ASCD Whole Child Bloggers

The True Promise of Technology

Chris Lehmann

Post submitted by Chris Lehmann, the founding principal of the Science Leadership Academy, a progressive science and technology high school in Philadelphia, Pa. Connect with Lehmann on his blog, Practical Theory, and on Twitter @chrislehmann.


"Nobody can make you feel inferior without your permission."

—Eleanor Roosevelt


There has been, over the past decade, an increasing trend to push technology into schools. Everyone, it seems, knows that kids should use computers in schools, but we don't often ask why. Larry Cuban, among others, has written a great deal about how technology in our school has failed to reach its promise. Schools have spent millions of dollars on computer labs and interactive whiteboards to find new ways to do many of the things that schools have always done.

And today, many people are arguing how technology and "online learning" can transform student learning so that kids can learn from anywhere. But kids have learned everywhere for generations. What online learning can do is recreate the construct of a classroom anywhere, anytime.

And we wonder why we have not seen technology truly revolutionize education.

The true promise of technology does not lie in being able to reproduce—in shinier ways—the things schools have always done. If all we can imagine is how technology can "deliver instruction" in new ways, we will forever be limited by our own lack of vision. What technology can allow us to do is to realize the promise of many of our best ideas of progressive education. It can allow students to inquire, collaborate, and connect in ways that allow us to realize the promise of John Dewey's dream. Moreover, it allows students and teachers to see themselves as real people, defined not just by the power dynamic of the classroom, but through the social networks that should and will and must cross.

Technology Can Realize Dewey's Dream

For years, teachers have worked with students to help students learn to construct knowledge through project-based learning and the creation of authentic artifacts of learning. But the tools we had at our disposal made student creation more difficult and time-consuming, and the tools often lagged far behind what a professional would use. (I remember the times in my career as a student when they didn't.) It was what made shop class so incredible. We were using the real tools ... even if I made what might be the worst birdhouse in history. Today, the tools at our students' disposal allow them seek out the answers to their questions and then create powerful artifacts of learning that can be as polished as what a professional might create. And once they have created their work, they can share with the world. The progressive educational idea of the exposition can be ongoing and can extend far beyond the walls of the classroom and the school to the world at large.

Technology Can Humanize Us

There is incredible debate right now about whether or not we should let students friend us on Facebook ... or if we should follow students on Twitter. I am not naive enough to not understand the issues around it. However, at root, what social media can allow us to do is to see a much greater range of each other's human existence. When teachers and students can see themselves as more fully developed people, we can relate better in the classroom. When we know more about each other's lives, it is that much harder to create that sense of "otherness" which can poison a classroom. We should not run from the opportunity to see each other for the whole people we are.

Networking Can Change the World

2011 may well be the year that social media grew up and became a force in the world. Wouldn't it be wonderful if we allowed our students to be a part of the global change we see around us? Right now, we are at a moment in time when the echoing voices of every people are affecting change all over the globe. In that moment, how can we continue the soft illusion that learning is contained solely in a classroom? Why would we? When we help our students develop their expert voices for the world, who knows what they can build, create, and change? When students' voices live in the world, they can both change that world and be changed by it. We have an obligation to let them try.

For years in our schools, teachers have told students that school is preparation for real life—a statement that divorced the meaning of school from the lives kids led in that moment. With the research, creation, and networking tools at our disposal, we have the ability to help students see that the lives they lead now have meaning and value, and that school can be a vital and vibrant part of that meaning. We can help students to see the powerful humanity that exists both within them and all around them. And technology can be an essential piece of how we teach and learn about that.

Don't we have the moral obligation to try?

Photo credit: Emma Hohenstein, Science Leadership Academy junior

Comments (6)

karen goozner

February 28, 2011

I am wondering if your program has developed specific curriculum or lesson plans or suchlike which may help others achieve these commendable objectives.

James Mac Shane

February 28, 2011

It is the science and technology developments of the past 180 years that is changing the human survival needs from physical energy to intellectual energy. That change is behind today’s search for educational improvements. The technology communication levels that children are environmentally involved in today is an example that is beyond revolutionary. It is evolutionary because it provides natural individualized internal intellectual development. The natural educational need today is to aid each child’s ability to understand the positive and negative aspects of the information that they already are aware of that is beyond what our best guess as to what they need to know may be. The aspect of the educational search that reflects that evolutionary change is a growing understanding of the student’s internal motivation. This is the total opposite of the historic educational beliefs that formal education needs to be externally motivational. The scientific difficulty is that humanity has never consciously implemented a human evolutionary change at this personal level. Even if we could agree on the needed evolutionary educational changes today it would still require at least two generations before it becomes a natural developmental experience. That is outside of the historic educational belief that improvements can be externally injected into any child’s life at any time. All that is need is a quality teacher and curriculum. The child’s previous natural negatives can be overcome with some level of after the fact therapeutic energy. If the child is able to overcome the problem through therapy what happened or didn’t happen in the child’s past that would have made the therapy unnecessary. Conscious evolutionary change is the reality of the educational problems that we are trying to solve today.

Cristina Fanning

February 28, 2011

I teach undergraduates and graduates at the university level, and I firmly believe that technology can be a catalyst to a different type of relationship with my students.  At the beginning of each semester, I invite all of my students to “friend” me on Facebook. I NEVER ask my students to be my “friend”, but leave the option open to them.  By the end of the semester, especially with my undergraduates, I am typically “friends” with at least 50% of them.  I use their status updates to keep a “pulse” on their life—for example, I am able to see what types of issues are important to them, and then I try when it is appropriate to work that into my teaching.  It creates a connection that is unattainable at the college level, and one that I am most appreciative of—-and, it is also a reminder to me before I post any status updates to think to myself, is this how I want to portray myself to my friends and students?  I think technology, used appropriately, is a great tool in my classroom!

Patty Nolan

February 28, 2011

Hi Chris,
I don’t know if you remember me but I used to teach 6th grade at LIS in Lawrence with your mom! I used to visit at your house back in the late 80’s and early 90’s.
I heard that you were working in the wonderful world of education and that you specifically were working in the science area. I would really like to learn more about your program in hopes of bringing it into the Monmouth County, NJ area. I will check your website. I hope to hear back from you. Patty Nolan (.(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address))

Virginia Holland-Davis

March 1, 2011

I don’t agree with friending on FB or Twitter as it relates to students and teachers, counselors, coaches, etc. It’s not monitored before the fact. I also don’t think it acceptable to text students. It is not allowable in higher education—I worked in the field for nearly four years and so if it’s not acceptable to fratenize among adults,it’s certainly inappropriate among students and mentors/adults in a school situation. I’m just not comfortable with that use of technology. However, I do wholeheartedly support technology as a way of modern learning. I worked with proprietary schools in higher learning and regardless of what traditionalists may think and not understand, technology allows easy access, fast change of curriculum and instant updating of information> In order for our students to truly academically compete globally, fast access to information (as it changes just as fast) and the ability to reciprocate is vital. E-books, while I was against them years ago, are great in the process of competitive education, not to mention a huge budget reduction. Instead of thinking about academic technology being the way of the future, it should be the way of today.

James Mac Shane

March 8, 2011

Karen; You already know the curriculum goal. The technology that your students are already persoanlly involved in can be a base for mutual understandings tht are relted to the curriculum. This is what Whole Child is about.

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