On half measures and middle ways Considering some possibly false dichotomies

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It never ceases to surprise me that whenever the issue of new technologies in the classroom gets mentioned – whether it’s in blog posts, blog comments, tweets, seminars, Q&A sessions, staff meetings… – what should be a level headed debate about the future of education soon descends into full blown antagonism between unstoppable forces and unmovable objects.

This seemingly unsurmountable chasm is typically represented by those who see technology as an unwelcome alternative to good, tried and tested pedagogical practices and those who see potential in the use of new and emerging technologies …as an alternative. This, it would appear, is a topic in which there are no half measures. You’re either with us or…

It’s strikes me that both sides in this argument are being just as shortsighted as they accuse each other to be.

A case in point is the recent article published in Mashable titled 6 Reasons Tablets are Ready for the Classroom – with which I broadly agree, by the way. The article is all for tablets in the classroom, as you might guessed from its title. Not a but in sight.

Perhaps unsurprisingly the first comments this article elicited were negative. Some readers thought tablets were “expensive toys” or “books that glow” while others agreed wholeheartedly and could see nothing but tablets in their classrooms.

We tend to get mired so easily in unhelpful and ultimately non-existent dichotomies: we must use tablets or no tablets at all. In my view, it’s not a question of either/or but rather as well as. Surely if teachers and students are comfortable using new technologies, why not let those who are willing develop good practice in which the technologies are used as well as other, more traditional methods?

Why does it have to be either tablets or textbooks? Why does it have to be either pen and paper or laptops? And perhaps the crucial question, the question it all boils down to: why does it have to be either technology or academic rigour?

Why can’t I simply have both?

Just saying…

What do you think?

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  1. I completely agree with your observation, the arguments usually come down to it’s either one or the other, instead of seeing *when* one or the other can be used or *how*.

    And I’m sick to death of ignorant comments such as “expensive toy” or “glowing book” or even “overgrown music player”, which usually come from those who have never used a tablet for more than 5 minutes in a shop, where they were probably being used for playing games or surfing the web. Presumably they also think that pastels are just fancy crayons and not really suitable for producing decent art?

  2. This is the dilemma in a nutshell. The Goveian camp views technology as a “distraction from real learning”, but their definition of real learning is predicated on rote and regurgitation. They all have their place, but pedagogy surely has to be blended. Technology per se is not a panacea – one of the worst lessons I have ever observed involved a whiteboard that was anything but interactive. The debate has to be about how children best learn – it may surprise Mr Gove, but they don’t all learn the way he did, and they all learn in different ways. The reflective pedagogue (which is what I’m looking for during an AST assessment) strives to find the best way to unlock individual potential, even if it means operating outside their own comfort zone. And if it involves an innovative and imaginative way to blend new technologies to enhance more traditional methodologies, so much the better. If we want children to be enagaged and motivated, then we can’t ignore the fact that they are children of their times. You’re absolutely right, José – it’s not either/or, it must be both.

What do you think?