Resistance is Futile: Why Some Teachers Are So Quick to Proselytize for Big Tech. (And Why That’s Dangerous)


Here's a thought:

It is a later day trend that's making me increasingly uncomfortable: teachers who push some or other big technology brand as if they are getting paid to do so. You find them speaking about this or that brand at conferences, during Twitter chats, on their blogs and almost everywhere else. Whether it's Microsoft or Google or Apple, or any other popular device and/ or app maker, these teachers seem disturbingly keen to become unpaid proselytizers for big tech. (No doubt, some actually are receiving a kick-back for their marketing endeavors – often in the form of a 'certification', but the majority are not.) Moreover, the majority of tech-pushers push one product or service above the others: It's either the Google gaggle, the Microsoft minions, the Apple apostles, and so on.

I may be going too far here, but when I listen to these people, I always think that they behave a lot like the Borg from Star Trek: Their aim is to assimilate. Resistance is futile. (But then my mind does work a little strangely at times.)

Perhaps it's because so much of what you can get these days is free, and which teacher doesn't like free stuff? Perhaps it's also because there is so much out there that is really useful and teachers want to help one another and share what works. Perhaps it's even sunk cost – that we believe that the thing we chose is just somehow better because we are already 'invested': If you' re bought an iPad, Apple is cooler, if you have Chromebooks, it's Google, and so on. Perhaps it's even the same kind of strange partisanship that makes people prefer one tablet manufacturer over another – the kind of thing that amounts to people saying “mine's cool because it can do this, yours isn't 'cause it can't”. Maybe the prozelitzers themselves even harbor a secret desire that one day one of these companies will swoop down and offer them an extravagantly paid job. It may also be any combination of these motives. I suspect, though, that it's something more insidious…

Hear me out:

There was a time when knowledge was sacred. Before the advent of the printing press, it was mainly religious orders that kept, protected and carefully disseminated knowledge. Much of this was considered too difficult for the average person and so only small, carefully selected snippets were passed down from on high, so to speak. Sadly, despite all the technological advances society has made since the Middle Ages, this tradition of an enlightened few passing on carefully selected nuggets of information has pretty much continued, in society at large and in education in particular, to this day.

We are in the middle of a true revolution in learning: the democratization of information. We have reached a point where anyone can find out anything – with an Internet connection, a set of well-honed research and information evaluation skills, and bit of curiosity and time. There's an app or a web service for almost any element of learning: from research and citations, to quizzes, flash cards and presentations. Teachers are no longer the esteemed high priests of information. Our role is changing: we are becoming coaches, trainers and motivators. Our central role is no longer the arbiters and gatekeepers of information, but rather we are there to guide and structure the independent acquisition of knowledge and skills. (And of course the nurturing of those wonderful soft skills like critical thinking, creativity and global citizenship.)

Here's the thing: I reckon those who push one product over another for their school or classrooms are actually afraid of this change. They are in effect advocating for an all powerful authority to control how knowledge is acquired, disseminated and evaluated. (“We are the Borg.”) To my way of thinking, teachers who proselytize for tech companies actually only want a new central authority to tell them what they need to know and absolve them of having to figure it all out for themselves. After all, there's so much out there, and twenty-first century teaching can be a tough proposition, isn't it easier just to let one central authority sort it all out for us?

Why this is so dangerous is that our students learn from our example. The choices, behaviors and priorities teachers model to their students are some of the deepest learning experiences kids ever receive. I think that if we prioritize one tech product over all others, what we are saying to kids is that the convenience of having the answer handed to you always trumps the hard work involved in finding out, experimenting, and learning on your own.

Do we really want to teach our kids that there can only be a single, best way to do things, and having the courage to try and forge your own path is futile? Do we really just want to replace one inflexible system with another?

Do we really want to teach our kids that passive assimilation into a single hive-mind beats an independent, set of personalized solutions?

Come to think of it, this is really about a lot more than just technology in the classroom, it's actually about the dangers of schools and teachers proselytizing for any form of mind-squelching, centralized authority. But that, dear and patient reader, is a whole new cube of Borgs.

 

Live long…

Sean

 

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About Sean Hampton-Cole

Fascinated by thinking & why it goes wrong➫ (Un)teacher ➫iPadologist ➫Humanist ➫Stirrer ➫Edupunk ➫Synthesist ➫Introvert ➫Blogger ➫Null Hypothesist.
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