technology for technology’s sake, or is there something more?

By Alison Campbell 21/07/2011

Over the last couple of days I’ve been following a story about Orewa College’s decision to require next year’s year 9 students to have an iPad or similar tablet-style computer for school. (The schools stated preference is for the iPad 2.) And my first thought was, why?

OK, I have an iPad, bought as a result of winning an Ako Aotearoa award last year (as many Orewa parents have doubtless already pointed out, they don’t come cheap). And I love it. It came with me to Taipei, no need for a heavy laptop 🙂 For surfing the net it’s brilliant (although it still doesn’t handle MovableType blogging, alas!). Reading books on it is an enjoyable experience. Its word-processing app is o-kay. nothing to write home about but at least its products are compatible with Word. I’m trying out the equivalent to powerpoint at the moment, although I’m irritated by the fact that there are so few options in terms of slide style, & I seriously doubt that a big presentation is going to come through to my computer via e-mail; too big for the server (though there’s always Dropbox). And it has some cool games.

But I’ve also taken the negative when discussing with colleagues the pros & cons of expecting our students to have one. Yes, the paucity of options in word processing is part of it; I think my students need the more sophisticated offerings in Word. But a more important question is – what’s the pedagogy behind it?

This question was asked by Mark Nichols, the keynote speaker at this year’s e-learning symposium run by my colleagues in the University’s Centre for e-Learning. I agree with him that using technology simply because it’s available isn’t a good reason for doing so. Using technology in ways that enhance learning, is. Yes, technology may extend, excite, enhance, and engage students’ time in the classroom, but we need to ensure that it also improves their existing learning outcomes. (In much the same way, powerpoint is just a tool; I’ve seen some dreaded powerpoint-assisted lectures, & also some brilliant teaching sessions where the speaker used no aids at all.) Or, to put it another way, technology like the iPad can quite probably enable pedagogy, but shouldn’t be the driver of classroom practice. For example, access to the internet is great for accessing information, but not for learning what to do with that information, how to process it, how to assess it.

We need to add another ‘e’ to that list – ‘educate’. Unfortunately that Campbell Live clip I’ve linked to above doesn’t delve into those questions at all. And that’s a real pity, because it’s a dialogue we need to be having.