Thursday, February 27, 2014

Unintended Consequences of Technology in Education

When I began Sporting Chance Press after 30 plus years in professional publishing (big company that published for attorneys, accountants, and others),  I wanted to bring out the good in publishing.  I wanted my company to publish works that focused on good.   I think we hit the mark all the way around.  From The 10 Commandments of Baseball to Sports and Faith -- from Public Bonehead, Private Hero to Maddie Takes the Ice, our books really did present some life lessons and themes that were essentially decent.  

As a publisher and father, I am interested in education and always have been. Somewhere in the midst of a bucket of education courses in college, I decided that teaching wasn't for me, but I have never lost interest in it.  Over the years, like most parents, I wanted to know what my kids were doing and how well they were doing in the classroom. Technology is changing education today. 

Yet, technology efforts in education frequently don't work and often they come with unintended consequences--in much the same way that prescription drugs have side effects.  I want to mention a few today.

We have never bought our kids cell phones.  It is just something that we could not afford.  But many schools today assume kids have them.  Teachers and coaches involved in after-school activities used to have  schedules.  Assuming every kid has a cell phone, many schedules are up for grabs.  If you have ever coached a sport "back in the day" and have seen parents pull up to the park to pick up their kids for the scheduled close of practice, a 5 minute addition to practice would be greeted by stares, honking horns, and the occasional parental march onto the field to take hold of a child's hand and escort her off the field. 

Today, the parents don't move until the call comes in. And there is little pressure to maintain a decent schedule in many after school activities.  When it comes to something like play practice, the schedule shift can be huge.  You may not know whether your child who will need to be picked at 8 p.m. or 10 p.m.  

For kids who don't have a phone, it means that they have to borrow one from a friend.  I don't know how in touch you are with high school kids, but borrowing a phone is the modern day equivalent of wearing old hand-me-downs.  No, certainly it's not as bad as a lot of other things that go on, but it's one of those unintended consequences of education working with technology. 

Having a daughter in theater, band, and choir, there is yet another technology issue that pricks at me--that is parents and students who are obsessed with their smart phones, Ipads, tablets, etc. at performances.   I attended two concerts this year and both were far less enjoyable than previous years due to the never ending use of these devices during performances.  There is something especially irritating about a glowing bright light a few aisles ahead of you in a performance.  I saw one parent with what looked to be an Ipad lifting it high into the air to film one performance.  There were also half a dozen smart phone owners using their smaller glowing devices as well.  Kids who had been in the first choir to perform moved into a section of the audience to "see" the next choir perform as required by the director.  Several jumped right onto their own smart phones to catch up on their text messages. Both the choir director and the band director are not encouraging this type of ignorant behavior, but I am afraid they are growing weary of trying to police it. Luckily when we went to the school play a few weeks ago, our seats were in the first row. 

A teacher in my daughter's class had the students take a test using cell phones.  No consideration or accommodation was made to kids without cell phones.  My daughter was simply told that she would have to borrow someone's.  My wife has taken to buying one of those pay as you go phones and she gives it to whichever daughter has the latest event each day--they only use it to call home.  It was the best we can do. 

Relatively new computer use in education involves performance programs online.  For example, a musician may be required to use an online interactive learning system that grades her work on an instrument.  By logging into a program, and paying an annual fee, the student can play into a system that grades her performance and maintains a record.  How great is that?  When teachers use this system, they cut down a great deal on grading.  One can argue about it until the cows come home,b ut who is the real beneficiary?  The system is sometimes unreachable and bugs creep in.  When a problem with access occurs at home, the student is told to come to school and take the lesson online.  Kids come to school early and find that there is a line to get on and they end up coming at all kinds of odd times trying to get their work done.  Tough on the kids, but it might reduce the work load on the teacher by many hours in reduced grading work. My daughter's teacher has said many times over that personally, he does not like the application. 

And perhaps my least favorite unintended consequence with technology in education is kids using their reading devices in ways that in my opinion pervert the learning process.  Anyone who has a teen or preteen daughter knows that today's young girls are fouling up their education by spending inordinate amounts of time on Facebook--like the boys did with video games.  Kids who have reading devices that give them an opportunity to read ebooks are using those devices to get online and connect with each other on Facebook.  So instead of reading an ebook, they are catching up on their social network communications.   

You can't turn the clock back in terms of technological advances, but much needs to be done to insure that technology is helping not hurting our kids and their families. I cringe when I see the endless amount of commercials that extol the value of technology.  One of the latest ones, shows a barrage of people in really exotic places with fantastic breath-taking scenery--the message is that these experiences have somehow been made possible with technology--in each case the person experiencing these places is engaged in photographing or texting or in some way preserving the experience for the future rather than taking a deep breath and living in the present.  The forest grew without the Ipad.  The rivers run without the tablet and the sun rises and sets without the smartphone, but you can't tell that by these commercials.

Away from the TV set in real life you see all too often a young family sitting together in a shop or restaurant on a Saturday morning and rather than talk to each other, they hop on their respective devises and presumably connect with someone else miles away, or worse yet, they spend their time with some lifeless program.  Perhaps there's an app that will encourage people to  spend less time on the computer and more time with loved ones. In the old days it was called common sense.  

Copyright 2014, Sporting Chance Press