Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Classroom Technology: Nightmare or Dream?

Technological advances in our schools in the last 10 years have been remarkable, and there is no doubt that technology will continue to disrupt our schools in both helpful and harmful ways. To be clear, I love technology and use it every single day. I teach with it and learn with it. It's important to remember, however, that technology cannot be allowed to have a monopoly on innovation in our schools. If public education is to survive the next 10 years, we need to see how technology and personalization can be read as either a dream or a nightmare, depending on who is writing the story.

If Bill Gates, Rupert Murdoch, Arne Duncan, and Michelle Rhee are writing the plot, then personalization in learning is about using technology for union busting, test score analytics and the marketization of our children's minds. In this story, the rich get a computer and a teacher but the poor get just a computer. Herein, technology and personalization isn't about learning – it’s about money. In this story’s final chapter technology functions as a Trojan horse, sneakily shouldering an army of economists and shadow industries that have been stalking public education for a very long time, waiting for an in.

If Sir Ken Robinson, Pasi Sahlberg, Alfie Kohn, Yong Zhao, Linda Darling-Hammond, Will Richardson and Diane Ravitch are writing the plot, then personalization is about student excitement, creativity, intrinsic motivation, curiosity and citizenship. In this story, all children are given computers and teachers, even when it’s cheaper to deny some students the latter. Herein, personalization and technology is used for the purposes of universal education not subordinated to the interests of big business.

Personalization and technology can be about collaborating to discover our passions (the dream) but it can also be about competing over profits (the nightmare). Worse still, personalization can turn into a kind of hyper-personalization, where computers are given to students with zero facilitation from real life teachers. This is akin to pilotless flying and surgeonless surgery and yet this is precisely the vision of many in power, a vision where technology uses the learner, instead of the learner using the technology. However, this can only become a reality if good people remain silent. Classroom innovators and public educators must speak out against the nightmare narrative of technological implementation (of Gates and Murdoch) so that technology and personalization can assist the dream of learning for all.


  1. Joe I want to say THANK YOU for addressing this crucial issue. I'm seeing students become commodities, and increasing wealth disparity among neighbourhood schools, hinging on parent fundraising and on the existing socio-economic status of the students' families. My teachers' union seems to be the only group raising the alarm in British Columbia, where a blend of circumstances - including neo-liberalism, corporate influence, increasing child poverty, and anti-intellectualism in mass media - are contributing to the deterioration of services and budgets for public education. I appreciate what the Bill & Melinda Gates' Foundation does to assist Rotary International in eradicating polio and in assisting other worthy projects, but I wish the dot com / rich would butt out of education and policy. As a Teacher I feel silenced by the government and mass media. It's incredibly frustrating, because I was a student not so long ago, too, and I watched my kindergarten-teacher mom worry at the dinner table each night about the ramifications of cuts and changes to her programs. We're seeing the ramifications of over-stimulated students needing real person-to-person connection, time in nature, lessons in self-regulation, and true literacy skills which stem from reading with family from toddler-age. Buzz words like "21st century education" and "personalized learning" make me angry. Teachers cannot innovate if they are stressed and worked thin in under-funded systems. Teachers cannot innovate if they can't communicate with each other. Professionals need ongoing training in ANY sector or business, but these budget cuts have had serious ramifications in this regard. School Districts are caught between a rock and a hard place: cut training for students, or cut training for teachers? Students cannot innovate if we bypass the basics and throw iPads at them. I'm glad to know that you are speaking out on the issue, and that we stand together in our defense of students in public schools.


  2. I heartily agree with you, and hope to see more truly innovative technology in the classroom benefiting students not budgets. Another study from 2013 has stated that now the majority of students in public schools are from lower income households as determined by free lunch programs. So business is going to have to search elsewhere for profits. We've all but abandoned our schools in many respects. My son is now in high school at a very good school, however, they recently asked parents to provide feedback about a program called SkoolLive that would put advertising kiosks in the school hallways. Supposedly, they also provide some sort of service like better schoolwide communication, but such specious "service" is clearly a hook. My son has less than 5 minutes between classes. I hate that businesses are targeting education. Yes, please let's keep them out of our schools!
    The article I referenced can be found here:


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