Every day I scour the Internet to see what is new and exciting in the world of technology, and every day I find something; something that purports to improve the way we communicate, take care of ourselves, protect ourselves, and the list goes on. While I am widely impressed and supportive of most of the developments we are experiencing, as the father of two school-age children and the husband of a teacher, I am also concerned about our future and how technology is shaping many sectors, none more than education.
No child wants to hear how those before them walked uphill to school and in the snow no less, but when I was a kid, the process and tools of learning were very different than they are today. Yes, it is expected that curriculums will always be in flux and that fads in teaching will come and go, but the core of learning is now fundamentally different and I worry about two issues: proper balance and application of cyber tools, and the ever-widening gap between the haves and have nots regarding access and end-user understanding of technology.
Technology in the Classroom
On walking into my child’s classroom, the aura of privilege is overwhelming. It is as if a Chromebook or tablet is a holy grail. At times it appears that the device is the one teaching through gamification. I struggle with this approach to education, yet can appreciate how technology can ease a teacher’s daily burden. Teaching, instructing and facilitating is best accomplished in person. Children should interact with the physical teacher, heads up, eye contact. There are benefits to the access provided by today’s devices, yet I wonder what we are losing through the overutilization of technology.
Now, to expound on the thought above, is technology itself to blame? As an expert in the human element in technology I tend to always bring it back to the core purpose and/or goal and the leaders driving said initiative. In this case the teachers are the leaders taking orders from above and implementing at the user level. As in any business situation, teachers and educators need training and education on how to properly teach in this technology era. This is much easier said than done, because it is much more than knowing how to manipulate cyber devices. We need to teach our teachers how to keep students holistically engaged. The device of choice should be a tool in the teacher’s backpack, not preeminent. What is under the hood is where the learning should now begin en masse.
There are important pieces of the technology apparatus that should be exposed to our children as potential career paths. Today and in the future, the most prevalent and highest paying jobs are in the field of computer science, IT and data analysis. While children know how to manipulate a user interface at a much earlier age, it is time we teach them what is behind the device at a much earlier age. Adding courses that will aid in this at an earlier age will not only benefit them now, but in the future. Coding, for example, is a way to integrate the back end of technology that will keep them engaged and interacting with their peers and teachers. The fundamentals of any thought process are the ingredients of innovation.
The Cost Factor
I would be remiss if I didn’t touch on another major issue that is affecting today’s students. Technology is expensive. It requires a complex infrastructure of servers, computers, devices, software, humans, security and training. Those of us that are fortunate enough to live where school systems can afford the hardware, software and skilled teachers are going to reap the benefits. However, the majority of the population won’t. Not now at least. This means that there will be hundreds of thousands of students that will be left behind as yet another exclusivity creates a chip in the game. Technology without access and mentoring for all is creating yet another gap between the educated and under-educated. As always, the unconnected kids are the ones who could most benefit from the teachings of computer science.
There is no simple solution to this challenge. Yet I see great possibility on the horizon: shared services. This is not a new solution; it has been out there and used in many fields and industries for decades prior. It is proven and it could work in this situation, too. Shared services is “the provisioning of a service by one part of an organization or group where that service had previously been found in more than one part of that organization or group. Thus, the funding and resourcing of the service is shared and the providing department effectively becomes an internal shared service provider.” (Wikipedia) Currently in Ohio there are several shared services grants that focus on education. If we can expound on this theory, we can offer an equal opportunity to provide not only the goods but also the services to the schools that are in need of assistance.
Technology is greatly and rapidly altering the landscape of education and the future of our children. It is changing the way we do almost everything and it is up to us, the human element, to ensure that technology enhances every child’s life.