muse: n. a source of inspiration

The Role of Technology in Education

There’s an interesting discussion going on at Brandeis University’s Innovation in Jewish Education blog. Bradley Solmsen, Director of Brandeis University’s High School Programs, addressed a post to David Bryfman, Director of the New Center for Collaborative Leadership and Teen Engagement at the Jewish Education Project, about Technology and Jewish Education. David’s response is posted as well.

Bradley is concerned with how we use technology – that we need to remind ourselves that it’s a tool, not the answer. He writes: First, technology is not the answer to all of our prayers. In fact I think in many cases technology might be part of the problem. Learners need and want to be challenged. Learners need and want to connect with other learners. Technology might appear to offer these things but I think that this is an illusion. Real challenge and true connection first need to happen between educators and learners in person. I also feel strongly that challenge and connection are fundamental elements for building community. I do not believe anything can replace a skilled, well-supported teacher connecting to a learner or group of learners – looking them in the eye and seeing and feeling one another’s excitement and passion.

David’s answer is interesting. He calls technology a “game changer,” and ends with this conclusion: Technology is only a tool. It is true that it represents many of the changes taking place in the world today – and in some instances might even be encouraging them and speeding them up. But at the end of the day, behind every piece of technology, there is still a human being creating, designing and implementing the gadget. The difference however might be, that technology is no longer what people do, it is who they are.

It’s times like this that I absolutely LOVE that, while I truly consider myself a Jewish educator, I’m a day school educator, which means I’m exposed to what people are doing with technology in secular education as well as in the Jewish world. Why does this matter? It matters because I’m just not sure that I see these kinds of conversations going on any more in general education. I mean, I think we’re kind of over it already. It’s true that technology has changed how we do things in the “real” world. We still teach mathematics, social studies and writing. We just do it using SMART Boards, laptops and blogs. The kids still learn how to write a persuasive essay, research a paper and do a science experiment. Sometimes they may use Keynote to show their experiment instead of poster boards, but sometimes they still use poster boards. And we teach our students that content is what matters, not the delivery method. Crap is still crap, whether you write it with a pencil, paste it on a poster board or present it using PowerPoint.

Frankly, I’m not sure that the conversation should be about whether or not technology is a tool. To be certain, it’s not the answer, any more than pencils, ball point pens or typewriters were at one time. Or telephones, filmstrip projectors and VCRs. It’s just not the issue.

I don’t know that I agree that real challenge and true connection first need to happen between educators and learners in person. I’m not sure about this at all. I’m a thirty-year veteran teacher, and the more I teach the less I believe in frontal, instructor-delivered information. Oh, sure, sometimes you have to teach somebody something. I know this and you don’t, so I’m going to give you the information. But that’s where it stops, people. Put the information out there and then make it your priority to have the kids do something with it, to engage with the information and to make it their own.

David Bryfman is right – technology is a game changer. Surely it can be used to connect people, research and present information, collaborate and create. And maybe sometimes it’s used as a gimmick, not unlike age-old ‘teaching aids’ like stickers or colorful bulletin boards. Used authentically, though, it can inspire, provide access, excite, and, like David Bryfman states, change the game. The question isn’t whether or not technology is the problem or part of the problem. Relying on it to change the state of Jewish education isn’t going to work either. The only thing we can do that makes sense is to rebuild Jewish education – maybe from the ground up – using technology where it makes sense and finding other answers where it doesn’t.


January 25, 2011 - Posted by | Technology | ,

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