Thursday, 1 May 2014

iFad: The Tyranny of Technology (Pt. 1)

“Iʼm beginning to realize that just putting students on WWW (internet) isnʼt enough. They need focused tasks to help them best utilise the web. Thus, teachers must create interactive activities which involve
WWW.” (Frizler, 1995)

Throughout the course of education, various methodologies and novelties have quickly come and gone. Though, at present, technology is a trend which is here and is showing no signs of abating. This post is not really an attack on technology inasmuch as it is a rethink on the whole thing. I am a teacher/researcher and I have read and analysed a number of journals on eLearning / Blended learning which do not really say conclusively that this huge shift to technology is a good thing. But there is something which seems to be left out or forgotten about in this iFad that we are are going through. 

It looks pretty - let's use it!
At first, I was a huge proponent for the use of technology in the classroom and I made every effort to build it into my lessons. Nevertheless, the more I integrated it into the class, the more I started to realise that things were not quite as they seemed. 

My suspicions of technology started when I investigated the effectiveness of a website that promoted the notion that they could help to improve pronunciation. Now, as a teacher I thought this was a breakthrough in learning and I couldn't wait to test it out. I set up an experiment and tracked the progress of a friend over the course of two months. During this time, I investigated the website more, where I eventually found out something that changed my view on technology. 

The website involved a person listening to a video - usually YouTube - then repeating what was said. This would then be recorded and compared to the original - awesome, right? - or so I thought. My friend - who was using the site - noted that, even though he repeated exactly what was being said, the feedback noted that it was not accurate. So, I looked into the site further and what I found really caused me to rethink technology. 

It turned out that if you were repeating what was spoken by Obama, Justin Bieber or the Queen, you voice was being compared to a single model. This means that whoever you were trying to sound like was irrelevant, as you would never be compared to them. It was at this point I thought about how many other tech-tools were also reporting unsubstantiated claims. 

Soon after this, I started researching the issue more and found a few journals on eLearning that stated that many of the eLearning tools - that are and have been developed - have not followed or used any kind of pedagogical framework. There are now a lot of tools available for teachers, however, who created them and why? Did a teacher do it? Is it a company? The next question to ask is, what purpose does it serve? 

Out with the old and in with the... old.
The website in question could have been created by someone with limited or no experience with phonology. The website looked at single sounds only, and paid no attention to the rhythm of language. Secondly, what is being achieved by the tool? If I ask my students to use a grammar game that is basically a multiple choice question (MCQ) test, what is being achieved by this? MCQs are a 100 years old this year, so what is exactly modern or groundbreaking about these tech tools. Furthermore, why are many schools investing heavily in tech tools that just ask students to choose between A, B, or C? Finally, the website in question asked a participant to listen and repeat, does that sound familiar to anyone?

The point is that many of these so-called new tech tools are packaging 19th century teaching patterns in a pretty little website with colourful pictures and graphics and calling it eLearning, or blended learning. Many of use would frown at a listen and repeat approach these days, but when it's online or in a app it seems to be perfectly acceptable. I hear 'student-centred learning' thrown around a lot, but student-centred learning it is not - that's another post. 

Isn't technology supposed to do more than this?
The point I'm trying to make with this post is that technology is not the panacea that will come to create better classrooms, or smarter students. I think we are missing the point with technology. It doesn't matter if you put an iPad in every stunt's hands, and a 100 inch touch screen TV on every wall, because, at the end of the day, people don't learn from technology - they learn from people. A class of students can be invigorated with a piece of paper just as easily with an iPad: the only thing you need is a good teacher.

Technology is a tool, plain and simple and it will continue to be that as long as we programme it to teach like it's the 19th century. Information transfer, memorisation, MCQs are all common themes that are found in apps and websites. So, how are we going to change this? We do it with you, the teacher. 

"A great teacher with a piece of paper is infinitely more powerful that a moderate teacher will all the apps, laptops and iPads in the world." 

For one week, consider throwing away all the apps, laptops and websites and go into the classroom with a new frame of mind: post-tech. Tech is a tool and I'll say that again - tech is a tool. It does not make the classroom more fun or engaging, YOU the teacher do that. I guarantee that with a good task or project in hand, your kids will have an awesome time and not even think about the fact there is no tech, because... people learn from people. 

I titled this post 'iFad: the tyranny of technology' on purpose, as I wanted it to be divisive. I wanted to draw the attention back to the teachers and the importance of their role. In recent years tech has been the buzzword for ministries of education, and governments. They say that we have to spend exuberant amounts of money on putting computers in the classroom, and pay astronomical fees to licence software from companies with little to no experience with classrooms. 

Tech will not simply go away and nor should it. We do, though, need to realise that it is a tool, just like a piece of paper. And, just as paper hasn't significantly altered the way we learn, nor will a computer, app, or website.

Tech has been heralded as an important aspect to learning and I have seen many people - including myself - jumping on the band wagon to try and integrate it into the classroom. However, as I enter my post-tech stage, I'm seeing that technology is not what makes a good class: the most important thing is how you teach it. In sum, I will continue to use tech, but I will use it for the purpose it was intended for and that is to support learning and not for learning. Because, at the end of the day, the only thing that is going to get our kids engaged, motivated and excited about learning is me, the teacher. 

Thanks for reading.

I would welcome any comments or thoughts to further the conversation.


  1. I do agree with you Simon. Still, you should have mentioned that sometimes an intermarriage between a teacher and technology, as it were, may result 'bastard offspring'. In other words, the material shown by technology might be interpreted differently by an unqualified tech-teacher.
    In my opinion, we need sometimes to go back to using a blackboard and chalks. By using and writing with chalks, students and teachers feel the dust and sense learning.

    1. Thanks for the comment Mohammed. Although I agree with going back to basics, I'm not sure if we have to go back to chalk simply because I prefer white boards. But I think your point is valid. Sometimes we get caught up in tech that we forget that even the simplest things can be very powerful.

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  2. Great post. I recently had an enlightening experience with a new group of adults. I entered the class geared up with my online lesson plan, with cool interactive web tools etc only to discover that the group knew nothing about computers, the internet or smartphones. I have had to go back to flash cards and white board pens and to be honest, it's wonderful and I'm thoroughly enjoying it!!! New technology is great, but so is good old fashioned teaching. What we teach and the way that we teach is far more important than the tools that we use.

    1. Thanks Emma. Yeah, I agree with you. Just because tech is all around us, it doesn't necessarily mean that everyone can use it. I think the Y gen stuff that people go on about doesn't really apply to many places where only the basics are available. For example, many of my students can use YouTube but have no idea how to upload anything to it. Luckily, with trial and error they learn. That said, your last point hits the nail directly on the head. Sometimes, flash cards are great, so why take them away for an e-flash card? I completely agree with you when you say that 'the way we teach is far more important that the tools that we use.' Oh, I wish I had used that in the post haha

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