Just this morning, I received an email from Kahoot reminding its users that they can administer “homework that corrects itself”. As a teacher, this is intriguing to me for many reasons. Giving self-corrected homework helps me avoid a little of the mundane practice of manually grading multiple-choice, fill-in-the-blank, numerical, or matching questions. And we all know that’s good for our sanity. It’s also tempting to stop there and make that the sum of our teaching: We deliver the content, then we administer the assessment or homework assignment and we let technology do the rest. Kahoot advertises it this way:
“5 reasons to assign kahoots as homework:
- Make homework fun and engaging for students
- Boost homework completion rate
- Reinforce learning and support revision
- Save time on correcting assignments
- Get an instant assessment of learning progress”
…as if technology could solve all of the problems we face as teachers. Sure, technology—even Kahoot—can facilitate a few of these things. But from my experience, it’s nowhere near what we’d like it to. Students, for instance, used to be enamored with the prospect of completing homework online rather than writing on paper. But that was 12 years ago. That no longer seems to be the case. Even the most “engaging” homework is never fun for students. In fact, from my experience, many of the richest learning experiences for students have been those they like the least—mostly because it’s on the level of intellectual pain for them. They’re challenged. They’re forced to think at high levels, far outside the comfort zones of their default brain setting of complacency.
Teachers I’ve talked to also share the reality that those who normally do their homework are the same kids that do their homework when it’s online. Those who perpetually miss homework assignments don’t magically start doing their homework just because it’s on Kahoot. And sure, Kahoot can help reinforce learning and support revision, but it doesn’t necessarily take technology to do that. Clearly one of its advantages, however, is that it can give students an instant assessment of their learning. Research has shown that it is far more beneficial for students to receive feedback closer to the time they complete a task than 4 days later when the teacher gets done grading them all. So now they can receive their score instantly. But then what?
Technology, when perceived as the magical solution to all the problems of education, will always disappoint. While it can solve many of the problems we face as teachers, while it can facilitate good things in our classrooms, it will never live up to the expectation that it can replace good teaching. Using technology does not equal good teaching. Good teaching equals good teaching. Technology can support and enhance good teaching, it can allow teachers to do more, but it can’t replace good teaching—and it can’t magically make anyone a good teacher. (And anyone who has ever talked to Troy Patterson about technology in education will recognize that my thinking here and elsewhere is heavily influenced by his vision.)
Good teachers use technology well
The simple fact is this: good teachers use technology well. They use it to help students access information. They use it to allow students to communicate with those inside and outside of the learning environment. They use it to facilitate valuable, timely feedback. They use it to shift the focus from the teacher as the center of all that occurs in the classroom to student-as-center. Good teachers don’t stop when technology makes their lives easier or frees them up from grading. Good teachers take any time they receive back from using technology and re-invest it in finding new and better ways to teach—some of which involve using more technology. Good teachers don’t jump on the hamster wheel of finding “engaging” new technology tools that never seems to let us off. Good teachers acknowledge technology’s strengths and disadvantages, and do not ascribe to it magical attributes.
While it is not magical, that does not mean technology is not essential. It clearly is. The advantages technology affords us far outweigh the simplicity of not using it. It’s not just “another tool” in the sense that if we left it behind we would easily find an alternative. I would argue that it might be the most valuable tool in our toolbox, and for many, it could be the only tool in the toolbox. But no tool is of any benefit without a skilled craftsperson. And a skilled craftsperson seeks greater skill at their craft incorporating the tools they have available, not isolated from nor ignorant of any of them.
So, no, technology is not magical. But it is essential. It is a tool, but it’s not “just a tool”. It’s not the sum of good teaching, but really good teaching will rarely happen without a good use of it. Furthermore, good use of it involves growing and learning in its presence; stunted teacher development will always happen in its absence.
Let’s put technology in its proper place. Let’s not ascribe to it undue attributes. Let’s develop our skills with technology as our most valuable tool. And let’s use it unabashedly, unceasingly, and unapologetically, while continuing to develop as good craftspeople—all for the sake of greater learning opportunity for our students.