A recent ABC radio Future Tense program asked if we are “too quick to embrace technology in education”.
Guest speaker Neil Selwyn, a digital researcher and professor of education at Monash University, questioned the value of some current trends in education such as the use of digital technology to deliver personalised, self-directed learning, commenting that deep learning takes the form of a dialogue between teacher and student and that students can’t be expected to know what it is that they don’t know.
Selwyn also expressed concern about equity of access, remarking that the greatest participation and completion rates for massive open online courses (MOOCs) are seen amongst university-educated, high-income young men.
The failure of technology in education to live up to Utopian hopes for it should give us pause, Selwyn argued. While technology is an undoubted boon to the classroom overall, it is not a pedagogical panacea, he said quoting Bill Gates’ remark from last year that fixing the US education system is harder than eradicating malaria.
Selwyn concluded with a call for greater skepticism saying: “Given the importance of education there is a need for proper grown-up debate about complexities and contradictions of technology’s role. Digital technology needs to be seen as the starting point for conversations about the future of education—not as the definitive answer.”
Tom Butler, professor of Business Information Systems, at Ireland’s University College Cork, goes much further than just questioning the role of technology in education; he has called for an outright ban on computers in primary and middle-school classrooms.
In his paper, ICT and Education: Fundamental problems and practical recommendations, Butler says: “Research indicates that traditional methods of learning through reading and writing on paper-based media provide superior learning outcomes for students at all levels.”
Butler attributes this result to a phenomenon known as “shallow reading”, leading to poorer comprehension and retention of material read on-screen. Research shows that on-screen reading is better suited to short texts like news reports and that “traditional linear presentation”, ie books, is a better medium for ingesting longer, written texts.
However, Butler fully supports the use of controlled digital access in senior high school education and notes the importance of studying Information and Computer Technology (ICT) in a formal way at the secondary school level.
His paper concludes on an optimistic note, finding that “digital tools offer a great opportunity for education,” but, like Selwyn, he asserts the need for greater critical appraisal of these tools. “The physical and psychological impact of ICT have to be factored in when considering ICT’s role in and for education,” Butler says.
What do you think? What is your experience of technology in the classroom?
Are we being too quick to embrace technology in education? – Neil Selwyn, Future Tense, ABC Radio National, March 1, 2016
Zuckerberg is ploughing billions into “personalised learning” – Why? Natalia Kucirkova and Elizabeth FitzGerald, The Conversation, December 10, 2015
Bill Gates: Eradicating malaria easier than fixing US education system, Jeri Clausing, Associated Press, June 30, 2014
Books are better than screens, education conference told – Fiona Gartland, the Irish Times, October 3, 2015
ICT and Education: Fundamental problems and practical applications, Professor Tom Butler, University Cork College, Ireland, September 2015