Technology in education: part of the problem or part of the solution?

“There is a huge qualitative difference between learning about something, which requires only information, and learning from something, which requires that the learner enter into a rich and complex relationship with the subject at hand.” /L. Monke/

laptopclassroom_byKaren McMillan_flickrcc

This is a quote from one of the articles of week 2: “The Human Touch” (2004) by Lowell Monke from the Wittenberg University, Ohio. Monke makes a sharp distinction between “the human” and “the technological” and is concerned about the negative impacts that a wide use of computers in schools can have on children. He marks that “in the rush to place a computer on every desk, schools are neglecting intellectual creativity and personal growth”. Monke believes that the information given by computers is abstract and decontextualized and in this it is a direct opposite of a hands-on experience that children receive when they are directly interacting with the “real” world.

In a nutshell, Monke portrays computers as devices that “feed” the children with abstract information and do it at such a speed that there is no time for contemplation. Furthermore, computers do not further imagination as the use of computers is just a “passive acceptance of prefabricated images”. Monke also believes that the wide use of computers in schools has caused a shift in our thinking about education from inner concerns like truth, imagination, creativity or meaning to external outcomes like assessment and productivity, but let us leave that point for another time.

Unsurprisingly, for Monke the best solution to the problems that he outlines is a fundamental restriction of computer use in schools. He believes that only the basic computer skills should be taught (as they become outdated too fast anyway) and the focus of teaching should be a moral and ethical development of the children, nurturing their inner resources and giving them a deep connectedness to a community. For Monke all of these are incompatible with the use of technology and need to be developed before a child uses a computer for the first time.

As I was reading this article I kept on wondering whether us humans really need to be protected from the big bad wolf of technology to such an extent. And is really all information that we get from computers much more abstract than that what we learn in our math or physics classes? Not to mention that there’s no lack of examples of community ties that have been formed and reinforced exactly thanks to technology not in spite of it. I would not dismiss all of Monke’s points but is technology really endangering our humanity?

Around the same time I was reading the article of Monke I was also beginning to explore the readings from another online course that I’m taking: Learning Creative Learning from MIT. My attention was captured by an article by Mitchel Resnick who works at the MIT Media Lab: “All I Really Need to Know (About Creative Thinking) I Learned (By Studying How Children Learn) in Kindergarten” (2007). I noticed that some of the problems in education that Resnick speaks about are close to those Monke is concerned with. Most importantly, both Monke and Resnick have a problem with the fact that the majority of technological tools for kids are focused on passive recipients rather than active learners and creators, they lack possibilities for hands-on experiences and stifle creativity.

circleHowever, the opinions of Monke and Resnick about the solutions to this problem could not be more different. While Monke takes this a reason to abandon technology in schools altogether  Resnick seeks ways to improve technology so that it promotes learning and creativity. Specifically, he believes that learning in school should become more alike learning in kindergarten as it would be more successful in developing children’s creativity and preparing them to develop innovative solutions to the unexpected situations that they are likely to encounter in their lives. Resnick suggests that learning should follow a spiraling process: from imagining to creating, to playing and sharing, reflecting on the outcome and imagining again

(if you’re interested in how this works in more detail, I strongly recommend to read his article).

Achieving this model of learning in schools, according to Resnick, requires new media and technologies that would allow to “play” with more abstract and complex themes. He strongly believes that “digital technologies, if properly designed and supported, can extend the kindergarten approach so that learners of all ages can continue to learn in the kindergarten style – and, in the process, continue to develop as creative thinkers”. And they have come up with some remarkable tools that allow children to use them in numerous ways, share their creations and fully explore their imaginations and develop their technical skills in the process. For some cool examples see the Cricket technology and Scratch.

I like the approach of Resnick much better than that of Monke, how about you?

Image credits:  Karen McMillan (Flickr Creative Commons)


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