It might seem hard to believe now, but in 18th century England, books were the focus of a moral panic, criticised for triggering both individual and collective forms of trauma and mental dysfunction.
Chess was once described as “a mere amusement of a very inferior character, which robs the mind of valuable time that might be devoted to nobler acquirements, while at the same time it affords no benefit whatever to the body.”
No one today would seriously suggest that we ban the reading of books, or that the playing of chess should be demonised in such a way. Yet these criticisms sound very familiar if we put them in the context of technology. The arguments will no doubt go on for some time to come, but we can no more stop the technological revolution in society than Canute could stop the waves, and nor should we try.
In the same way that books cannot replace the teacher, nor compensate for poor teaching, technology must not be thought of as the panacea that will magically transform our students’ educational experiences. Technology working in partnership with imaginative, inspiring teaching allows students to learn in ways impossible to imagine not that long ago. While pedagogy should remain the driver in schools, technology can be the accelerator, opening up the education superhighway to children from an early age.
This reflects our changing understanding of school – less heady scholarship and more preparing students for the real world ahead. And, that world is dominated by technology. It is not only about unlocking the academic possibilities, but students learning how to use technology appropriately.
Young children are taught how to interact with their peers, to listen and share, collaborate and become integrated members of society. Technology is another facet of that process. Teenagers’ perceived inappropriate use of social media or mobile devices is a frequent topic and cause for concern between adults on internet forums.
Yet there is evidence that today’s youth are starting to police themselves - their use and understanding of technology is evolving. If we look at the so called ‘trolls’ on the internet they are rarely children but older individuals who were never taught online etiquette. Schools have always had an opportunity to shape children’s behaviour, and with technology use unabating it is incumbent on us to step up to that responsibility.
This ties into digital literacy – the ability to use technology effectively as a tool. Generations of children have been taught how to hold a pen, to write neatly, use an index effectively, read and evaluate sources, construct cogent arguments in essay writing and so on. These educational literacies hold value by helping the individual access higher levels of learning.
Technology is a tool in the same way; its importance lies in how it helps us in our learning, and as such the same standard applies. If we want students to be able to focus on thinking, analysing, learning, then the skills associated with accessing material must be taught from an early age. In today’s schools that means the ability to use technology and the online environment safely and effectively.
Edtech is no longer in its infancy, it has entered the tricky adolescent phase – adventurous, exciting and ready to try out new ideas, but with the same potential to make mistakes. Anyone who works with teenagers knows that they need careful guidance if they are to achieve their full potential and technology is no different. We as teachers, are at the forefront of this learning revolution and it is up to us to shape it for the future.