Dear Teacher: Tech is Not the Enemy

Dear teacher

I see you’re angry about technology. I’ve read your posts and heard your conversations. You’re angry about being forced to switch to e-learning and about not seeing your students, angry about the deluge of unvetted technology suggestions being posted, angry about having to learn a new system in a very short time and angry about unrealistic expectations.

And you’re angry that so many schools are trying to retain a semblance of normalcy by using technology to teach remotely in these uncertain times.

And parents are just as angry.

And there are all manner of understandable concerns around lack of access to devices, internet connections, and tech know-how that will only exacerbate the digital divide in education. And this should indeed make us all angry.

But please, dear teacher, I implore you: take a step back. Please realize that being angry with technology isn’t rational. Technology on its own has never been responsible for anything – good or bad. Tech is just a set of tools – which can be used well or poorly, for good or for evil.

Technology is an amplifier of human activities: it makes the bad worse, and the good better. It’s always about how we deploy and use technology that is good or bad, not the technology itself. Although we often do, we shouldn’t blame the table when we stub our toe, or the stick we are beaten with, if you get my meaning. Instead, we should try to identify the real problems underlying the anger we feel.

As we all know, anger is so often founded in fear. Specifically, much of our anger has at its core the fear of losing something important to us or the fear of not being in control. Politicians know and exploit this tendency very well. Fear makes us want to run and hide, but where that isn’t possible, we attack, and anger gives us the impetus to do so.

In the last few years, in my technology training sessions with teachers, I have often come across frustration, fear, and anger. But these feelings tend to subside once teachers begin to see the value edtech has in enhancing learning.

Yes, it does mean doing things differently, and it does mean questioning how we do things – and it very often means having the courage to relinquish control and hand the learning over to our students. And it takes time. But the gains can be enormous – if we use technology with a sense of purpose, and with the needs of our students as our guiding motivation.

We are living through an extremely difficult moment in history. We are all worried and afraid. And often angry. This is such a frightening time to be alive. So much of what is going to happen to our school communities, and to the people we know and love is beyond our control. We also know we all have to do our part in helping one another to get through the next few months. Our young people, in particular, are going to need our care and guidance.

Technology, deployed well, can go a long way towards at least offering some sense of continuity to our students. And they do need this. They are just as anxious and afraid as we are.

Online learning is definitely not an ideal solution – children need contact with one another and with their teachers and school support systems to learn well. But once we conquer COVID-19, and once we start rebuilding our communities and economies, there will be much about digital learning we can hold onto, many lessons learned about digital education that we can leverage to enhance our lessons, and – perhaps – if we are righteously angry enough – a systemic change in access to digital learning devices and infrastructure for all.

In the meantime, let’s use technology if and when we can. And let’s try to use it sensitively and meaningfully.

Wishing you patience and courage in these difficult times.

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