Posted by Neil Bennett 09 April 2014
The big flaw in tech parables that tell us faster is always better
We’ve all heard the story of the schoolboy who got detention for using technology in an innovative way.
There are various versions of the tale, but the core remains the same: a class is asked to copy down their latest homework assignment, which is written on the board. One boy instead walks to the front of the class, pulls out his smartphone, takes a snap of the assignment, then returns to his seat. He is then given a detention for his impudence of not directly following the teacher’s orders despite having accomplished the task much faster and more easily than the rest of the class.
This story is a parable powered by core beliefs that permeate how we think about education: our kids are ahead of our teachers both in terms of their understanding of technology and their imagination about how they use it. Oh, and tech is a boys thing – in the many, many times I’ve heard and read this story, it’s never a girl who gets up.
Another underlying belief that this plays to – and an incorrect one – is that when technology makes a task faster and easier, this is always a good thing. By snapping his homework assignment, we believe, the boy is able to spend more time studying. If only the teacher had emailed the homework to the class, then he or she would have additional precious minutes to help the children get better grades and be more successful in life. By not embracing new technology, the teacher is holding back the children.
However, this just isn’t true. As a teacher pointed out to me recently, the act of writing down a homework assignment is good for students. By writing it, their brain processes the question, starts interpreting it and later on they’re more likely to not only remember the assignment but the context of the lesson it was given to them in.
It’s not that technology is inappropriate here – there are clear reasons why students would be better off writing their homework assignment brief into their laptop or tablet, as anyone who’s ever had to do with a soaked paper homework diary will attest to – but that we’re only looking at the surface of a ‘problem’ rather than the underlying issues. And that we believe faster is always better.
What we actually need to look at when working out how technology can assist in our classrooms – or our offices, or even our homes – is to assess the tasks that we want to achieve and work out how to do them better, not just faster.