18 Mar

Is Technology Good for Education?

Posted By polity_admin_user

Digital technology is clearly integral to twenty-first century education. Schools, colleges and universities are replete with digital devices, systems and applications. Silicon Valley is awash with talk of ‘massive open online courses’, ‘personalized learning’ and ‘learning analytics’. The ways in which people find things out and learn on a day-to-day basis increasingly involves Google, Wikipedia and YouTube. In short, digital technology now lies at the heart of how information is consumed, how knowledge is created, and how people communicate with each other.

Unfortunately, discussions about the use of technology in education often tend toward over-enthusiasm and hype. Many people inside education believe that digital technology supports forms of teaching and learning that are more democratic, flexible and appropriate to life in the digital age. Many people outside education are more radical still – seeing digital technologies a ready ‘fix’ or ‘solution’ to what is presumed to be a broken system. Yet as we know from the digitization of most other areas of society, technological change is rarely straightforward. As such, it is foolhardy to expect new forms of technology-based education to be without their own limitations and problems.

This book strives to take a more balanced approach. While emerging forms of digital technology clearly have much to offer the future of education,it is inevitable that these technologies have other consequences. The book therefore raises a series of questions that are rarely asked of technology and education.For example:

· what is lost with the ongoing virtualization of education – i.e. teaching and learning on a ‘remote’ rather than face-to-face basis?

· what aspects of education are not accurately represented in the data and algorithms that underpin online learning systems and analytics?

· are digital technologies merely advantaging the already advantaged – i.e. well-resourced, well-educated individuals who are confident in taking control of their own education?

· how does the highly individualized nature of digital education fit with the idea of ‘public’ education that is of common benefit rather than just individual gain?

· is digital education raising unrealistic expectations that complex social problems can be solved quickly through the innovative and ‘disruptive’ application of technology?

These are all tricky questions that are fundamental to improving technology use in education. Most importantly, these are not technical questions of ‘what works?’ but questions about the values and ideals that education is based upon. Given the significance of education to all of our futures there is clearly a need to start genuinely inclusive debates around the complexities and contradictions of technology and education. Digital technology needs to be seen as the starting point of a conversations about the future of education … not simply as the definitive answer.

Neil Selwyn is Professor at the Faculty of Education, Monash University, Melbourne. His latest work, Is Technology Good for Education? is available in April 2016