When I was a kid, I remember hearing that computers would replace teachers. I didn’t like this idea, unless they could guarantee that my teacher would be like Data on Star Trek: The Next Generation. However, technologists promised us that computers would radically transform our educational experience.
This was a time when our biggest concern was simply getting to the Oregon coast without dying of dysentery. Still, we heard about the bold new future where adaptive technology would allow us to get the individualized help whenever we needed it.
As I got older, I kept hearing this promise that technology would fix education. The Internet promised instant content via the Information Superhighway. Remember that term? Laser disks and later DVDs promised multimedia content with the click of a button. So it continued. When In high school, PowerPoints and WebQuests were supposed to transform learning. As a teacher, it was first wikis and Wordles and later flipped classrooms and MOOCs and gamification and augmented reality and personalized learning systems.
And yet. . .
None of those technologies radically transformed learning. Don’t get me wrong. Many of those things mentioned before have their merits. However, each of those strategies were merely a more accurate and more efficient way of delivering content. They assumed students were passive recipients of knowledge.
But that’s not how real learning works.
Real learning is always active.
We can create more personalized and targeted content delivery systems and we will still miss the point of learning.
The Real Power of Technology
So, during that era when people said technology would radically transform teaching, I had a few teachers who actually managed to transform my learning in radical ways.
I think of Mrs. Smoot and Mr. Darrow, who got me involved in the History Day project and forever shaped my view that education should involve critical thinking, creativity, and connected learning. Here, I used technology in research. The Internet was brand new but it was admittedly amazing, because it allowed me to answer my own questions. I got to interview Hall of Fame players from the Negro Leagues.
It was powerful. However, it wasn’t powerful because of the technology. After all, the search engine has changed (this was pre-Google) and nobody is using Hypercard anymore (though my presentation actually had physical slides I created from taking photographs). Our version of audio editing actually involved physically cutting tape. No, the real power was in the act of creating and in the act of engaging with the world in ways that I had never imagined before.
Ultimately, that’s the real power of technology. It allows students to create multimedia content that, in a previous time, would have been laborious and painfully difficult and way too expensive to pull off. It allows students to engage in a dialogue with the world.
The real power isn’t in content delivery. It’s in connectivity and creativity. It’s not so much that technology is amazing in what it can do but that students are amazing in what they can create. I’m less impressed by the newest gadgets than by the newest ideas that happen in creative classrooms. It’s possible that technology can transform education. But the real transformative power is in the hands of the teachers and the students they empower.