Tech-No?

Standard
avengers line up

Turn around, Avengers – they’re right behind you!

The Avengers: Age of Ultron movie is out, and apparently it’s doing very well. I did my part by seeing the film twice (continuing education credits for my geek certification).

With box office business, there are always those “glass-half-empty” folks defining success. We’ve talked about “What is Success?” before, related to teaching and heroics. And last time we examined the issue of too much integration, whether it be heroes or school subjects.

This time, though, let’s dig deeper into one of the bigger topics in the film:

Technology gone wild!

ultron cover

Of course, the Avengers were worried more about global safety and saving human lives; but we can still tackle technology with respect to the classroom and student learning.

Since my background is primarily science education (see “geek” self-identification above), I’m going to concentrate on that specific classroom context. Focusing on a single subject, however, still results in fuzzy conclusions.

virtuallab

For example, here are a few reports on research examining virtual versus hands-on lab activities:

– Students (elementary/primary age) participating in virtual activities (3D animations, interactive) showed significantly higher scores in cognitive understanding compared to those in a traditional setting (El-Sabagh, 2011).

– Overall, no significant differences in learning gains have been found between virtual and traditional hands-on labs in college (Hawkins & Phelps, 2013).

– Although college students report liking virtual-type labs (easy and quick to do), they feel they would learn more by doing real world labs as well (Keeney-Kennicutt & Winkelmann, 2013).

It’s worth noting that–in these studies, at least–younger students responded more favorably to technology-based activities than older students. One could claim this is because today’s younger students are more exposed to technology than older students.  (It’s the old digital native/digital immigrant demarcation, although hasn’t everyone gone native by now?)

native immigrant computer

You could also argue that older students are more reflective about their educational experiences and recognize what’s needed for robust comprehension.

Age differences aside, I’d argue that there needs to be a balance between old-school nitty-gritty hands-on lab activities and fancy-schmancy whiz-bang virtual activities.

– Since both virtual and hands-on labs have their advantages and disadvantages, blending the two throughout a course may have the most benefits for learning and motivation (Abdulwahed & Nagy, 2009).

– A recent study at Carnegie Mellon University focused on young students (ages 6-8) and found that participants using a “mixed-reality set-up” of both real and virtual components learned five times better than those using virtual-only features (Yannier, Koedinger, & Hudson, 2015).

So maybe student age doesn’t have anything to do with it. Have we solved the technology problem? I’m afraid it’s a never-ending issue, a never-ending battle all teachers face.

As teachers, we must be ever-vigilant about technology use in our classrooms, and I’m just not talking about keeping an eye on our students’ computer and tablet screens. We must also be sure our technology use actually enhances learning, as opposed to hindering authentic understanding. In other words, technology must remain our friend, not our enemy.

ultron comic hug

A little TOO friendly, Ultron.

Let’s use an analogy from Avengers: Age of Ultron (slight spoiler alerts follow, yo).

Some humans (i.e. some teachers) see a new technology as the answer to all of our big problems, akin to Tony Stark’s vision for a global protector. More often than not, what actually comes into existence is a shaky, slightly grotesque prototype.

ultron 1

A few missteps should be expected. Problems occur, however, when misguided plans typhoon into blind initiatives touting innovative, revolutionary, and other game-changer buzzwords.

Over time, the technology transforms into sleek, next-generation models. Updates happen so fast that we must keep up for fear of being branded “obsolete.”  (Not that far from “oblivion.”)

ultron blasting

You’ve seen the trailer, right? Watch this one again, looking for a classroom metaphor. (Hint: All the evil robots are iPads.)

I’m no technophobe. This is a blog article. With pictures and video. I’m typing this sentence using my MacBook Pro. (It hasn’t eaten me yet.) I love indoor plumbing. Big fan of electricity, too. Wi-fi? =hugs=

But as much as these advances make life more pleasant, we must be careful to ensure technology is the tool, not us.

For a more thorough examination of this topic, take a little time to review Olson and Clough’s 2001 article entitled “Technology’s Tendency to Undermine Serious Study: A Cautionary Note.”

If you have a lot of time, check out a book Olson and Clough helped put together called “The Nature of Technology: Implications for Learning and Teaching.” It has all kinds of chapters dealing with issues of technology use in the classroom. As a bonus, here is the book’s cover, which by itself should give you pause and something to think about:

NOT book cover

Technology by itself is not the problem. In Avengers: Age of Ultron, the good guys (and gals) used all kinds of technology–Quinjets, holograms, and even Hawkeye with his bow and arrows. Throughout history, the classroom has been a hub of technology, be it chalkboards or SMART Boards, pencils or tablet styluses.

The ultimate “bad guy” in Avengers was not technology, but misguided Artificial Intelligence (A.I.). Likewise, teachers must battle the dangers of artificial intelligence, instead fighting the good fight for authentic learning and meaningful application.

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