Technology may not be the solution, but is it the cause?

While sifting and skimming through a range of different readings preparing for a class I am currently teaching on education and reform in Egypt, I came across some thought provoking theories, stories and experiences and that got those rusty cogs in my brain moving.

The course itself aims to help students answer four driving questions:

  1. How do people learn?
  2. Why do people learn?
  3. Where do we stand?
  4. What can we do about it?

A small section under question four talks about technology and its current role in education and how it maybe a force to drive educational enhancement forward. This is a hot topic that, as a faculty developer, I debate frequently with faculty members and colleagues. I am a believer in the cliche “do not use technology for the sake of technology” but I do believe technology has a huge part to play going forward (more on that in a follow-up post).

Having discussed at length with the students, learning theories such as behaviorism, constructivism and cognitivism, as well as rich discussions on knowledge versus skills driven societies had got me thinking; why did it take us so long to realize (and in some cases we still haven’t) that some of these theories had to make sense at a certain point of time, but may not make so much sense now.

I was recently watching an episode from a show I enjoy watching very much titled “Through the wormhole with Morgan Freeman” and while the show mainly deals with science and physics type topics about universe creation and the like, it does sometimes utilize social experiments to make sense of how we act as people. One of the experiments they were conducting was to see if we were to encounter an alien language if we would understand it, and vice versa, if we were to send out a message to the universe, how would we ensure they understand it. An unexpected outcome of this experiment was that people started deriving their own version of the language when passing it onto others, which then became easier to remember. The experiment indicated that we are genetically wired to pass on information to the next generation in a way they are more likely to retain or understand.

This engrained need in us to preserve knowledge makes perfect sense when you inspect the banking model of education in the early 20th century and running all the way through into the 80s in several societies. The needs to fill up the containers (students) with all the knowledge we can find is an evident trend.

However, information access now has significantly changed, anyone can pull up information in as much depth as they need, on almost any subject they can think of, within seconds of checking their phone or computer. The information and knowledge are preserved on several servers, with several backups and libraries and so on. Has this had a part to play in student dissatisfaction with traditional methods of teaching? Is this the beginning of a societal shift from being the knowledge bearers to something else?

Wishful thinking would mean that we can grow to be more critical, think deeper, be more inventive and try and operate in higher levels of bloom’s taxonomy. Is this what is truly happening? If it isn’t, is it because of technology? Is it because of people’s attitudes? Is it because of the disconnect between the teaching style and the learner’s expectations? Is it intentional? Is it coincidental?

I think that information access and the ease of communication, knowledge exchange and knowledge creation is an initial step in forcing us to think differently. We need as educators to stop thinking of teaching in more ‘creative’ or ‘innovative’ or ‘alternate’ ways, instead we need to start understanding that traditional methods are now coming to a stage where they will just not work. We need to realize that traditional teaching is not preparing citizens of tomorrow, nor is it preparing workers of tomorrow. It will eventually be a space where young adults go to sometimes exchange some knowledge and gain some experiences which most of the time will not serve them for the future (if that is not the case already in many countries and schools).

I think we need to embrace now more than ever the notion of facilitators of knowledge, we need to start scaffolding students’ thinking processes rather than test their powers of memorization. We need to embrace the reality, and start thinking of how to better prepare our students. I still believe this does not always have to include technology, but ignoring the fact that it exists, baffles me with some educators.


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