Technology Doesn't Teach People - People Teach People

A colleague of mine just sent me an email. In it he mentions an article he is reading, written in 2001 by Mark Hinds. From the article, my friend quotes:

Neil Postman (1985) adds that the electronic culture has altered the ways people expect to learn. A print culture emphasizes objective, rational discourse within logically-ordered content. The electronic culture emphasizes the apprehension of swiftly changing and instantaneous images, which are tacitly unresponsive to calls for discourse. The television program makes no demands of the viewer in terms of prerequisite knowledge, any degree of perplexity or development of thought. As Postman asserts, "Television educates by teaching children to do what television-viewing requires of them" (144). The primary lessons personal computers and televisions teach are "that if you want to learn, you [will] sit behind a screen for hours on end, [and] accept what a machine says without arguing ... that relationships that develop over e-mail, Web pages, and chat rooms are transitory and shallow. That if you're ever frustrated, all you have to do is pull the plug and reboot the machine." One can imagine John Dewey turning over in his grave at the proliferation of so-called educational software which equates the objectivist acquisition of information with education, yet divorced from the absolute necessity of the balanced personal-corporate effort of subjective thought-in-action.
In response to the article (and the email), I must admit that I was a little frustrated that so many would think that John Dewey would actually be against the use of technology in learning. Ever one to emphasize a child-centered curriculum, Dewey continually stressed the importance of focusing curriculum and instruction upon both the task at hand, coupled with the previous experiences of the students being served. I would contend that using technology in teaching and learning allows us to do exactly what Dewey suggests. Irving Buchen, in his The Future of the American School System has summed up my feelings perfectly.
"Given the dynamics of the workplace and student preferences, if educators really believed in student-centered education it would have to be technology centered."
To continue my thoughts regarding the article, I will summarize my response to my colleague's email:
  1. "Television" doesn't teach people. People teach people - and some chose to do that using television as a medium. Just as in a traditional school setting, there are good teachers on television and bad teachers on television. Nevertheless, there is always somebody behind the content that you encounter on the screen.
  2. On the kinds of relationships developed over e-mail, Web pages, and chat rooms: If such relationships are so "transitory and shallow", then why do so many of them result in marriage? According to an article in Fortune magazine, "One in eight couples married in the U.S. last year met online."
Now, I'm not advocating that you sit your students in front of the TV just because it can be educational. Nor am I suggesting that you marry the next person that sends you a Twitter tweet (in fact, if you do meet someone online, I would highly recommend an extensive, in-person relationship before marriage). Nevertheless, if the tool is effective, why not use it - especially when your students already know how to use it?

I'd love to hear your take on the matter.

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