I’ve been pondering the role of technology in teaching, and what surveys say is the teacher's biggest challenge - student engagement.
What is engagement? Starting with an easy one :). It is when students crave learning, when they run to school, and dread leaving.
What is teaching? I see it as an unwrapping and a wrapping. The unwrapping is the job of the teacher, enabled by the student, and the wrapping is the job of the student, enabled by the teacher.
Unwrapping, according to sculptor Fredrik K.B.: “There is life inside the stone. Just as with people, you have to lure it out with love. To force upon it a form you self [sic] have made up is to me the worst form of violence.”
Except for some indigenous societies, this concept is anathema to most Western parents and school systems. Our “evolved” goal: “an effective education leads to gainful employment and economic independence.”
To create employees, education identified common denominator skills across “all” jobs and requires all students to learn them in the same way. To be common, these skills (fractions, algebra, grammar, essay-writing, etc.) are abstracted, and thus difficult to connect to any “real” job, and for most students, impossible to visualize as something fun or interesting or even employment-like.
Skipping the unwrapping process altogether, our system aims to shellack every child with a veneer of “common” skills so that they are generically palatable to the greatest number of employers. In doing this, we admit that education’s “customer” is the employer, not the child; and that success is not fulfilling the child’s destiny, but rather creating faceless drones.
...Truly honorable work.
Ironically, employers are not looking for automatons, they are looking for inquisitive, motivated, creative, team-oriented, and energetic people who are compelled to achieve greatness.
Maybe a bit of a disconnect here...
What is technology? In this context, technology is any “tool” that comes into the classroom and disrupts the status quo. Much of the education community perceives it as a threat because it disrupts “control and order.”
I wrote about the 21st century imperative in 2008, talking about how technology has enhanced communication, and bypassed the teacher as a bottleneck to information; you will also see some awesome quotes on how the establishment decries these intruders in their midst.
But I missed something in my post - technology can be more than this. It, with the help of a teacher, can be the path to engagement, and through that, the unwrapping and wrapping of a student.
“Why?” is probably the most frequently-spoken word by young people everywhere. Instead of dismissing this “insolence,” why(!) not have the child figure out the answer themselves? Most children in the West already have the second most powerful research tool ever (the first being the brain) in their smartphone, let them use it!
Teachers will tell you that a smartphone is a distraction, with Facebook and YouTube and games, they need to ban it so that kids can focus on “learning.”
I don’t agree. If you are given a thing and not shown how “best” to use it, you will use it “randomly.” To compel a student, you must take what interests them already (be it baking or playing music or humor or how-things-work or fashion), and help them “get good at it.” Teachers can help them use the tools at hand to observe, reflect, document, and exhibit what compels them. This is learning!
Michelangelo said, “If people knew how hard I worked to get my mastery, it wouldn't seem so wonderful at all.” This is true of cooking, DJing, being funny, building a car, or creating amazing clothes. In fact, there is hard work and mathematics, grammar, communications, science, and much more in every one of these endeavors.
Education is not wrong to define subjects like mathematics, language arts, and science as “core” to almost everything that follows. Its failure is in being “well-intentioned, wise, experienced, and successful” adults who have forgotten the moments in their lives oh so long ago when they swore they’d never be the unfeeling jerks their parents were.
Education has the opportunity to help students use the tools they have and like in ways that lead to learning. It can help them unwrap the perfect statue(s) that exists within every child, and through that, make each one a unique and valued and shape changing contributor to our ever-stodgy adult world.
It just has to want to.