Thursday, October 7, 2010

21st Century Tools and Moral Imperatives: The Boy with the iPad

The juxtaposition of stories is often potentially greater than the single story.  Today during a meeting a high school colleague asked, "Can't you be a great teacher and not use technology?"  He had posed this question, I suspect, as a defense against what he has understood to be a technology emphasis by administrators, such as myself,  and others in the school system where I work.  I immediately thought of Godel, his incompleteness theorem and from such a vantage point could only think, well certainly you can be great (whatever that means), but I am not sure that you can be moral.

Okay, so hold that story in mind and now let me tell you another story I heard today from a different colleague, Celeste. She explained how one of our high school students who is severely language impaired (unable to make speech sounds) and wheelchair bound responded when she handed him an iPad for his use, 24/7. He looked up at her and mouthed the single word, WoW!  He did this repeatedly, (something in the neighborhood of 60 times), clutching the iPad to his chest.  Within the first 24 hour period, he was demonstrating empowerment, by controlling communication via his iPad. In many ways, his actions were tantamount to fire discovery and other paradigmatic changers.  The means to express and control communication rested in his hands.

So juxtapose those two stories and let's add to the mix, a blurb from the recent essay, Literate Arts in a Global World: Reframing Social Networking as Cosmopolitan Practice, authored by Glynda Hull and Amy Stornaiuolo (2010) who write: this historical moment, locating points of entry for 21st-century tools and practices into formal as well as informal educational spaces seems tantamount to a moral imperative, with important implications for access and equity...the rewards could not be greater, or the risk of failure more grave, for educating a citizenry able and willing to communicate with digital tools across differences in a radically interconnected yet divided world (p. 85).
If we return to the question of greatness and teaching, I am less sure if that question is even relevant. Given the story of the boy who is empowered via a tool, I would wonder what would motivate any teacher to want to remain steadfast in his or her commitment to not afford students the occasion to learn how to use technological tools and practices, and then do so.  In many ways the first scenario seems to be more of a question about adult responsibility and moral imperative.  I wonder, Can a teacher be socially just while knowingly ignoring tools and practices that learners could use to empower themselves?  Is such "practice" akin to forced servitude?   

I am wondering what you think.


  1. If our job is to prepare students for a world where tools like iPads and search engines and smartphones exist, we have to utilize that technology to model the best ways to use these things. In terms of teaching the content of my curriculum, I am very confident that I am an effective enough teacher to do this well without technology. However, if we are preparing students for a society that is vastly different than the one I entered to at their age (Class of '99) than we have obligation to explore technology, openly discuss its implications, and work with students to work out how they will fit into their lives.

    It shocks me at times how a student cannot problem solve using the technology they grew up with. They can't attach a document to an email, they cannot retrieve a password they forgot, or they cannot figure out Google Documents simply by playing with it. This kind of problem-solving can only be developed in your class if technology is present.

  2. I could not agree with you more Chris, & Mary Ann, the idea of teaching with technology being a moral duty further strikes me. I was shocked today when we were having kids upload a document they completed in class at how many of them did it incorrectly. The fact that students still think they can attach a document to an email when the document is open scares me. It makes me wonder, if we don't teach them how to do these things, how will they survive outside our doors? Many of our kids have discussed how remembering so many passwords for websites is so hard and I think oh my goodness wait until you have to register for college classes, check account status, or pay online bills. I think so many look at technology as an isolated skill that is only necessary in particular environments, but the more time moves forward the less this is true. Technology is becoming/already is a real world life skill & a point of access for so many who have been "shut out" of the real world for far too long.

  3. Hey Thanks Chris and Kate. I am thinking we need to be more explicit and say it is not a technology emphasis we are striving for, but rather a learning emphasis. The recent Horizon report says that a key difference as to who will be financially successful in the future will be tech expertise and savvy.

  4. I think the angle we should look at it from is this idea of networking and problem-solving, two pillars in any education. Technology is merely the tools by which we do that. I think sometimes we drop the word "Moodle" or "technology" so much the message can get muddled. People tend to think admin is more interested in machines than people. Though this is certainly not the case, it might be an issue of framing the message in the correct manner.