Witte: Technology a tool, not a crutch

Jacob Witte

Did you enjoy watching PowerPoint slide after PowerPoint slide when you were in high school? Did you come to class each day with an unquenchable thirst for using any and all forms of technology that you or your teacher could muster? Yeah, me neither.

I, like many other students at Iowa State, am in the teacher education program. Soon, hundreds of us will be out student teaching, and before we know it, looking for a job for next fall. One popular topic of conversation in the teacher education program is how we are to use technology in the classroom. Not only is there an entire course that teaches us how to implement technology in the class, but in nearly every other course, it seems, technology is tamped into us like an iron fist. We are constantly urged to use technology, and it seems that many lesson plans, no matter how successful, can pass or fail, grade-wise, according to whether technology is used.

I may sound like a curmudgeon, but I am not ready to recklessly abandon the “old ways” of not using technology at every turn. In the 1950s, ’60s and ’70s, America had the greatest education system on the planet, hands down. Since then, and coincidentally enough, education has been declining rapidly and the availability and use of technology has skyrocketed. Although I know there are many other reasons for the decline of education, this connection, in my opinion, cannot be ignored.

In my content area, social studies, I have seen no better way of learning than reading and discussion, primarily using a Socratic dialogue with students. Using the Socratic method challenges pre-existing notions and helps to reinforce your own arguments. Having a class with a professor that is competent in using the Socratic method is integral to a liberal education. And the extent of technology that is needed for this great way of learning is a printing press, which was invented nearly 600 years ago.

I see little to no reason for using Smartboards, PowerPoints, laptops and tablet computers ad nauseum when it comes to education. I cannot say with honesty that I will never use technology, but I certainly won’t use it as a crutch. Technology is simply a tool to use with education, the same as chalk, slide rulers and compasses were decades ago. And I can guarantee teacher-education students did not have entire classes devoted to how to use chalk.

One common justification for using technology in the classroom is that, essentially, “the kids are doing it these days,” meaning that because students use technology so much, we as teachers should basically just go along with it. I find this defense, frankly speaking, lazy. To just “go along” with what students are doing shows little to no creativity or originality when it comes to designing and implementing lesson plans.

Using technology does have its place in education, especially in the disciplines of science and mathematics, as they help develop the technology that eventually becomes common among us. However, using the latest and most advanced technology as a teacher will hardly win over students if you do not have the ability to relate to students and actually teach them things.

A PowerPoint cannot help you have better classroom management, and an iPad will not make you more knowledgeable of your content area. It is really that simple. And while some technology can help students learn something, the chances are that saturating the classroom with it will soon become a problem.

I am not advocating for boycotting the use of technology or loathing its very existence. Technology certainly has its place in education. I am merely saying that, as teachers and future teachers, we are charged with having to find a peaceful harmony in which technology can be used and student learning can occur. And student learning is paramount over whether technology can be used or not.