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Technology & Humanity: Finding Points of Harmony

Audrey Watters at RRW fairly consistently covers technology and education, a point of focus that is somewhat rare on tech sites (other than an occasional blurb like “they’re blocking facebook in X school”). And I appreciate her posts and commentary. Today she suggests that cell phones should not be banned in classrooms:

But beyond crucial lessons in digital citizenship, cellphones can be a great (and low-cost) technology tool in the classroom. Cellphones are cameras and audio recorders, allowing students to work on multimedia projects. Cellphones are calculators. They are calendars – a far better way to record homework assignments than the print calendars students never carry around. Cellphones can be used to poll students in classrooms. In other words, cellphones can allow students to create and to share content, and they can provide an important bridge between the classroom and home.

I agree. But. When it comes to learning and technology, we need to ask two basic questions:
1. What does technology do better than people
2. What do people do better than technology
(this was the topic of a presentation I delivered in Norway last week on Technology & Humanity: Finding points of harmony (slides))

Answers to questions like “should we use cellphones in class” are almost meaningless. It’s like saying “should I eat”. Well, yes, of course. But when? Under what circumstances? For what purpose? Answers in advance of context are black holes of debate.


  1. on its own, technology does nothing. it’s what you do with it. what can people do better with technology? (and which technologies, in which contexts, etc…)

    Wednesday, November 17, 2010 at 9:19 am | Permalink
  2. Angela Page wrote:

    I like your two focus questions, George. Exploring them can help us answer the questions on teachers’ lips: How should I use technology? When should I use technology? Why should I use technology? Also, what new or different things could we do with technology that enhances student learning but are currently not doing at all (yet)?

    Wednesday, November 17, 2010 at 1:39 pm | Permalink
  3. Joe Bires wrote:

    You hit the nail on the head, but the problem is that schools and institutions think of “technology” as something that requires regulation and policy rather than as just another tool for learning. If the time and effort that they put into regulation were redirected into using technology as a tool for innovation than the tool of technology might actually transform learning.

    Friday, November 19, 2010 at 6:49 pm | Permalink