“Silver Bullet” Thinking in Education

One phenomenon that I have noticed in my experience of over 20 years in education is that we are sometimes guilty of taking an innovation and viewing it as the answer to whatever ails us.  I refer to this as “silver bullet” thinking and I would like to discuss the phenomenon as it relates to the use of technology in education.

This post was inspired by Paul Barnwell’s post that I first saw in Education Week on Monday, June 11, 2012.  Paul addresses three subtopics in his post which I will expand on below:

  1. Some of us are guilty of using technology just to…use technology.  We are not weaving the use of technology into any instructional framework or giving any thought to what the pedagogical purpose of this technology should be.
  2. Students are not as tech-savvy as we give them credit for.  At least not as tech savvy with some of the key web 2.0 tools that teachers can use to create a student-centered learning environment.
  3. Technology is still good, and in fact necessary, in teaching 21st century learners.  While integrating technology into our instruction, we must keep the role of technology in education at the forefront. (see below for what this role is)
I really think that if teachers are serious about integrating technology into their instruction it will make them a better teacher.  The reason I say this is that to effectively integrate technology into instruction, you have to have some type of instructional framework to determine what you are trying to accomplish with the technology.  I love Robert Marzano’s instructional framework that he presents in The Art & Science of Teaching.  In that book, he presents ten questions that one could use to plan and guide good instruction.  So if I take one of the questions, “What will I do to have students deepen their understanding of new knowledge?”, I can start to plan what technology might facilitate this for students most effectively.  I might choose to have students participate in a threaded discussion board about something that was recently introduced in class.  I can create parameters for their participation that they must meet – that will illustrate to me that they are deepening their understanding.  If someone were to ask, why are you using this technology? – I would have a solid answer for them.  This leads us to Barnwell’s second point.
Most students do not currently use the internet to participate in learning in settings that I describe above.  Certainly there are students who are engaged in threaded discussion boards but most students are simply using various social media apps to communicate with friends.  The research points out that very few students are blogging or using wikis on their own.  If we want students to engage in these activities for instructional purposes – then we will need to provide some guidelines and protocols for students to follow so that the pedagogical needs of the activity are met.
Finally, Paul writes about something I touched on in a previous post about the purpose of technology in education. It was an idea that I got from a Marc Prensky article.  Yes, the same Marc Prensky who wrote about Digital Natives and Digital Immigrants. Prensky spells out explicitly what role he believes technology should play in education – “The role of technology in our classrooms is to support the new teaching paradigm.”  What new teaching paradigm you might ask?  The new paradigm of a student-centered versus a teacher-centered classroom.

Barnwell writes about is experiences in developing student-centered instruction where students are using web 2.0 software and tools to create digital stories for instance.  Barnwell also points out that he is far from giving up on technology in the classroom.  Rather, he is working hard to explore ways for students to use technology to create, collaborate and think critically.  These are the skills that 21st century learners need and this is the true role of technology in education.