Another dot in the blogosphere?

Everything and nothing

Posted on: June 27, 2019

This seems to be the favourite type of opinion piece in the press.

How do I know? The title provides clues: Teachers should enrich life, not worship the machine.

Both the title and the ensuing article says everything and nothing at the same time. Take this excerpt:

We are already in danger of creating “industrial” school systems, the authors note, in which teachers are reduced to near-automatons, implementing a prescriptive model of education and ticking boxes.

It makes a claim (we are in danger) without backing or evidence.

The second claim about inhuman robo-teachers not only suffers the same problem as the first claim, it is also reductionist. The statement claims to be about everything (“we” and “teachers”), but since it provides no evidence, is also saying nothing.

Consider another segment:

Instead, there is a danger that educational technology, or edtech, may only worsen the industrialisation of the system as governments resort to new ways of measuring student output and teacher productivity.

The writer seems to have only one perception of edtech — one disowned by teachers and students that dispassionately quantifies everything. Such an edtech is a bean-counting LMS provider’s wet dream.

Again this is a claim about all edtech when it is not. Just think about technology owned by and in the creative hands and critical minds of learners. The possibilities defy convention and measurement and that is the beauty of such edtech.

Even when the writer tried to provide balance, his attempt was not an informed one:

…technology can undoubtedly help democratise learning and improve knowledge transmission, but cannot replace the human skills taught by teachers. “Technology can uplift and amplify good teaching but it can never improve poor teaching,” he says. “Learning seems to be a social process.

Knowledge is not just transmitted, it is also negotiated. We are not programmable robots.

Edtech is not an either-or choice. With edtech, we do not have a false dichotomy of wide-reaching access or the human touch. We can have both. Consider how online and blended courses have communication tools to help learners connect. If these courses do not, learners find their own, e.g., WhatsApp groups.

All that said, learning is not always a social process. If the social process is defined by interaction between two or more people, then what is learning by observation (e.g., watching a video), experimentation (e.g., individually tinkering with different methods), repetition (e.g., practising a skill alone), or reflection (e.g., writing a journal or consolidating an e-portfolio)?

No teacher worth their salt should read such an article without questioning every other sentence. The questions should stem not from empty opinion but from knowledge of educational theories and years of critical practice. These questions, theories, and practice test everything and leave nothing unturned.

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