Monday 8 August 2011

Technology makes us better

Technology has been blamed for many things recently. But overall, I believe technology and social media is a force for good. Technology enabled the Arab Spring nations such as Egypt to co-ordinate their revolutions and also broadcast the institutional atrocities for the world to see and act on. Similarly, Wikileaks has enabled us to see the injustice that is taking place in conflict zones. It forces the government to take action and be better. It forces us to reflect, morally as well as professionally.

For teachers, we are able to network with the millions of teachers across the globe who are facing similar challenges, successes and learning points. We can share our findings, discuss solutions and take action, collaboratively. Examples of these collaborative efforts include: #edchat, #ukedchat, #RSCON3, and #140edu

For athletes, technology enables them to run faster, jump higher, be more efficient and effective in training and competition. The list of professions and uses goes on but there are also potential pitfalls or "traps":

  1. Over-reliance on technology
  2. Abuse of technology
  3. Technology as a silver bullet

Over-reliance on technology is not good. Examples include, becoming dependent on Spellcheck, SatNav, E-mail, Social Networking, Weather, Apps and any mobile technology. In some circumstances, these aforementioned technologies may not work or may be simply inappropriate. The classic empty battery syndrome and being lost in the middle of a city or even rural setting is a classic.

This reminds us that we should not abandon our traditional tools, techniques and technology and we should always have a backup/contingeny if our tech fails. In some scenarios e.g. courtrooms, airport security, using technology might be banned and occasionally, paper is still quicker and more effective.
Take marking for example, from experience, if you send a student electronic feedback, they generally act on it less effectively than say if you give them a printout with annotations scribbled all over their work. This "traditional" marking, feedback, formative assessment works more effectively. Don't ask me why, maybe it's because students can easily ignore or skim an e-mail, but when red or green pen is scrawled all over their work, they want to reprint it. They therefore improve it and then give you a new version.

Abuse of technology has been exemplified by the News of The World phone hacking scandal . To some extent, Wikileaks has also been accused of disclosing classified locations, which some terrorists could use as targets. The recent riots and looting in London was also coordinated using Blackberry Messenger and Twitter. However, on the other side of the coin, what's the best way to detect, prevent and address technology abuse? Using technology is the answer. I'm not a fan of an Orwellian State, but occasionally technology can be used to prevent further crime and abuse of technology.

The third and most important potential trap is seeing technology as a silver bullet. I am still not entirely convinced that iPad's belong in the classroom. Partly because, it still presents a rich-poor divide issue. There will inevitably be schools and students who cannot afford this technology and therefore access is unfair. Secondly, I still believe a lot of technology use is a gimic. Is it applicable to the real world or are we simply making teaching look good? What actual learning is going on? Yes, experiment and innovate, but do not become reliant on technology and do not believe that simply by investing money into new technology, all your problems will be solved. We still need students who can reference and read books, follow paper trails. There are millions of books un-digitised, holding a wealth of knowledge out there. Alongside, digital resources, these are extremely powerful tools for the future. On their own they can only take us so far, but integrating the old with the new and I believe our lives and learning will be greatly improved.

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