Friday, February 3, 2012

Is Technology Integration a Choice?

(Photo credit: Dominik Schwind via under the following Creative Commons licence)

I have often heard this question asked, especially in the Edu-Twito-Blogosphere, "Is it okay for a teacher to choose not to integrate technology in their classroom?" Sometimes it is worded differently but the affect is the same. Questions like these miss the point.

In my post yesterday I wrote about how new technologies allow us to have more choices and chief among those is the choice not to use the new technologies. Kevin Kelly says that it is precisely because of the existence of new technologies that minimalist cultures such as the Amish can exist. In essence, the Amish benefit from the existence of the same technologies they reject and as long as the government does not oppress them with forced adoption they are free to self-repress. This self-repression is a big part of their identity. However, even though the Amish choose not to use certain technologies it doesn't mean that their lives are somehow not effected by them. The Amish may choose not to use cars but they still have to deal with other people driving automobiles on the roads, they still have to deal with the environmental damage done by other people's exhaust fumes, they still have to live with the noise pollution the internal combustion engine creates, but they also benefit from the trade goods that come from far away and the use of smooth paved roads. The Amish may choose not to use electricity but they still have to deal with it's effects and affordances in the world around them and they often benefit from other people's use. Choosing not to use a technology does not prevent it from impacting your life.

The same is true in schools with new and emerging forms of information technology. One school will give laptops to all students, another will give all students iPads, another might allow BYOD, and others might reject these tools and prohibit their use. The same is true with Internet filtering. Some schools might have an incredibly open filter and others might have an incredibly closed filter. Either way, both schools have to deal with the existence of Facebook. If your school chooses to limit technology use, greatly restrict the Internet, and ban students from using devices in the classroom, or if a teacher in a school chooses not to integrate technology in the classroom this doesn't mean that they are not effected by it. It only means that they have slowed the adoption process. You may ban Facebook in your school but you will still have to deal with the social dynamic it creates among students who use it at home. You can ban personal devices in the classroom but you still have to deal with the access students have to these devices outside your walls.

The Internet, as well as many other technologies, profoundly change what it is we need to teach students. Just as the calculator made it less necessary for students to need to be able to do complex calculations by hand allowing them to focus more on math concepts rather than math calculations, so too the existence of the Internet change the nature of what students need to know. You don't have to use the Internet in your classroom to be effected by this. And, you don't have to use technology to respond to this shift in the technium. Its existence in the world outside your classroom is enough to force you to do things differently.

Technology is not a gadget or gadgets, it is the embodiment of ideas. One doesn't have to have the physical manifestation in their classroom to integrate the ideas. Technology integration includes at the most fundamental level a shift in the structure of the environment. That environment consists of far more than the things we use. It consists of how we interact with one another, it consists of the content of our discussions, and it consists of the the curriculum we employ. The greater shift is among these more fundamental elements of the technology of school. In this way it is entirely possible for me to be integrating technology in my school without ever having one device or allowing students access to online resources. I can repress those things while still doing a very good job of reacting and responding to their existence. Its not about the gadgets, it is about the technology.

That act of reacting and responding to changes in the technium is technology integration and it doesn't matter how many devices, gizmos, and gadgets I have at my disposal. This is what many schools who try 1:1 programs don't immediately understand. You can't just take the same old school, with the same old curriculum, with the same old bell schedule, with the same old assessment tools, and just add on technology. Technology integration is not an add-on. Technology integration is an ecological change and it will happen whether or not you choose to bury your head in the sand. You can choose to ban devices, ban websites, not use computers, repress the technology, but you can't escape it. If you choose not to use then you still have to make changes to remain relevant in light of the existence of these other technologies in the world. In this way all schools are 1:1.

All schools and all teachers integrate technology. What matters is which technologies we choose to use and which ones we choose not to use. Technology can be used to liberate or it can be used to oppress. We need to be aware of when we are using technology and when it is using us. We need to be aware of when we are integrating a technology that improves learning and when we are integrating a technology that simply makes schooling more efficient. If you have used technology to increase testing, maximize surveillance, and streamline the delivery of a scripted curriculum you are integrating technology but you have done so at the expense of student learning. Not all technology integration is equal. And when the use of any of these technologies is mandated, when the option to opt-out is prohibited, their forced adoption is oppressive and destructive. Conversely, if you use technology to foster creativity, to expand student access to information beyond someone else's curriculum, when you use technology to empower students to take control of their own personal learning, when you use technology to make visible the abstract and the complicated so students can focus on the core ideas, when you use technology to empower students to think critically about what they are learning and think critically about the world around them you have integrated technology in a way that is profoundly liberating. The question is not whether or it is okay for a teacher not to integrate technology, the question is what technologies are appropriate for a teacher to use.

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