Education and Technological Tools

Imagine driving a Ferrari and not knowing where to go!

While many might derive joy just purely out of owning the Ferrari, for the majority of us, it would serve no purpose if we don’t have a place to go (if you drive on Bangalore roads, it wouldn’t serve you even with a clear destination in mind). And yet, when it comes to education through technology, this is what most of us do.

Should we be using these tools in the first place?

Due to the pandemic and the necessity for online schooling, many teacher training programs are teaching prospective teachers as well as in-service teachers to learn how to use digital technologies for education. As a prospective teacher under training, I myself am receiving such training. I am also involved in assisting my own teacher in providing some training to my juniors. However, I do wonder if we have stopped to consider whether they are necessary in the first place.

Cal Newport in his book Deep Work talks about our tendency to chase after shiny online tools. He says, “our culture has developed a belief that if a behaviour relates to the Internet, then it’s good – regardless of its impact on our ability to produce valuable things.”1 I fear this tendency is what is dominating the discussion around the future of education today. A number of articles are written on how education needs reform, how students need to be taught digital literacy, how students need to be taught 21st century skills. However, all these fancy buzzwords are mostly used by people having some stake in the ed-tech industry, which is currently growing at a tremendous pace.2 That does make one wonder who is to really benefit from the thrust for digital education!

Our culture has developed a belief that if a behaviour relates to “the Internet,” then it’s good – regardless of its impact on our ability to produce valuable things.

Cal Newport in his book, “Deep Work”

Is the objective to learn how to use the tool?

While “digital literacy” is a buzzword, one does wonder what it really refers to. I am reminded of my grandmother saying many years ago that since my uncle had done his Masters in Computer Application, he could burn content onto a CD. While the rest of the family had a good laugh about it, that does continue to remain the way we think about digital technologies, especially when it comes to education. We think what is important is knowing how to use the tool. We even add the as competencies onto our CVs.

What if we instead thought of digital tools the way we think of non-digital tools. No serious baker proudly says that the reason they are a good baker is because they know how to operate the latest GE Double Electric Wall Oven. That is not what makes a baker. Similarly, being able to comfortably use a chainsaw without separating limb from body does not make one a good carpenter. A good carpenter would use a chainsaw but that is not what defines a carpenter. Teaching someone how to use a hammer while building a table as a project would be a lot more effective than teaching them to use one by hammering nails onto random wood planks.

Focus on the Process; not the Tool

I still remember being taken to the Computer lab in my school. We had to walk in with our computer books and maintain silence. We would then find a computer to sit at. The first instruction was to follow the rules in switching the computer on. After that, we’d be told to open MS PowerPoint and create a Presentation. Remember to use Animations between slides and insert some clipart. After having completed it, we would diligently save the file with our names and get up for another student to have their turn.

James Clear’s in his book ‘Atomic Habits’ talks about our tendency to look only at the results. He says, “the results are not the problem… What we really need to change are the systems that cause those results.”3 The implications of this idea for education are immense. We all know education’s emphasis or results or products. However, even if we accept Clear’s premise, it is very easy to confuse process and tools, especially when it comes to teaching. That is because we might think that teaching how to use the tool is the process.

Learning how to use a tool is not the same as learning how to solve real-world problems or learning how to read or learning how to write. Writing can be done using Google docs, Microsoft Word, or even quill and ink. It is what to write that needs to be taught. Similarly, a presentation can be made using Microsoft PowerPoint, but what needs to be taught is what makes for a good presentation and why we use visual aids for presentations.

What skills do we want the students to learn

Ultimately, this is the question we must begin with. What skills do we want our students to learn – not what tools do we want them to use! We need to begin with where we want our students to go – not with the vehicle that they would use to get there.

References

  1. Deep Work by Cal Newport. Page 70
  2. https://economictimes.indiatimes.com/tech/technology/indian-edtech-industrys-market-size-to-reach-30-billion-in-10-years-report/articleshow/82295097.cms
  3. Atomic Habits by James Clear. Page 25

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