“Technology is neither good nor bad, nor is it neutral” – Kranzberg’s First Law of Technology

by The Grauer School on October 15, 2012

Digital media and technology are shaping the worlds in which our kids are growing up. That’s reality, but is that bad?

It’s up to each of us to use digital media thoughtfully and positively. As an educator or parent, the only thing that would be certainly bad would be to ignore reality.

The Digital Media revolution has great potential for our children, of course. First, it expands many educational opportunities. Our schools nationwide have invested poorly in the future and many are deteriorating. Technology, such as new models of blended learning, can play a role in re-energizing schools, and The Grauer School is role modeling and incubating in these areas. We are finding that the digital transformation is creating unprecedented opportunities for creative expression and access to information. These new models mix face-to-face learning with computer-mediated activities.

In Maine, where my daughter attends college, the entire state is making laptops available to every high school student. Although we know technology will never replace teachers, we know it is appealing to our kids and that it can benefit teaching and learning. One recent report cited student gains of around 10 to 20 percent in math, science, reading, and writing in technology-enhanced environments. Students in Morgan Brown’s classes are often treated to entire, computer archived video lessons, posted on a website template designed by history chair Kate Napier; students who struggle to understand concepts can watch the Morgan’s explanations online as many times as they want until it makes complete sense—the best teacher in the world could not realistically do this. Clayton Payne has followed Morgan’s math/science adventures in his entertaining self-made “Mr. Clayton’s Neighborhood” for his world religions class. Clayton’s students will come to class more ready for great conversations. Quite a few of our other teachers are posting videos and exercises of all kinds on line so they can have more time in class for more informed, well prepared interaction and great conversations.

Of course, students can become lost or addicted in virtual worlds, but that only raises the responsibility for teachers and parents to use all this technology properly. Used correctly, personalized educational devices will increasingly match kids’ different learning styles. And while we are all shocked by ultra-violent and sexually violent games, gaming can also promote new forms of teamwork and collaboration as well as assist development of deductive reasoning skills.

Boundaries between home and school are starting to blur because of breaking technology. At Grauer, our teachers routinely ask students to “follow” homework assignments on social media such as class web pages, blogs, or even Facebook. Our Associated Student Body and Alumni Association routinely disseminate information on Facebook, and it’s available anywhere, anytime: the new trend in all manner of educational communicating.

Technological virtuosity is increasingly relevant to socialization as our kids’ digital landscape and social connectedness expand. As famous Harvard educator Howard Gardner said, “If you’re a kid who is a bit shy or different or has an interest in people who don’t live in your neighborhood, then the potential for connection with kindred spirits in the world is geometrically greater with the Internet.”

On a much wider scale, Internet has remarkable potential for political and social change. As our ASB disseminates information on their next dance or fundraiser, whole national movements disseminate information on democratic processes. Protestors in Iran used Twitter to protest against their repressive regime. Revolutions in the Middle East in 2011 used Facebook and Twitter to spearhead their movements, a huge threat to established powers. Today, virtually all political campaigns have online components. Technology is spreading to the developing world, as well. In my travels I’ve noticed that there are few computers in some less developed nations, as they are too expensive, but increasingly smartphone apps are turning the smartphone into mini computers used even by remote tribes. Sean Hauze developed such a smartphone app for our own, amazing Gradescape so that we can all check student and school progress remotely all over the world.  Try it! (I developed the computerized Gradescape in 1991, pre-internet, and it has been under consistent refinement since then.)

We all have to be careful—online news networks make it so we can shape our own news feed exclusively with what we want to hear: every day our automatic feed can provide us exclusively with what supports our preexisting views. Danger! If we can become aware of this, we can help our own children better as they select platforms with multiple points of views and learn to scrutinize the sources of all they view and download. This is a wonderful challenge for educators and parents alike. Let’s encourage innovation, connectedness and creativity while teaching our children that there is a powerful difference between one web source and another, and between life online and life in the real, non-virtual, great outdoors. It’s all about balance.  Have a beautiful week! Be sure to get out there and commune with nature.
PS:  Check out alumni Dad John Rowe’s (Kelianne, ’12) KPBS interview for the Omo Child Foundation: http://www.kpbs.org/news/2012/oct/10/photographer-helps-rescue-children-ritualistic-kil/

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Stuart Grauer October 16, 2012 at 1:55 pm

Let’s keep the comments coming! Let me know when this is received! Thank you.

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