The True Promise of Technology
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."
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