Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Transparent technology, understanding, and innovation

There's a debate ongoing over whether technology in schools should really be invisible. One blogger argues that technology should never be a hurdle to leap before learning, and one says it's critical to understand how technology works to alter our living environments.

I'm not sure either perspective is quite right. For every learning scenario, there will be a limit to how much effort we can (or should) make to understand the technology at hand. It would create an infinite comprehension loop if we were to try and evaluate every learning tool we use. 

For example, I've seen interactive whiteboards (IWBs) in use by talented math teachers, instantly drawing graphs and calculating formulas far more quickly and clearly than was previously possible. They bring to life concepts and approaches to learning that I couldn't have imagined in my schooling. There's no doubt in my mind that they enhance learning of the subject at hand.

In the math classroom, during a math lesson, the IWB shouldn't be noticed. It should be invisible in order for the math lesson to be as effective as possible. On the other hand, science classrooms should be brimming with opportunity for students to learn the details of IWB design, manufacture, and function.

Rather than thinking of technology as a monolithic "thing in schools", it should be evaluated in isolated scenarios, with the prime learning objective of the moment kept firmly in front of our minds.

At times, we need to employ tools that have functions only others understand in order to efficiently share information and ideas. At other times, we need to understand them ourselves in order to innovate and create to our potential. Neither is inherently an incorrect solution.


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