I have been thinking a lot about technology lately. And its role and place in our classrooms.
I believe that technology has the potential to make this world a better place to live in. I am not really talking about the technological advancements that have saved lives in terms of medical innovations, communication abilities, disaster relief possibilities etc. I am thinking about how technology has the potential to make us better people and to make this world a kinder, more just place to live.
I believe that technology is responsible for bringing people together. For starting revolutions. For building new communities for people who previously went without one. For allowing access to the stories of those whose lives were previously unknown to us. For capturing moments of gross injustice and making it impossible for the world to pretend that these moments do not exist. For allowing people to have their voices heard. For confronting the public with the truth when those in charge have tried to hide the truth from us. In so many ways, technology is allowing us to do more than we have ever done before.
And of course, with that advancement, with that growth, we see consequences. One of the most important things that I try to teach my students is that there is very rarely, if ever, growth without consequence. In order to gain something, something, most often, must be lost. If ever we are shown only the benefits or only the growth, we know that there is something we are not seeing and it is our responsibility to dig deeper. And, of course, this rings true with technology.
As technology has brought our world closer together, it has also provided opportunity for us to be meaner and crueler to one another. As much as it has made us think, it also has the potential to distract us and stop us from thinking. As things have become quick and easy, we have also become more willing to pull away from those things that require time and careful thought. Of course there are consequences.
But the thing about being honest about the consequences of technology is that, for me, at least, their mere existence does not take away from the good that technology can do for this world. And no where do I feel that is more true than in our classrooms.
Here are just some of the things that I have seen technology do for my own students:
Technology has allowed us to share our voices with the world. Technology has given us a way to do more than hang our work up in the hallways of our school. Technology has allowed us access to a global audience so that our work has more meaning and purpose.
Technology has allowed quieter students to have their voices heard by their classmates. Technology has allowed those with brilliant ideas to share, who often struggle to find ways to share them out loud, to add their ideas in real time as we communicate with each other in new ways.
Technology has filled a void in children’s literature. The much researched and much documented lack of stories from marginalized groups of people that exists in children’s literature made it difficult for me to bring stories into my classroom that accurately reflect the world that we live in. Technology has allowed us access to those stories and it has allowed us access to the stories of people who have been previously marginalized by this world being told by the actual people who are living them. This has been one of the greatest benefits that technology has given to us.
Technology has allowed us to bring the world into our classroom. Technology has allowed us access to the things that are going on in this world that I believe that my students need to know about and I have seen my students WANT to learn about. The events that unfold over minutes and hours and days can be learned about because of the access that technology provides us. No longer do we need to wait for books to be published, we can watch the world unfold around us as we learn how to best learn about it all.
Technology has connected us to others who live outside of the borders of our town. Technology has allowed us to find communities where we feel like we belong even if we feel lonely amongst the people we see face-to-face every day. Technology has allowed students to find others with common interests and to connect with others who are living experiences that have previously left children feeling isolated and alone.
Technology has given independence to those students who used to have to rely on others to decode for them or scribe for them. Technology has provided us with a variety of ways to access texts and videos and has given students so many more ways to gain information on their own, without needing to rely on the accommodations provided by another adult.
Technology has allowed my students to create. To follow their passions. To become the experts. To do something new. To problem solve. To experiment. To fail and learn that it is okay to try again. These opportunities, and so many more, have been enhanced by the technology that has been brought into our classroom.
I worry about what happens when we lead with the devices. And I worry that we are willing to do that too often. When we put the devices first and then ask the learning to follow. When we replace deep and critical thinking with flashy apps that are not much more than fun.
Because while technology has the power to be fun, I want the learning in my classroom to be more than that.
Too often, when we think engaging, we think of fun. And, yes, of course, that needs to be a part of what we do. But when I think about when my students are most deeply engaged in their work, it has NOTHING to do with the device that is in front of them. And it is always more than just fun.
My students are most engaged in their work when they are grappling with things that matter. They are most engaged in their work when they are confronted by problems and are left searching for solutions. They are most engaged in their work when they are learning to recognize the injustice that exists in this world and when they come to believe with their entire being that they have the power to do better and to be better.
And, yes, we often rely on technology to help us to do this work. But the work comes first. What I want for my students, my goals for their learning, what I want them to know how to go out and do in the world outside of our classroom, that is what I need to know first. And then, and only then, can we search out the technology and the tools that we need to do that learning.
I do not want to be handed a device and then later figure out what I can do with it.
I do not want to be shown four different apps that provide me and my students with flashier ways to do what we are already able to do.
I do not want a device that has the ability to do one million and five new things when what I want more than anything is simply a way to bring the world in and our voices out.
I do not want to limit our creativity to what we can do with a fancy new device. Instead I want my students to know the power of choosing the right tool for the right task. Sometimes, yes, that tool will be an electronic device, but it might also be a marker or a cardboard box or a can of paint or a poster.
And let me be clear, I am all for change, I am all for learning new things, I am all for following my students and seeing all that they can figure out how to do, I just want to make sure that before all of that, our purpose is clear. That our goals are established. That the learning comes first and that the device is merely another tool that can help us to achieve that learning and meet that purpose.
Because what I know is this. If we spend more time developing plans for the devices that our students are using and less time developing the minds of the humans that are sitting behind those devices, then this world is in big trouble.
If we do not worry first about developing a sense of empathy in our students, then they will be more likely to use their technology to destroy communities instead of building them.
If we do not worry first about teaching students to think critically about the information that they are being given, then they will believe everything they read and their minds will be more likely to be weakened instead of strengthened.
If we do not worry first about helping students see the responsibility that we all have to be kind to one another and take care of one another, then they will see their devices as a way to hurt instead of heal.
If we do not worry first about teaching students to search and demand to hear voices that are missing from stories being told, then our students will use their devices to perpetuate inaccurate versions of the truth of our world.
And if we do not worry first about teaching students to listen to those who are begging to be heard, then our students will use their devices to amplify their own voices while silencing those around them.
There are so many things that technology can help us to do, but it can not ever replace our ability to think. And so we need to start there with our students. With their ways of thinking. We need to teach them to do that which will make our world a better place and there are so many ways that technology can help us and them to do that. But we have to start in the right place. We have to start with our students first and layer in the technology that allows them to do their best and be their best.
Because there will always be a cool new device. There will always be a cool new app. There will always be something better and faster and capable of doing more. And in order to ensure that our students will grow up to know how to use those new things for good, we need to teach them to do good in this world first and then worry about the tools that will help them to go out there and do just that.