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Learning at its Best

Shiny Lights, Video Surveillance and the False Dichotomy of Teaching

Let me say this at the front of this post.  Not only do I like technology, I love technology and have considered myself an early adopter of its use. I had my first computer,[1] which I paid for with money I saved from delivering papers on my bike every morning at 6 am. Come rain or shine, hail or freezing conditions I rode that bike to pay for my wants my parents were unwillingly to buy.

Having said this, I have had time to reflect on my first attendance at the ISTE 2011 Conference held in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. The sheer number of educators present at this conference was mind numbing, I was told over 14,000 people attended the event. Even more awesome was the exhibit hall containing hundreds of technology providers.

Yet despite the advances in technology, teachers have been told to subscribe to a false dichotomy of either education as entertainment or education as enforcement, using technology to prop up both values at the expense of student learning.  Let’s break down each and examine them more closely.

Teacher as Entertainer:

We have all been there.  “If only I delivered the lesson better, if only I made the subject come alive.  If only I had more computers, if only, if only…”  Administrators love entertaining teachers (less problems), students love them (not boring).

Teacher as Enforcer:

Been there too:  “Don’t smile until Winter Break, always over plan.  Idle hands, give them more than they can handle.  Set your expectations, classroom management techniques…” Control is an illusion.[2]

Enter Technology Solutions:

Now you can have cooler apps to appease students, “video games that require no student thought”[3], class schedulers, video surveillance, GPS trackers.  You get the picture, or rather you are part of this picture.

Where to go from here…
I said in a tweet at ISTE, “Whiteboards are like a kitchen remodel when the foundation needs fixing.”[4]  The foundation is crumbling around us in education, and the roof is falling in, and no amount of entertainment or enforcement will fix the problem.  We lost the fundamental value that the profession of teaching is founded upon: for students to learn, really learn, teachers need to roll up their sleeves and build relationships.  Healthy human development models require kids and youth to be surrounded by caring adults that model integrity, and promote kids to critically think for themselves.  Teaching is hard work; the complexity of working with a diverse set of learners in a social endeavor not valued by society makes it even harder.  Only when we are intentional about relationship building will technology be a useful tool and not a distraction.

Teachers and administrators beware: don’t be hypnotized by the shiny objects, or buy into the hype that technology is the answer to our educational woes.  Students are not electronic gadgets that can be programmed or controlled with a remote.  The art of crafting souls is best left to beings that have a heartbeat.[5]

[1] In case you are wondering it was a Commodore 64. The 64 stood for 64K of memory.  You would swap out floppy 5.25 discs.  If you were really lucky, you had two drives so you didn’t have to swap. (I was not one of the lucky ones.)  I paid over $1000 for my first computer.

[2] For a complete picture of the enforcer role, check out the film: The War on Kids

[3] I actually heard an exhibitor pitch this to a potential customer

[4] Follow me on Twitter: @sittmrev

[5] To see how Northwest Passage High School uses technology to support not supplant adolescent development check out the ISTE Unplugged Concurrent Session 13.  Here is the Eluminate link for the recording.

About Jamie Steckart

Currently the Head of Academic Affairs for the Qatar Leadership Academy. Passionate about experiential and project based learning.


3 thoughts on “Shiny Lights, Video Surveillance and the False Dichotomy of Teaching

  1. Great post, thanks for sharing! I sometimes worry about newer teachers in this dichotomy especially. Newer teachers often feel even more pressure to conform to one of the two types of teacher you mention and they are less likely to feel like they can take the time they need to build relationships. Building relationships with kids takes time, which is something we are getting less and less of in this environment.

    Posted by Christopher Rogers | July 9, 2011, 7:06 am
  2. Hey Jamie, To me this is a thoughtful and really important post. I so completely agree that the illusion of technology is that it can make either educational paradigm you describe, more sexy, more fun, more bearable, still avoids the essential and fundamental truths about education grounded in relationship. (A beautiful book on exactly that topic, and one that I would add to the COOP summer reading list–did we actually create one?–is:

    The Book of Learning and Forgetting, by Frank Smith (Teachers College Press 1998):

    “We learn from people around us with whom we identify. We can’t help learning from them, and we learn without knowing that we are learning…” (p. 3).

    The other piece I would add to your two brilliant observations on the technology illusion is that the vision of learning that both seem to spring from is that learning is troublesome and difficult, so we have to dress it up or force kids to do it, and technology is a big “helper” here.

    If we assume that learning is deeply pleasurable, that human beings do it all the time, and that the way we construct it in school is the problem, then how does that change the way we think about technology use?

    Thanks for this great post.


    Posted by Kirsten Olson | July 9, 2011, 10:01 am
  3. Great closing, Jamie. I thought so little about technology at #ISTE11 – it was incredible to meet and talk in depth with so many people from the Coöp and other Twitter circles that I forgot to look around and listen. I did walk quickly through the exhibit hall, but I was looking for Legos and managed to ignore everything else, except the lady dressed up as if she was attending a 1920s salon.

    Why can’t schools be places where students think? Where adults work harder on relationships than on management? Where happiness is an end goal?

    You have me asking all my favorite questions all over again. Next year let’s do an audio tour of the exhibit hall and create a post from what we hear.


    Posted by Chad Sansing | July 9, 2011, 10:22 pm

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