As a professor myself, I do think that there are times when technology is not simply a distraction, but a potential encumbrance for learning at a deep level, particularly with difficult topics related to race, class, gender, difference, white, middle class privilege and the like.
Accordingly, I've very much seen computers used as a literal crutch for not engaging critical subject matter deeply. Instead of joining the discussion, students "multi-task," answering emails and getting their other work done instead of personally engaging the hard questions.
Admittedly, however, not all subjects demand equally high levels of reflection even if all college classrooms require some. All told, I think that Dr. Scott has a good point about how learning can get short shrift in certain classroom contexts.
Every year about this time I start revising my syllabus for the next
year. Next year I will include a provision that keeps technology out of
my classrooms. As a teacher I oppose the infiltration of screens into
our classrooms, particularly liberal arts’ classrooms. I recognize the
need for computers to do research and write reports, but I fail to grasp
their relevance for teaching a Shakespearean sonnet, the structure of
our federal government, or when the War of 1812 took place. Isaac Newton
didn’t even have a calculator much less cloud computing when he
invented calculus; surely our students can learn his invention without
tablets and Power Point. Screens impede learning. The more
technologically engaged students are in the classroom the worse is their
performance in reading, writing, history, and arithmetic.
Students whose primary goal is to learn a trade should be given the
opportunity to do so. Whether it’s welding, cleaning teeth or trading
stocks; students who seek to learn a skill should be given the
opportunity to do so and they should be trained on the machines and
tools they will encounter in the field so they can be competitive in the
job market. But this doesn’t mean a literature class has to be taught
with every student on a laptop. There’s nothing wrong with books made of
paper or students who take notes in a—gasp—notebook with a—gasp—pen!
In fact, doing so proves to be less of a distraction and provides
tactile and auditory reinforcement of the lesson in a way that computing
does not. When using traditional note taking skills students are forced
to engage the information more as it is being transmitted to them than
when they merely point, click, drag and type. Students who read a text
on-line do worse on an exam than those who read the same text through a
Tech-based classrooms are classrooms with more distractions as it is
nearly impossible to keep students from moving between what they are
supposed to be doing and outside activities.
Research has shown that some of these obstacles to learning can be
overcome with the right amount of training. But these same studies also
show that the best such training can do is raise technology based
education to the level of traditional delivery methods which then begs
the question: why go through all the time and expense to get right back
to where you started?
Technology in classrooms, and as central components of the campus
experience, hinders the learning process by transforming its very
nature. Learning requires deep contemplation with a long period of
gestation. Technology puts a premium on speed and completion.
Tocqueville wrote of America, “nothing is more necessary to the
cultivation of the advanced sciences or of the elevated portion of the
sciences than meditation” but importing technology—with its emphasis on
speed and instrumentalism—into core competency classrooms we run the
risk persuading students that deep meditation and careful consideration
is unnecessary for mastering the humanities and sciences.
The proliferation of technology in the classroom is reflective of an
educational enterprise that has embraced the commercial ethos thus
transforming education into a service industry where students are
customers and teachers are service providers. The effects on education
are deleterious in that we seek to provide students with what they want
rather than offering them guidance as to what they need for fear of
losing them to a competitor. Within this ethos there is no incentive to
challenge students but instead only offer them courses with enticing
names and rooms filled with the latest gadgetry. Colleges and K-12
institutions market their technology advancement as a reason why their
institution is good instead of marketing the quality of education. From a
marketing standpoint taking pretty pictures of students working on
computers, or touting how many computers there are on campus, is better
than talking about academic rigor and having photos of students pouring
of a dusty copy of Plato’s Republic.
By transforming students into customers we run the risk of violating
the necessary connection that forms between teacher and student and
transform the mission of education from one of a life of the mind into a
life dedicated to the bottom line. In a commercialized educational
enterprise we treat students and teachers as though their full value can
be boiled down to a numerical score. “By raising and teaching the young
as if they do not have souls, we’re producing souls that are flat or
one-dimensional.” Just like the screens we are teaching them to hold so