Today I read an article in The Toronto Star written by Doug Mann a Sociology professor at UWO regarding his opinion about technology in the classroom. The article suggests that “Portable computers combine all four of the general functions of digital technology: information delivery, peer communication, entertainment and procrastination. Cellphones concentrate on the last three functions and have no pedagogical purpose” and while it is fine that this is his opinion, I really have to disagree with his ideas. To me, the “general function of digital technology” is to connect us with the world outside our classroom walls and technology allows us to consider different perspectives by allowing us to research and connect with others all around the world. In fact, his use of the term “information delivery” is outdated as I think technology allows us to be both consumers and producers thus creating the potential for intellectual dialogue about a given topic.
He also states, “Anyone who has walked to the back of a university classroom and looked at what students are actually looking at on their various screens will abandon any sense that digital technology plays a positive role in the classroom. Facebook and celebrity websites dominate their screens” but what he doesn’t consider with Facebook is that it can be harnessed as a powerful tool for collaboration. I agree that many students don’t see it that way initially, but our job as teachers is to guide students into considering different uses for tools as well as providing opportunities to deepen our thinking. Facebook may not make sense to some people as a tool for critical thinking and collaboration, but I have seen it happen in my own classroom so it’s something that can be done with a little adult guidance.
I also remember what it was like to sit in a university classroom as it wasn’t that long ago for me. The average class is lecture based and one of the very first concepts I learned in teacher’s college was that the least effective method of learning is by listening to and taking notes from a lecture. Perhaps part of the reason students engage in Facebook and “surfing celebrity websites” is because their individual learning styles are not being satisfied in a lecture. We, as high school and elementary teachers, spend so much time learning about differentiated instructional strategies and implementing them in our classrooms, that I can imagine many students find it difficult to sit in a lecture for an hour or even three depending on the class.
Finally, Mann states, “Digital technologies can be great delivery devices. But what they too often deliver has nothing to do with education.” And again, I have to criticize his terminology and pedagogy as technology is so much more than a “delivery device”. If that’s how he sees technology, then he needs to step out of his classroom and off his soap box to observe some of us “enthusiastic futurists” who are living this reality daily in our own classrooms. And by way, what technology delivers in my classroom, has everything to do with education.