The Limited Nature of Technology (part 2)

Not only is technology limited in its ability to solve deep problems, technology may actually limit both teacher and students in profound ways.   Specifically, technology may limit students thinking and inhibit teachers’ ability to understand student thinking. Technology can effectively hide aspects of a phenomenon causing students to not mentally wrestle with important observations to develop skills or conceptual models (Olson and Clough, 2001; Potter and Kelly, 2006; Lunetta et al., 2007).  When students do not wrestle with these technologically hidden aspects of phenomena, teachers may not recognize students’ misconceptions or not understand how students are conceptualizing the phenomenon under study.

Kruse (2012) provides an example of how modern technology might mask important aspects of natural phenomena and hinder both learners and teachers.

[I]magine students are learning about acid-base titrations using a computer simulation.  This simulation will be useful in showing students the endpoint and they may even be able to add the titrant “drop by drop”.  Yet, the simulation will likely not show the need to carefully swirl the solution in between drops and will not provide an opportunity for a skilled teacher to ask, “Why does your solution stay pink for longer and longer before going back to clear?”  This question pushes students to consider the manner in which particles are interacting.  Digital simulations hide this deep level of thinking about the particulate nature of matter.


This post is from a paper I recently presented at the Association for Science Teacher Educators. For the full paper and citations, click here.

This entry was posted in Critical Examination of Technology, Education Research, Nature of Learning, Nature of Teaching, Nature of technology, Technology in the Classroom and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

3 Responses to The Limited Nature of Technology (part 2)

  1. dwees says:

    Using your example, you could argue that the simulation is poorly designed, because it misses an important property of the titration, the swirling. Thus, the problem is with the design, not with the tool.

    That being said, the concept that there are technologies that mask conceptual misunderstanding is a good one to note. For example, if the intention is to have students understand that multiplication is distributive, it is unlikely that they will notice this themselves if they just use a calculator. Note that the standard algorithm for doing multiplication (another technology we’ve developed) needs some unpacking to be useful in conveying this concept as well.


    • jerridkruse says:

      I know you don’t disagree with the principle & I really like your calculator example. However, I don’t fully agree that the simulation is just poorly designed. Yes, one could be sure to include the swirling aspect in the simulation, but I bet there is still something missing. As you know, I’m
      not advocating for never using simulations, just for being more aware of what we might give up when we do.

      Did you listen to ITbabble’s recent podcast. They mention both your comment & this post. They had a nice discussion, but the “pause button” fix simply misses the point. A pause button can’t add something that isn’t there ;).


  2. Pingback: Podcast Episode 16 – January 11, 2012 | Technology in the Classroom

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