Cause to be wary of education’s embrace of technology

We have enthusiastically embraced the cult of technology in education. Photo: Getty Images
We have enthusiastically embraced the cult of technology in education. Photo: Getty Images

Peter Lyons outlines the downside of the tech revolution in New Zealand classrooms.

I am wary of ‘‘devices’’ in the classroom. I am not a Luddite. I’m a teacher of many years’ experience. I regard ‘‘devices’’ as a tool, not an obligatory method of education.

My school is an iPad school. This was introduced as a teaching tool at the junior level a number of years ago. It was trumpeted as a massive innovation. I have no issue with devices as a means of accessing information and assisting learning. But I do have concerns about devices as a primary means of pedagogy. Pedagogy is a fancy word for teaching methods.

My first concern about ‘‘devices’’ is the lack of long-term academic research on the effectiveness of devices as a teaching tool. The educational literature is actually sparse in how effective the use of devices are in improving educational outcomes for students. It’s just too recent.

Another concern is social. Most young people spend an inordinate time on their devices. That is their primary focus these days. This is a very recent phenomenon. It has become a social addiction for many.

To encourage a continuation of this trend in the classroom feels bizarre. I want my students to engage with me and other students in a direct way. I know my subject, that’s my job. I want discussion. I want debate.

I teach a subject which is values-based, despite its claims to objectivity. There are no right answers. Economics is a form of creative discourse. The answers aren’t on the web. I want students to engage on a personal level. Not via a device. That’s what real life is largely about.

A very distracted form of human interaction has evolved in the past decade. It’s on display in cafes, restaurants, pubs and other social venues. The device often dominates. I don’t want that in my classroom.

So I have banned the use of devices in my classroom. Strangely I have met with little protest. The students seem to find it somehow novel and different.

I want to choose how I teach my students. I want to engage directly. This is likely against school policy. But if I was told how often I was required to use the photocopier I would find that bizarre and offensive. Classroom teaching is largely about engagement. I can do that myself. That’s what I am paid for.

I have no interest in abdicating the role to a device or the dodgy rantings of an uninformed moron on the internet.

If I want my students to research something I get them to pull out their devices. Otherwise their primary device is a 500-year-old piece of technology called an exercise book. I provide that for them, since their parents forked out a lot of money for their devices.

We have enthusiastically embraced the cult of technology in education. What I have noticed in that short time is the decline in writing skills. I have also noticed a decline in conversational and debating skills.

Students often prefer their devices to direct interaction. That’s really sad.

I have had students comment that my teaching approach is weird compared to what they are used to. I don’t find it weird. I want a discussion. I want a debate. I want signs of human life. A direct engagement.

I enjoy the guys I teach. I am not a technophobe. But I am aware that requiring the constant use of devices in the classroom is not backed by long-term educational research. My gut feeling is that requiring the constant use of devices in the classroom is not a proven positive.

It can invite lazy teaching and a lack of real engagement by students.

What seems bright and new is not always better.

The old overhead projector has often been replaced by the lazy click of a mouse driving a PowerPoint. Students often seek distraction from dull curriculum and devices provide an ample opportunity.

Humans are essentially social animals and a well-functioning classroom teaches social skills and positive interactions on an immediate level, not via a device. My classes are not always well-functioning. But I generally enjoy interacting directly with my students and watching them interact with each other.

A large element of education is about social interactions.

Otherwise schools would have been replaced long ago by an old technology called ‘‘books’’. Everyone would have stayed at home and learned by reading.

The fact this never eventuated confirms the importance of human interaction in teaching and learning.

Peter Lyons teaches economics in an old-fashioned way at Saint Peter’s College in Epsom.

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