Friday, February 1, 2013

Technology is Not Enough!

It's Just Not Enough

By Karen Hamilton, May 23, 2010

If I had to summarize what author William Pflaum is saying in Part II of his book The Technology Fix, it would be simply that --technology is not enough. A Google search of the phrase “technology is not enough” yielded 141,000,000 results in 0.10 seconds. It appears that this mantra is a popular one not just in education but in many fields. The fact that those results were retrieved in 0.10 seconds speaks volumes. We (teachers) and our students have access to a surplus of information and many of us have the technology to get it that fast. But how do we as teachers guide our students to use technology? How do we use new technology to promote, enhance and facilitate learning?

According to Pflaum’s Part II: Commitment, Less Focus, the answer is --not that well. The schools in this section had students from families with above average income. They had the resources and the leadership but their efforts fell short because they did not focus their technology on specific goals. (p. 57)

The most glaring example of a lack of focus was St John’s High School who seemed to have everything with laptops for all, an introductory technology course, a media centre, electronic books and online testing. Superficially the set-up sounds great and not dissimilar to what is available at my college (GBC). St John’s was plagued with the usual issues. Even though they had the great technology, teachers still had to focus on materials that would be on state tests, and they seemed to use technology to project the same materials that they would have written on old-fashioned boards. The principal Jim was an enthusiastic leader who believed in change and he asked his staff what an ideal environment would be. When they answered laptops, he obliged. His idea was to use “technology as a catalyst for change.” (p.66) To me this is a lot like throwing stuff at the wall to see which will stick. There was no real plan here about how the technology could enhance the learning; the technology was supposed to be the solution when really it should have been an integrated part of an overall plan. Teachers at the school struggled with how to configure their classes so that students wouldn’t use their laptops during class for other things. One teacher had students face away from him while he talked so he could view their screens and some teachers strained to figure out how to have students use the laptops because they had them.

Technology as a Catalyst?
Several years ago a college I know introduced a new degree program. A new building was about to be built for this program and the leaders wanted to be technologically relevant. Not unlike St John’s, they decided that a Laptop program was “the answer.” The faculty who were about to teach in this new program had varying levels of skills with technology- generally from low to none. It appeared that a building was designed by those who didn't teach and a laptop program was created for teachers uncomfortable with technology. The teachers were “told” that they would now at minimum use the Learning Management System. From what I know, some still only post their outlines while overtime others have begun to use more technology. A lot like St John’s, it seems that technology was being seen as a catalyst for change. A some colleges it doesn't look like the technology is the catalyst; however, I think there often are lessons learned. At my college  there is a new initiative underway to create a centre for Inter-professional Health and with it a new waterfront campus. Reading about the high school under construction Sunset Hills High School in the Western Hills District reminded me of this new undertaking. At Sunset teachers are involved with planning and their attitude is that “technology will be a service to what we do in school not an add-on” (p 93) Like my college's inter-professional health, Sunsets approach would be interdisciplinary and teachers are involved with the planning. Both look hopeful.

As to the question of if I am aware of other schools that operate like the ones in this section, I have to admit I don’t have that much experience in schools other the colleges I know about. I have taken online courses and done evaluations of online courses given at international institutions and do find similarities there. In the online environment there is a wide variety of courses, teachers and technology. In higher education, online courses obviously use technology but in some cases they are merely correspondence courses. When looking for a school for an online Master’s program, I was told about one of the largest in Canada that has a fairly good reputation. However, it didn’t make my short list when I discovered the lack of technology that they used in their program about technology. In online courses the experience varies: One teacher may use a learning management system minimally and may be barely able to turn on her/his computer while another knows everything about everything in technology and knows how to make the technology truly enhance the learning.

Technology Coordinator
All of the schools in Part II had a technology coordinator, and that would seem to be an advancement. I wonder though if there is something in the name “technology coordinator” that separates rather than brings together teaching, learning and technology. In all the schools except one, it was a full time position. I wonder if it isn’t better if a coordinator is also currently teaching. In my job at the college, it’s important for me to stay in the classroom as well as be involved with teacher technology training. To me, that keeps me grounded in learning.

Who Owns the Learning?
In May 2009, Alan November, a leader in education technology, spoke at the CAIS Best Practices conference in Montreal. He recommended that schools “retire the technology committee and establish an information planning committee.” He feels that the benefit of the Internet and computers is finding and sharing information. For him technology should be about relationship building, connection, and shared wisdom. He asks the question who owns the learning and suggests that teachers should relinquish control and instead of pushing information on students allow them to contribute and create. (Creating a New Culture) If we look at the schools in Part II, we see technology being used to push information.

What is New Technology?
A teacher uses PowerPoint, posts notes online, sends emails. Is that technology from a student’s view of view? How different is PowerPoint from the use of an overhead projector? How new is any of that especially if it is just the old stuff posted in a different format?

What Needs to be Taught?
From my point of view, there are things that don’t need to be taught. Maybe they have to be presented in a forum where students will experience them. Sugata Mitra, a proponent of what he calls Minimally Invasive Education, in his now famous “Hole in the Wall” experiment placed a computer with Internet in a hole in the wall in the middle of an Indian slum. He found that kids who had never seen a computer or the Internet learned how to use both on their own. Do we still need to teach students some of these basics?

The Generation Speaks
In my quest to find a wider view of what is going on in other colleges and universities, I stumbled upon a YouTube video by young Dan Brown. In his video An Open Letter to Educators, ( see embed below) he asks why he should spend hundreds of dollars on textbooks when there is better information on the Internet. His classes at the University of the Nebraska consisted of professors in front of class with PowerPoints presenting facts and his grades were based on how many facts he could remember for the tests. He questions:

“What has education done to reinvent itself? In my experience, nothing. Sure you’ve started using email, online databases, services like Blackboard and if this were 1999, I’d be saying-Great, but it’s not 1999 and if institutional education wants to survive in the information age, then institutional education needs to do more than just adopt a few new tools….education isn’t about facts. It’s about stoking creativity and new ideas. It’s not about teaching students how to conform to the world as it is. It’s about empowering students to change the world for the better.”

Two weeks before he made the video he dropped out of school because “school was interfering in his education.”

Technology is not enough


An open letter to educators. (Feb 22, 2010). Dan Brown Pogobat:YouTube. Retrieved from

Creating a new culture of teaching and learning. On Alan November (May 2010) Dialogue Online. Retrieved from Slumdog Millionaire’ Inspiration Sugata Mitra (Feb 27, 2009). DadsSpace: YouTube. Retrieved from

Pflaum, W. (2004). The technology fix: The promise and reality of computers in our schools. Alexandria, Virginia: Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development.

Sugata Mitra: Can kids teach themselves? (Aug 27, 2008) TedTalksDirector:YouTube. Retrieved from

Who Owns the learning-Alan November

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