Technology in schools doesn’t have to suck

I’ve been introduced to a lot of new technology throughout my teaching career. Usually, it’s sold as a silver bullet or quick-fix for the problems teachers and administrators face in schools. While Smart Boards, 360° cameras, and super-duper machine-learning software that adapts to a child’s skill level may be useful, the products often times fall flat because they’re too time consuming and cumbersome to learn and operate. Even worse, this technology is expensive when it sits idle in a classroom, dying a slow and painful death, since it depreciates and becomes obsolete in a few years.

I’m not saying the aforementioned technology is worthless or doesn’t provide value to some teachers, because I’m sure there are teachers who swear by this technology and could not live without it. For instance, when teaching writing, I couldn’t live without the “Elmo;” however, I know too many teachers who have $1000′s worth of equipment in their rooms wasting away.

What many folks overlook is that technology is just a tool, and it’s no substitute for competent teachers and school administrators. No matter how sophisticated this technology gets, it will never replace the inspirational, knowledgeable, and wise teacher who recognizes the humanity that each and every one of his or her students brings to the room. Convincing a child to take ownership of his or her own learning and development—and then getting them to do the related work—is 90% of the battle in education. The other 10% involves dismantling copy machines to fix a paper jam.

I’ve been hearing a lot of noise about how MOOC’s – massive open online courses – are going to disrupt the traditional model and bring an end to the traditional classroom, especially at the collegiate level.

Certainly these courses can help a lot of people supplement what they learn from a traditional classroom, as well as access talented professors and teachers. Still, they tend to help a small fraction of highly-motivated, independent learners. Talk about “no child left behind.”

Undoubtedly, this model will be extremely useful for adult learners who want to supplement their college education, update their career skills, or just quench their intrinsic motivation to learn. However, I predict independent online learning will be far less effective for most K-12 students.

The thing is, most of our learning takes place from interaction with others, and that just can’t be replicated with technology. Technology should help make us more productive and efficient; even so, teachers aren’t going away any time soon.

Most technology in schools needs to be simple, easy enough to learn in a matter of minutes, and integrated with the technology you already use on a daily basis, like your smartphone. Teachers have so little extra time in the day, and when technology isn’t seamless, it will never be adopted.

Unfortunately, I’ve found that most of the technology I’ve used in schools sucks (pardon my bluntness), and I kept that in mind while we designed and developed Sibme.

Dave

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