Technology’s Promise

The thing I look forward to most about summer is not a lack of work.  As a full time teacher, part-time faculty member, and a new father, work never seems to stop.  It’s not the weather, although that’s nice, or the clothing, although putting socks away for a few months is certainly a perk of the season.  It’s a sense of time.  Summer brings longer days, but it also brings a sense of time.  Days go by slower and allow more opportunity to process what I actually want to do.  I am able to think, and then think about thinking, rather than just reacting each and every minute.  My friends in education often refer to summer as the time when we are “our true selves.”  The reason I can be myself is because I actually have time to think about who I am.

Ezra Klein’s recent article, Technology is changing how we live, but it needs to change how we work, prompted me to ask: with all the technology that pervades education, why don’t I feel this sense of time more often?  Klein takes a broad look about how technology is pervasive in our lives, yet its economic impact is hard to measure.  In other words: we have lots of new technology pieces, but how much better off are we?  His thesis spoke to me as I finish another year in teaching.  Each year brings another layer of technology into the industry.  I learn a new platform, engage my students in a new medium, and adapt assignments and expectations for a new space.  Sometimes I feel like I am an IT student rather than a classroom teacher.  Behind all of these decisions is my assumption that, at some point, life will get easier.  At some point, we will reach the end of adaptation.  Those results will be evident in the work we get from students, but also in how I feel as I work.  I should feel more productive with these tools.  Yet, Klein’s article responds to this assumption by saying: maybe I won’t.

His piece ends with the idea that we have all the technology, but we need to learn how to use it.  He quotes a venture capitalist in the technology industry who states, “It turns out the hardest things at companies isn’t building the technology but getting people to use it properly.”  The same is true in education.  Institutional buy-in, student adoption, accommodation of resources, and technical support all play a part in properly using ed-tech.  All of these things are immense challenges at institutions that are adapting in their own way, with students coming from diverse backgrounds, and societal forces demanding a myriad of solutions.

Sometimes, it feels like I am shoe-horning technology into my classroom because of all of the obstacles in implementation.  And, if I am being honest, sometimes after learning a new technology option, I back away and just maintain the status quo.  My decision is driven by intimidation in properly implementing it.  I have countless examples when I tried something new and it took my classes too long to complete their work, or my students couldn’t access what I needed them to, or I couldn’t retrieve their final work.  The reasons go on and on, but the message is the same: the technology is there, but the people using it aren’t.

The promise technology holds is the same as summer: it should offer us time.  It should offer us freedom.  It should offer us the ability to be our true selves because it is relieving us of some of our duties.  The difference is summer’s promise arrives each year on the calendar, and technology’s promise isn’t on the calendar yet.

Read Ezra’s Klein’s work here: