Since I was a little boy – and that goes back quite a while –the rapid pace at which technology impacted our lives has raised danger signs. It began with the radio cutting into family time, graduated to television replacing family time, and finally resulted in the computer abolishing it completely. In many different areas of life we began to ask at what point was the human element going to be overtaken by the technological.
Interestingly, the one area in which things remained more or less the same was education. Sure the slide ruler was replaced by the calculator (which, in itself, took much longer than it should have) but the blackboard remained at the front of the classroom (changing to a white board does not really qualify as a significant technological advance) and text books still weighed down our students backpacks. The argument could be made that the techno-lag that affects schools is the result of a funding-lag. After all, new technology is expensive. And, while we are frequently willing to go out and spend precious dollars to ensure that our family has the newest and latest gadgets in our living room we feel no such drive when dealing with our child’s classroom.
However, this is starting to change. For one, the clear advantages that technology offers simply cannot be ignored. This is certainly true when some of our educational goals include the technology itself, calculators and computers being the best examples, but also holds true regarding the use of technology to enhance the teaching of almost any subject, smart boards being an obvious example. Secondly, since our students relate to their world through certain technological media, it has become worthwhile for teachers to try and relate with such media as well. Finally, as educators come to realize, perhaps more than ever, the need to individualize education, technology seems to offer the tools to allow such individualization, the flipped classroom being a current example.
And here the need for caution.
We often forget that teaching a child individually, whether in an one-on-one session, or through any technology, does not mean that you are actually individualizing. It is possible that while you are teaching the individual you are not taking the needs of the individual into account at all. (Hence we often speak of differentiating instruction, not individualizing.) Frequently, it is not addressing the needs of the individual student and tailoring instruction to his learning style that is difficult, but rather in ascertaining what those needs are in the first place. Thus, the first step is not in the realization that I must teach each child as an individual, but that I must see each child as an individual. For the former, technology is a blessing, for the latter, a curse.
In past posts I have lauded the educational possibilities presented by some of the newer technologies. However, if they remove our focus from the child that lives within the student, they should be abandoned. The human element in all we do should never be minimized, this is all the more so when teaching children. Let’s make sure we never forget this simple truth.