Technologically Blind or Technologically Conscious

How do we define the difference between being technologically blind and technologically conscious?

How would you answer the question “do you think that those students who do not have access to technology have as good a chance of getting a good education as those who do have access to technology?” I am 50 years old and I can assure you that I didn’t have a computer, I didn’t have a mobile phone, and I certainly did not have access to a tablet throughout my high school and most of my college years. Yet, I think I turned out ok! I like to think I did, and if by some chance I might find myself losing this argument, I can always fall back on the old adage, “Those were different times”.

Perhaps the real question is not whether they are better off if we don’t use technology, but why we choose not to make use of it?

The truth is that I made ample use of the technology that was available during my time. I might not have had a cell phone, but I still remember my Casio watch. It came with a calculator! I didn’t have Google, but I did have a set of Encyclopedia Britannica nearby.

So what has changed? By definition technology is the application of scientific knowledge for practical purposes. That encyclopedia I had 40 years ago was technology! The use of a calculator on my wrist was, by definition, technology! Back then, it was important to memorize facts because we could not carry an encyclopedia with us. Today, we are no longer asking our students to memorize information for instant retrieval, instead we now ask our students to apply concepts to the basic knowledge, and analyze the information. They don’t need to carry an encyclopedia because they have immediate access to one at any given moment. More importantly, they also have immediate access to multiple points of view on any given subject. Therefore, if we were to be honest with ourselves, perhaps the real question is not whether they are better off if we don’t use technology, but why choose not to make use of it?

Having made this last statement, I need to clarify by saying that I do not believe technology is the universal answer to meeting the needs of children regardless of their age. Although technology has often been referred to as the “great equalizer”, I am not convinced that young children can develop all their motor skills by swiping at a screen. Fluent verbal skills can only be achieved by interacting with other “human” members. I do not agree with parents who eagerly pull out the tablet for their child at a restaurant, so they can avoid dealing directly or indirectly with their child. And finally, I do not agree that a young student participating for 15 minutes on math intruders has engaged in “technology time”.

The use of technology comes with a lot of baggage. Baggage that involves ideas, perceptions, and misconceptions. It’s those misconceptions that we as educators need to become aware of, define, and clarify. Our refusal to acknowledge the need for technology makes us technologically blind. Our refusal to understand how to effectively use technology in our classroom makes us technologically unconscious.

As it currently stands in most educational models and systems, students don’t need to prove that they are technologically savvy in order to graduate. They don’t need to prove that they know how to fill out a form on a tablet in order to become doctors, teachers, politicians, lawyers, nurses, or project managers. Today, it’s simply assumed that we will be able to use technology. In general, when something is accepted as a norm, people are not expected to prove that they have mastered that norm. Therefore, we don’t hold a seminar on how to use a mobile. It is assumed that the user  will know how to make basic use of a mobile phone or a tablet. By that same measure, we don’t expect students to know how to code the tablet they are using in order to define them as successful. Something categorized as a norm is also defined as a standard, something expected and even ordinary. And thus, the difference between technologically blind and technologically conscious becomes evident.

By this same definition, it becomes evident that unless we give our students a reason to understand  the importance of manipulating their own technological environments, they will not spontaneously realize that they are in control of the technology that surrounds them. They will continue to be technologically blind. Becoming technologically conscious entails an understanding of the importance of recognizing our own obliviousness. Our students will not know what we have not guided them to learn, or better yet, what they have failed to learn because of our ineptness. With this in mind, the real question we should be asking ourselves then,  is why are we not teaching what should be taught, and what purpose is ultimately served for not teaching them that which should be taught?

Becoming technologically conscious entails an understanding of the importance of recognizing our own obliviousness.

How long will we continue to aimlessly wander around trying to guide our students through this sea of knowledge while we provocatively display and yes, even guard our technological blindness? How long will we try to hide our guilt for not knowing how to make effective use of technology? We as educators have a responsibility to our students, and to ourselves, to learn and act differently. The choice is ours and ours alone. We can remain blind, or we can become conscious of what is possible, thereby fulfilling the real purpose of education.


Feature image adapted from image courtesy of Flickr, rockindave1.

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