Stop Blaming Technology

My flight was canceled, I’m booked on a later flight, I’m not going to get home when I was planning to (by 15 hours). Here’s a blogpost.

I’m returning from a conference about improving STEM education at the college level. At this conference, I attended an interesting session in which they collected data about changes made in a relatively large lecture course (157 students). This data seemed to support that the intervention improved outcomes (don’t ask me the details). The talk focused on the technology used to improve the course. For example, the students worked in small groups during lecture to solve problems that were delivered to them via a web app. Then, there were sessions that students attended (one every two weeks) in which 20 of the students wrestled with course concepts in a TILE classroom. Of course the improvement of the course outcomes was due to technology!

No one questioned it.

Improvements in this course likely have nothing to do with the technology. Instead, notice how the lecture time is being used to engage students in small groups rather than talking at them. Notice the built in time for smaller groups of students to engage in problem-solving activities.  Neither of these task requires digital technology. You could hand out pieces of paper with problems rather than an app, you could have students collaborate with a white board instead of a TILE classroom. The learning didn’t improve because the technology improved.

The learning improved because the teaching improved.

This does not mean we should not use technology in our courses, but we have to stop blaming crediting technology for our successes. We should recognize the way we restructure the learning activities to promote more thinking. Furthermore, giving undue credit to technology provides ready-made excuses for not teaching better (e.g. I don’t have access to that technology). While technology sometimes restructures learning activities for the better, most often the technology attempts to streamline an inherently inefficient process: learning.

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6 Responses to Stop Blaming Technology

  1. Matt Townsley says:

    Great point. I read somewhere recently that educators should be aiming for quality instruction and if/when digital tools support the pedagogy, use them.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Andy "SuperFly" Rundquist says:

    Thanks for this post, I think I’ll likely direct a few people to it in the future. I find it interesting that the lure of cool tech can get people to consider doing what good educators have been saying for a long time (things like small working groups in classes etc). My question is whether we should just go on using this trick. Should we continue to look for (or invent) tech that gets people to do what otherwise would be daunting? My snarky immediate response to that question is “yes!” but then I remember how the cool tech can take over all kinds of things, like what the learning goals should be or how assessment has to work. I’d love to hear more thoughts from you on this.


    • jerridkruse says:

      Yes. I definitely fall into the “any means necessary” trap from time to time. Then, I remember that using tech as a Trojan horse is expensive & can backfire. That is, tech can undermine effective teaching as much as it can be enhance it. Noemi Waight & Fouad Abd-El-Khalick had a 2007 paper that highlights this phenomenon well.

      I feel the same way about PLCs. When we force teachers to work together & co-plan, rather than encourage more organic collaboration, we’re likely to see regression to the mean rather than everyone getting better.



      • Andy "SuperFly" Rundquist says:

        That’s a great point about PLC’s. I’m trying to foster communities where people want to help each other because they find it’s helpful for themselves. It’s very tempting to try to say “ok, you guys work together this semester.” As for the expense, the thing that drives me crazy when I visit schools is smart boards in every room. $2k-$3k per classroom for tech that still doesn’t foster a student centered classroom! On the other hand, my partner is a tech specialist in an elementary school. Her teachers were exposed to Seesaw (portfolio app) and asked right away to have it loaded on the ipads in the building. She wants to comply but isn’t the hardware/software person in the building and so had to say “not yet” a bunch. Seems like a missed opportunity to strike while the iron was hot for a new technique that would capture student-driven work with seemingly cool opportunities for collaboration etc.


  3. David Marcovitz says:

    This is the primary point of Kentaro Toyama’s book: Geek Heresy.


  4. Data Science says:

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    Very helpful information particularly the last part :) I care for such info a lot.
    I was seeking this particular info for a long time. Thank you and best of luck.


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