“Integration” – The term of the enemy

by Mr. Sheehy

I’ve stumbled across a few educator’s blogs lately where folks are discussing the way teachers are approaching technology in education (see Warlick for example), and usually, inevitably, these can turn pessimistic, leaving non-computer users looking like evil antagonists (Richardson comes close sometimes). In trying to think through to what the root issue is, I have recently decided that the thing that most plagues conversations about technology and education is the verb “integrating.” It seems every time I hear an administrator or higher ed professor mention technology, this obligatory verb comes attached.

Here’s the thing: If we’re only trying to integrate technology, then we’re using it for the sake of using it. In that case, the goal is job training, which is an absolutely inane idea because schools will never be able to keep up with broader society and businesses driven by markets and money. Inevitably, schools will be left wallowing, desperately struggling to keep their “integration” relevant.

In addition to being an educationally unsound approach, that is a losing battle, and what I’m seeing so obvious in my general practice is that education needs to approach technology just like the business world, by asking the question, “How can technology help me accomplish this job ?” Then we discover that we can use technology to create learning experiences that fit almost any of our educational approaches. Need a social learning community? Try technology. Need a constructivist, knowledge-building, hands-on experience? Try technology. Need to memorize a plethora of raw material? Try technology. The list goes on, obviously.

But I’ve worked outside education, in broadcasting, and there technology was something that made the work easier. We could email mp3s instead of running tapes all over town; we could toss out rooms full of unused CDs and instead back up hard drives; we could convert to digital tapes and the quality of the news’s picture rose significantly. That’s how I’m viewing technology – I can use blogs, throw out the disastrous notebooks, and students can be organized better; I can record conversations and students can reflect on how they did; I can record feedback as an mp3 and conference with 30 students while using only five minutes of class time. I come up with ideas by asking myself, “How can the technology help me do my job?” And I’m remembering that my job is to educate children.