There is an awful lot of fear-mongering going on all around us these days. Depending on our biases, our reactions to frightening stimuli can run the gamut from thoughtful repose, to hand-wringing, to channeling Chicken Little and echoing claims we hear and see.
A more mindful approach rests with first taking stock of our own biases, and then double-checking that the claims we hear are free from biases and other errors of reasoning. Only then can we make the best decision in light of our thoughts and our emotions in the present moment.
This reactionary tone also seems to hold true in the context of educational technology integration: too many people are making unsupportable claims that educational technologies either transform teaching and learning or that they don’t. With so much at stake, and so little time to make decisions in light of our students’ needs, who and what should we believe?
Our first step should be to take stock of our own biases and if we are operating under some value bias about technology in our classrooms. If we have a value-negative bias, we may be predisposed to painting all classroom technology use with an unduly negative brush. Folks who labor under value-negative biases are decidedly opposed to using any digital tool in the service of teaching and learning. These folks feel that technology is a distraction, or that the the use of digital tools will impede authentic student engagement and achievement. It’s not too far of a stretch to say that many, but not all, of the educators who hold to a value-negative view of technology experienced the majority of their formative learning prior to the digital revolution. If learning without digital tools worked for them, many reason, then learning without these tools will work just as well for the current generation of students. This is a bias that should be checked at the classroom door.
Educators who harbor a value-positive bias are more prone to the opposite view: they automatically assume that digital tools have a positive effect on teaching and learning processes. Happily branding themselves as “Tech Evangelists,” or “Innovative Educators,” these folks spout loudly on new media that the use of technology in the classroom will automatically yield transformative gains in student learning anywhere, anytime. This reminds me of the mythological ballpark metaphor in the movie, Field of Dreams, and the disembodied voice admonishing the main character that, “If you build it, they will come.” If you just use technology, many reason, transformative teaching and learning will simply occur. Such technological determinism is a bias that should immediately be checked at the classroom door.
Before we go any further, ask yourself how you would characterize your subconscious technology bias. Take a few moments to reflect upon and answer the following questions:
- Do you feel frustrated or intimidated when you experience new technologies?
- Do you feel excited or exhilarated when you experience new technologies?
- Do you feel anxiety about adopting new technologies in your classroom?
- Do you feel enthusiastic about adopting new technologies in your classroom?
- Do you feel that technology will automatically add value to your instruction?
- Do you feel that technology will automatically reduce value from your instruction?
Upon reflection, consider if your educational technology bias runs closer to the value-negative or the value-positive bias. How might your bias have impacted a recent decision you made regarding your classroom? Your school? Your school district? Now consider what you might have done differently upon surfacing your bias.
At first blush, my approach may seem radical, but it’s really not. My approach is this: educational technology tools should be considered to be value-neutral. Specifically, educational technology tools have no inherent value in and of themselves. Rather, the value of any educational technology is made manifest by the manner in which it is used to support, enhance, or augment effective instructional practices. Taken at face value, this value neutral-lens may help education professionals take a huge step towards reframing how to consider acquiring and implementing educational technology tools, and perhaps more importantly, training teachers to use these tools to enhance effective instruction.
For too long educators have viewed technology through either a value-positive or a value-negative bias. It is high time for a new way of thinking about educational technology, not through the frame of the inherent value of such tools, but by considering the manner in which those technologies are used to add value to the process of teaching and learning. It is time to reframe current and emerging technologies through the prism of effective pedagogy to ensure that optimizing students’ learning experiences is our core focus. Surfacing and checking our biases at the classroom door is the first step towards that happy ending.