There is a growing movement among theorists and educational practitioners to identify why “teachers neither use technology as an instructional delivery system nor integrate technology into their curriculum” despite its heavily-researched advantages. This in itself is a loaded question because it assumes that teachers are the ones delaying schools’ adoption of educational technology (#edtech for Twitter users) and that this resistance is not part of a much larger concern. The German proverb, “Fear makes the wolf bigger than he is” (and its other variations) is useful in trying to understand the levels of trepidation that persist around technology use and shows us that the more we fear and/or resist something, the harder it is to harness and make use of it. While the Internet has affected knowledge in the quickest and most extensive fashion in human history, what has our role (as a society) been in refusing to adopt its principles into our curriculums?
In particular, I focus on the ways social fears surrounding technology have bled into our school systems and classroom practices. The following are 9 ways fear is slowing the integration of #edtech in schools:
1. Thinking that the Digital Revolution is completely unique
As unique as the circumstances surrounding the Digital Revolution seem, scholars argue that society has faced these conditions before and that humanity has seen three separate Information Ages. Scholars have qualified the invention of writing, the shift from scroll to codex, and the invention of the printing press as information ages that previously took hold around the globe. Yet in the current information age, in which we are more connected than ever, why are so many people unaware of this important distinction? We have indeed been here before. We survived. Yet fears (from Y2K to privacy infringement) persist in common discourse about #edtech and are often portrayed as “threatening” education.
2. Believing children will become subservient to modern technologies
Fears surrounding the Internet and #edtech have made educational reform increasingly difficult. Scholars say that a “revolution in educational will not just alter the lives of students, but the entirety of modern society.” Concerned adults have believed this to mean that their children will become submissive to digital technologies and miss out on an element of (physical) schooling that is necessary for success. Though this pessimistic view is sometimes warranted, it serves to eliminate all of the innovative and exciting possibilities that come with digital and participatory learning. How can teachers and administrators reap the benefits of the Internet in their personal life (e.g. email, file sharing, etc.) but ignore them as opportunities for student learning in school?
3. Ignoring the historical significance of phenomena
It is surprising that much of the research surrounding technology and the human response largely ignores the historical significance of phenomena. Researchers argue that the Enlightenment of the 18th century which brought the idea of “progress” to the world stage has been one of the most influential concepts in human development. Therefore, if progress has been seen and realized throughout the 20th century, why are our schools content with “endurance and stability” as their guiding principles? At a time where virtual, home and workplace learning are all gaining traction in educational circles, traditional schools need to progress once again if they are to remain a viable learning option for students.
4. The threat of “deschooling”
Teachers are often identified as the primary vehicles for bringing #edtech into the classroom, but is this an accurate assessment? In actuality it is the government and school boards that control many of the decisions regarding Internet access and the purchasing of technology. Formal schools now have to fear that their relevance will be questioned by the unique educational opportunities offered in unconventional learning environments. This may lead to the process of “deschooling”, in which digital technology effectively replaces all of the structures and functions of traditional education. Is modern society ready for a world where school buildings, teachers, and administrators no longer matter?
5. The burden of “reschooling”
School systems that have been responsive to the growing changes brought on by the Digital Revolution are now saying that the process has created new fears. Stakeholders cite the financial implications of “reschooling” institutions (i.e. keeping up with the latest #edtech) as a major concern. However, many of these fears are turned into horrors by a mismanaged education system and administrators who only incorporate devices in tokenistic ways (e.g. SMART Boards being used like chalkboards). With limited resources often being funneled into mismatched technologies, it is no wonder the success stories about technology integration are most often read about rather than experienced.
6. Redefining the work of teachers
A fear that is rarely discussed publicly is that #edtech will redefine the work of teachers and result in added responsibilities. Though the constraints teachers face are hardly minute, their aversion to change can at times be puzzling, especially when it undervalues the needs of students. Professor James Boyle asserts that this attitude is actually a “cognitive bias” people need to overcome in order to embrace an open system in a world often governed by tradition. Perhaps it is time that traditional education follows the lead of many of the world’s other institutions that have allowed technology to redefine their work in staying relevant in the 21st century.
7. Relinquishing control of the classroom
The primary fear behind #edtech has always been its implications for student learning and classroom practices. While the current education system relies on the hierarchical relationship between “teacher” and “student,” computers have begun to provide more expertise and allow children to question the authority of adults. With top-down approaches in organizations being largely unsustainable in the 21st century, it is important that more organic relations between teachers and students are fostered. This is easier said than done. With positive results being reported in more free and adaptive institutions (i.e. curriculum is being delivered successfully), eventually educators and administrators will need to rethink their position.
8. “Childhood at risk” vs. “childhood empowered”
When children are the principal focus of your organization, safety is always a primary concern. With the threats against them shifting from physical to virtual, it is understood that the protection of children is necessary in order for digital learning to occur. However, Anna Craft argues that the “childhood at risk” narrative that persists throughout the media when it comes to young people’s uses of technology often overshadows the “childhood empowered” narrative. Furthermore, the fear that children who have access to technology will use it in “unsafe” ways has existed for centuries. The overreaction to this concern has allowed school leaders to swiftly relegate the use, access, and enjoyment of technology to primarily outside the confines of school. Institutionally limiting students’ opportunities to learn (i.e. overblocking content) is hardly empowering.
9. Redefining the goals of traditional schooling
Even when teachers make every effort to integrate #edtech into the classroom, this (in itself) does not guarantee measured student success. Unfortunately, the curriculum often does not support their efforts. For decades, many school leaders have argued that participatory learning poses no real benefit to students. If in 2014 we know the opposite is true, why has no meaningful reform been made? Are our education systems preparing children for further years of schooling and not for life? This is, in fact, the biggest fear of all. The idea that formalized school is antiquated and seeks to oppress natural learning is gaining traction in educational discourse. The more people begin to question the current state of Western education, the harder it will be to defend.
Though fear is a common element of human nature, we have learned to combat it with the knowledge we attain through learning and lived experiences. This may not always be effective; emotions are powerful forces. However, in such an important and meaningful institution like education we need to attempt to be brave. In a sphere that prides itself on research, schools and their leaders need to be receptive to the growing digital movement. This cannot be ignored any longer. It is of our own making that the wolf looks as big as it does at this moment, but we as a society can bring it back down to size.
Feature image courtesy of Flickr, ingrid eulenfan.