching.
The use of endless PowerPoint presentations and video clips can lead to lazy teaching and uninterested students. Teachers can replay the same PowerPoints each year. This reduces creativity and innovation in presentation.
Even more bizarre is when students are required to manually copy PowerPoint presentations. Anecdotally, some students have stated they prefer teachers to chalk and talk which involves teachers building up notes on the whiteboard as they discuss the content. They find this approach refreshing after endless electronic presentations.
The use of devices by students also provides considerable scope for distraction in the classroom. It may be a weird aberration but I have found some students would rather watch Manchester United play Liverpool on their device than listen to me expound the joys and intricacies of marginal analysis in economics.
In the 1990s, several private schools made a big deal about requiring the use of laptops in their classrooms. They were presenting themselves as cutting edge in the use of technology in education. I was training commerce teachers at the time. I have a distinct memory of sitting at the back of a classroom in a top school observing a student teacher present a lesson. The class was silent with their laptops in front of them playing a wide variety of interesting games. None were related to the actual subject. Many of these top schools eventually phased out the compulsory use of laptops.
But my biggest concern about the mandated use of technology in the classroom is that technology is already engulfing our young people. As I walk around the school, catch the bus, stroll through a mall, eat my Gorilla grill at the local cafe, everyone under the age of 30 seems to be playing on a device. There is an endemic obsessive device devotion that has sprung up in the past decade. Maybe our classrooms could provide an oasis from this unquestioned tech addiction of recent years .
Our classrooms could be places of interpersonal communication for our young people. There could be discussion, debates, questioning, practical real simulations and games. Maybe occasional laughter and talk. Possibly even quiet device-free contemplation and thought.
This is not to deny technology has huge offerings to teaching and the education process, particularly in the areas of research and wider communication. But it is just a tool and it is only a tool. It should not be the overriding dictator of the learning process in a classroom. The tech zealots in education need to be reigned by the grumpy Luddites.
Peter Lyons teaches economics manually at Saint Peter's College in Epsom, Auckland.