Why Schools Should Be More Critical of Technology

The expansion of 1-to-1 computing, increasing use of learning management systems, the ubiquity of smartphones, and developments in artificial intelligence and virtual reality are all part of the new technological look in many K-12 schools.

The problem is that most schools implemented these technologies with a “techno-solutionist” approach, meaning a perspective that technology is the solution to the education system’s woes, Natalie Milman, a professor of educational technology at George Washington University, and other researchers, argue in a paper published in the Contemporary Issues in Technology and Teacher Education journal. They say it’s time to think more critically about the technologies educators use.

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Courtesy of Natalie Milman

In a Zoom interview with Education Week, Milman explains why it’s important to view educational technology through a more critical lens, what it will take to do that, and the role of teacher preparation programs in using technology more thoughtfully in schools.

This interview has been edited for brevity and clarity.

Why should educators still be concerned about technology use in schools?

One of the things that we emphasize in our article is that technology is not neutral, and in its very design, it can be designed in ways that can do harm.

For example, technology tools that are used in the classroom, in some cases, teachers don’t have a choice in the matter at all. So then what do you do? How do you use it? How do we ensure that it doesn’t harm children in particular? How can we use it in ways that promote justice and liberation?

Is Big Tech’s role in education now too big?

In many ways, Big Tech is driving what happens in schools and how—with regards to the use of educational technology. The use of different ed-tech tools shape what and how [content] is taught, when the onus really should be on teachers.

It’s also problematic that the tech companies can track individuals and their data. What’s happening to the data that’s being collected? Can school systems opt out? Do parents even know that data is being collected about their children and our school? What are school districts doing to protect children? What policies do they have in place to protect children’s data?

I’ve spent most of my career advocating for technology, so I don’t want it to seem like I don’t advocate for it. We’re just calling for teachers and those preparing teachers to think about the tools that they’re using and how they’re not neutral. They’re very politicized. The people who make them might be designing them with biases that we may not even be aware of, that might be harming ourselves or even our students.

How can teacher preparation programs address these concerns?

Historically, teacher education, in particular, has had this techno-solutionist view: You use technology to solve a problem. You use technology, and you can do X better. What we’re arguing for is that teacher educators should be helping their pre-service and in-service teachers understand this dichotomy and everything in between about ed tech and really interrogate its use as well as interrogate the tools themselves.

The field itself can bolster its standards. Often, what is taught is driven by the standards that exist. There are some teacher education technology standards that do get into ethics and being good digital citizens, but we argue it doesn’t go deep enough. We would like for the standards to delve deeper.

How can teachers take a more critical approach to tech integration in the classroom?

One is making their students aware. We have to teach our students to be skeptical consumers. Make them aware that technology is only as good as how it’s designed. And sometimes the design itself isn’t going to find the right answer, and it could give you the wrong answer.

What can school and district leaders do?

They could lead or have some other people lead workshops and help the teachers within their school systems be more critical and understanding of this history of ed tech.

They can implement policies that protect students and that also give students, their parents and guardians, as well as teachers, the ability to opt in, or opt out, of different uses of technology and how their data is used.

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