Technology has a role in teaching and learning but…

Abuse of technology in schools

As far as schooling and education is concerned, both teachers and students abuse technology in all sorts of way. For too many teachers, there is over-dependence on technology and they cannot teach any lesson without using a computer or going onto the internet. Whenever there is no access to the computer or the internet they can’t teach, which is rather sad. When I was teaching in the classroom I found using a computer simulation to demonstrate concepts extremely useful and an efficient use of time. I used it for most of my lessons but not as an alternative to any conversation to be had, or practical experiments, or demonstrations that ought to be done physically. This is important so that young people can touch, feel, see it in real life and in some cases, smell it. Most of the time, a computer simulation takes less than 10 minutes of my lesson and in some cases, as little as 150 seconds! Sadly, I know of too many teaching colleagues who spend too much of their teaching using computer.

The misuse of technology by teachers

Technology must be welcomed and embraced as it ought to be used in teaching as part of the mix. It plays just as important a role in getting the message to students as chalk and talk, conversations and so on.  Sadly, too many teachers spend too long on the computers and videos as a tool for teaching. In extreme cases, you have teachers who set work for students and the teachers goes onto the computer or even worse, their tablet or smart phone to do things that are not in any way conducive to their students’ learning.

The concept of “learning should be fun” is often taken to the extreme by some teachers. In reality, it is turned into “teaching should be fun for me and it’s nice if I can make the students laugh.” With monitoring that exists in schools, these days, there are more teachers who can deliver a fun learning environment, in which the students actually understand the concept. The problem is that delivering a good lesson is only half, actually less than half of good teaching. The other half is getting the student to articulate what they have learnt in a written format – including communicating what they have understood in a manner that others, including the examiner can comprehend. I’m not speaking about teaching to the exam, as what I’m actually saying is the opposite of teaching to the test. 

The misuse of technology by students

When we parents read our child’s school report or go to parents evening, one of the phrases that is too familiar is, “Tobi makes intelligent contributions to class discussion and he understands everything; however, he cannot describe or use the right words when answering exam questions.”  One question that the parent can ask is, “how much of the learning or teaching requires Tobi to submit written work, and the teacher providing written feedback?” The honest answer to this question is: very little.  Tobi is brilliant in making excellent presentation using PowerPoint or printing enormous quantity of stuff from the web. What is missing is Tobi’s ability to sit and write for a reasonable length of time and produce a piece of written work that reflects his natural ability.

Revising, using a computer is not ok; unless the computer is used only to access information and something is actually printed out on paper. The student must get out a pen and paper and produce written work of a good quality. This is vital as most examinations, thank heavens; require writing in a coherent manner in order for examiners to award marks. What you know is only relevant if you can communicate it to others in a way that they can comprehend. Too many young people fail to understand this key concept and teachers are not doing enough to reinforce the idea, neither are they backing it up by setting, marking and correcting the work as this is too much “hard work”!

 

The concentration power of people – including that of young people and adults appears to be going down – thanks to overuse of technology. For some people, not to receive or send a text message in any one-hour period is unimaginable. The idea of reading a physical book, which does not have a mean of goofing off or being distracted, is seen as an ancient and uncool concept.  Many people would rather pretend to be reading on their smartphone where they’ll read for about 9 minutes, until a text message comes in! In my experience and from what I have seen of the high achieving students that I have taught and the many millionaires that I know, they are very careful in the way they use information technology. They control the use of technology as opposed to allowing technology to control their lives.

 

Students learning experience: Modern vs Traditional

 

In the late nineteen nineties, when I was teaching at an independent Catholic Boys’ school in St Albans, there were about 9 students in my A-level Physics group. All of them wrote their notes on flimsy lined A4 paper and filed the papers in their clever arch folder, except for two boys – Paul and John. These two boys used exercise books, which is looked upon as being extremely uncool and rather ancient. Paul and John were both very bright young people and of course, ended up with a grade A in Physics and if I can remember correctly, in all the other three A-level subjects they took. The A* grade did not exist at A-level at the time.  Among the other boys, there were two other very bright boys, Caleb and Abel (I’ve changed the name of these two to protect their privacy). Abel ended up with a B and Caleb got an E. Of course, it would be wrong to say that the simple factor of using a lever arch folder as opposed to an exercise book was the only reason for underperformance by these two talented young people.  The use of a much older technology – the exercise book – as opposed to a more modern device, which is perceived as grown-up, the lever arch folder is just one of the areas in which effectiveness prevails over trendiness.

There was a fifth boy in that Physics group; I will call him Gustavo for privacy reason. Gustavo is one of the nicest human beings you’ll ever meet and he loved technology; in fact, he took A-level Technology as a subject. The presentation of his Physics coursework was a masterpiece, as he was able to use technology very well. Sadly, the presentation of his coursework only managed to get him a C grade in the coursework aspect, and he actually achieved an E in A-level Physics overall.  Although Gustavo a high flyer academically, he worked really hard. Perhaps he would have stood a better chance of achieving a higher grade, had he devoted his time to the quality of the content of his coursework rather than the technology to present his work.

In my next article, I will discuss whether technology is the problem, or is it how it is being used in society.

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