Tuesday, March 4, 2014

Faster horses

A frequently voiced, and understandable, concern about the use of technology in education is that we should not let technology come before pedagogy. The fear is that we are more interested in promoting the use of certain tools and devices rather than how to use them pedagogically and indeed whether they enhance or detract from the pedagogy. But is the issue so simple and should pedagogy always come first? A short but intriguing post by José Picardo, The problem with pedagogy first, argues that the two must be fully integrated before we really see the benefits of technology in education. He quotes the famous line by Henry Ford when developing mass car production: “If I had asked people what they wanted, they would have said faster horses.” Today's educational technology is being used to produce faster horses rather than truly opening new horizons. Maybe when the technology is so embedded that it is hardly noticed things will really begin to move forward.

What actually makes sense is to embrace technology and explore how it can support teaching and learning. A school’s digital strategy must ensure that both technology and pedagogy go hand in hand if we are to avoid the faster horse scenario, where our vantage point only allows us a narrow field of view that cannot provide us with the insight and perspective that are required to make educational technology so mundane and so embedded that teachers can focus on the teaching, which is what every teacher in the world dearly wants to achieve.

There's nothing new in pedagogy being influenced by technology. Often it's a lack of technology that dictates such as not having electricity, computers, internet access and so on. It can also be limited by physical environment; a lecture hall with bolted down desks in rows definitely limits the teacher's pedagogy. Administration can also severely restrict pedagogy by creating timetables with 45 minute periods after which a bell rings and the class disappears. 

However today's technology is enabling us to escape many of the above restrictions and create stimulating physical and digital learning environments that were not possible before. By embracing technology we can put pedagogy first.

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