Meaningful Education: Not an App, Not Rote

Pamela Paul has an opinion piece in today’s NYTimes about educational technology. She writes about “game-based learning” and characterizes “an underlying fear” that children won’t learn if it is not “superfun.” Her final thought is that students should play games (that is use technology,) “in their free time.. [O]nce they’re in the classroom they can challenge themselves. Deliberate practice of less than exhilarating rote work isn’t necessarily fun but they need to get used to it– and derive from it meaningful reward…”

I am a high school teacher in a school with a one-to-one laptop program; I intensively integrate technology into my pedagogy. I am also a parent who raises my elementary school aged children with very little screen time. I share neither Ms. Paul’s analysis nor her conclusions.

In my classroom there are times when we are all write in composition books and the only sounds to be heard are breathing and pens and pencils against paper. There are times when students can barely stay in their seats because of the power of their ideas during discussions that are fueled by the highlighted paper source that each student has in front of them.

There are other times when my students eagerly check their Google Docs to see the latest feedback from the professional playwright we are collaborating with, provide feedback on each other’s poetry portfolios on a wiki, use social media to research and then create videos about the sequence of events in the Arab Spring, or frantically chat on a shared Doc as they research and prepare the defense of their group in a trial about modern day sweatshops.

All of these activities could happen without technology. I use technology not because it is fancy or flashy but because, when I successfully integrate technology into my teaching practice my students are able to research, collaborate, and create in exceptional ways.

It is a mistake to characterize educational technology as simple, attention-grabbing games. The idea that the choice is between boring, rote work or technology gimmicks is a false one that has been created in part by those looking to make money in the field of educational technology.

It is important for educators at all levels to recognize and embrace tools and pedagogies that can create real world learning experiences that are deep, meaningful, and engaging. Let’s not be fooled by false choices based on overly simplistic analysis and instead remember to push ourselves, as educators and as a society, to wisely and strategically embrace what is possible.

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