I have been reading Rethinking Education in the Age of Technology: The Digital Revolution and Schooling in America (2009) by Allan Collins and Richard Halverson. Like many other writers, I am thinking of Andrew Zucker’s Transforming Schools with Technology (2008), Collins and Halverson create a continuum of advocates and critics of technology in schools. At one end of their continuum are the “Technology Enthusiasts” or, in Zucker’s phrase, “Technology Utopians”; at the other end are the “Technology Skeptics (Zucker uses same phrase).
Collins and Halverson do not bash folks at either end of the continuum although they do embrace ultimately the “Enthusiasts” arguments. They present points for each side but clearly believe that the world has become digital and schools as they are currently operated will be overwhelmed by home schooling, cyberschools, charters, private learning centers, workplace learning, and distance education. “These new alternatives,” they say, “will make us rethink the the dominant role of K-12 public schools in education as children and adults spend more time learning in new venues” (p.4). Thus, the “digital revolution” will alter the nature of schooling completely by making learning life-long and, in their words, mere “schooling” will finally become “educational.”
The problem I have with such scenarios—and, God knows, there have been such claims for decades from Nicholas Negroponte, Seymour Papert and many others—is that these scenarios of Utopians carry the assumption of inevitability—it’s gonna happen and no one can stop it—and no middle ground for folks who may say: “wait a minute, let’s look at this again.”
Seldom do these futurists acknowledge in their rosy predictions that while many parents, practitioners, policymakers, and researchers inhabit either the Utopian or Skeptic poles, many others cluster in the middle of the continuum. Many of those who hug the middle know that present and past school uses of technologies show great promise for student learning but contain serious flaws; sometimes they even wince at especially foolish claims Utopians make. Overall, however, most believe technologies in or out of school will ultimately benefit students and teachers.
These middle-of-the-roaders also see merit in arguments and evidence laid out by the Skeptics. They see the institutional limits of schooling, the varied purposes that schools serve in a democratic society, and the downsides of technology. If push comes to shove, those in the middle would tilt toward the Utopian side but would not pooh-pooh Skeptics or call them names.
These middle-roaders are neither unvarnished fans of the newest software application—like those who have yet to meet an application they didn’t like–nor doom-sayers about high-tech dumbing down the art and science of teaching, isolating individuals from one another and confusing students by equating information with knowledge. Many middle-roaders are like Bill Ferriter.
I have never met Ferriter. I know him through his blog (“The Tempered Radical”) and I must say I am impressed with him. He teaches 6th grade language arts and social studies at Salem Middle School in Wake County (NC). A veteran of 14 years in the classroom, Ferriter was named teacher of the year for Wake County in 2005-2006. He writes often about technology and knows classroom software and hardware like the back of his hand. He also has questioned the worth of the Interactive Whiteboard in Teacher Magazine.
Specifically, Ferriter said:
“They [Whiteboards] do little more than reinforce a teacher-centric model of learning. Heck, even whiteboard companies market them as a bridging technology, designed to replicate traditional instructional practices (make presentations, give notes, deliver lectures) in an attempt to move digital teacher-dinosaurs into the light. I ask you: Do we really want to spend thousands of dollars on a tool that makes stand-and-deliver instruction easier?”
For that heresy, Ferriter received hate mail and was roundly condemned. In his response, he stoutly defended his credentials as a technology enthusiast with his ample writings on high-tech use and classroom work. (Based on his blog posts, I would place him as a middle-roader on the continuum who tilts clearly toward “technology enthusiasts” side).
And he did a marvelous post in responding to the criticism by listing all the applications and hardware he could buy with the $5-6 grand he would have spent on an Interactive Whiteboard. I hail Mr. Ferriter for his tech savvy and courage to defend his skepticism of the hullabaloo that has surrounded these Whiteboards.
Just as important to me, however, is to hear from those among the skeptics who see few virtues, and many vices, in using high-tech in classrooms. The next post will come from guest blogger Jerry Brodkey, a veteran high school math teacher, who is skilled in his personal use of computers but questions their use in classrooms on other grounds that need to have a hearing as surely as Bill Ferriter’s skepticism about Interactive Whiteboards.