Thursday, September 20, 2012

Reflection #2: Rethinking Education in the Age of Technology (Chapters 2,3)

Here, we are presented with both sides of the technology in education argument; the proponents in chapter two and the skeptics in chapter three. The main argument, as I understand it from those in favor of the technology revolution is as follows. We live in a time when the sum total of knowledge, and the societal norms that under pin it, have changed the way it has become necessary to learn. We must embrace technology and the freedom of specialization that computers can provide, thusly, improving our own learning and enhancing the skills we already possess. The world has become a global marketplace of ready to access information and, where as once we needed to learn all we could in the classroom under the expertise of a trained teacher, we can now quite readily access training tools on the web. We can, in this context, call up a video to explain a difficult process, web chat with other students, and even take classes we would otherwise not be able to reach physically.

Furthermore, we can use interactive media to access the “flow” state of learning, where in the pupil becomes absorbed into the context of games and open to higher levels of critical thinking and problem solving in a non-stress environment. The goal is evident in that should we need to know something, we can now simply look it up and use it practically. He goes on to argue that the modern classroom is outmoded by our current capabilities and benefits from incorporating new technology.

The counter, as found in chapter three, felt somewhat weak in comparison. Granting that the tone felt biased, it did not seem logical. Just because some educational reforms in the past hav had minimal effect on learning does not mean to discount technology. Yes, moving from wax tablets to disposable pens made little difference save convenience, but smart boards and interactive labs (i.e.FlyLab) capture students attention in ways that have no precedent.

Yes, the cost analysis is valid, but with the direction the world is going I don't foresee a problem. Smart phones are as popular as ever and students are loading flash card apps and taking notes directly in them. We can even blog and tweet from them. I can't even imagine that classroom activities possible with this kind of connectivity.

Lastly, Niel Postman (p. 40) argues that the skills we need to learn most cannot be taught by computers. Truth be told he is partly right, however, that also makes him partly wrong. While true that there are many social skills and interpersonal skills we cannot learn from technology, social media has begun building a new set of skills – cyber life lessons. You learn the ropes of web life forums and communities, learn about privacy protection and banking, you even use critical thinking and team building skills in MMOs.

The arguments beg one final question: where do I hang my hat? I am a bit between the two sides here, but I will always lean towards computers. The thing is that I can see the down side of technology as well. Collins speaks about our educational systems working in a kind of internal balance and this shift will alter them. My concern is where the scales will calibrate themselves and what will we be trading away for more interactive technologies. I will admit here that I learned more about efficiency, chance, adaptability, and problem solving from logic puzzles than the classroom.  

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