This post is part of a blog post series where Aminah Ottosdotter Davidsson reflects on technology in education and educational leadership as part of her MBA studies in Educational Leadership at TAMK.
“If you think technology can solve your problems, then you don’t understand technology and you don’t understand your problems”. Mariana Mazzucato
Even though this problem doesn’t necessarily have to be negative, the quote depicts the misalignment or shall I say mismatch, between the means and the purpose that so many times happen when technology is used in education. Like many other things in education, such as material, ideas and methods, we use them with a purpose connected to an aim. For example, very seldom would we use a course book just because it is a book and very seldom would we use hands-on Math material only to move blocks around. How is it then, that we end up using technology only for the sake of technology?
The pandemic has highlighted how important it is to think critically about the technologies we adopt and their impact on students, teachers and the whole education process. Never before have I felt that this is more needed than now. Not that long ago, many things related to education and technology was still optional, but today, education institutions are more or less forced to adapt to using and applying technology due to the extensive pivot to online teaching. The lack of choice, whether or not to apply online teaching, calls for an even more critical eye in terms of where it is leading us and at what costs. It calls for a conscious critique of the narrative of technology as the solution to the problems in education and its stated ability to continuously adapt to the challenges and opportunities of the future.
Over the last 20 years, the word smart has been used to name and define innovations and gadgets like never before, smartphones, smart homes, smart cities, smart grids, smart cards, smart learning, smart universities and smart education, you name it. After some research on the origin and meaning of the word related to modern time usage, it wasn’t easy to find a common definition, so I thought it best to go by an old-fashioned and solid dictionary definition, stating it as ‘using advanced computer systems’. However, let’s not forget the positive connotations this word also has due to its other definitions, such as intelligence, ability to think quickly, being clever and effective. In this way, collectively, the use of smart in connection to any word seems to add a certain positive value to it, which could possibly overshadow some of its negative impacts.
Related specifically to smart learning and smart education, the definition also relates to the anticipated future of not only learning, but also the roles of students and teachers in tomorrow’s world. Amit Dua gives the following definition: “Smart learning aims at providing holistic learning to students using modern technology to fully prepare them for a fast-changing world where adaptability is crucial.” Another definition is given by Dr. Mansoor Al Awar: “Smart learning is a broad term for education in today’s digital age. It reflects how advanced technologies are enabling learners to digest knowledge and skills more effectively, efficiently and conveniently.” Both descriptions depict technology as the solution to tomorrow’s challenges and as a way to equip learners for the future, but I can’t help but feel like our young learners have been diminished to robots, and for them to learn, we merely open their mouths and fill them up with blended food (knowledge) from our latest food processor (technology). Fast, swift and easy. But is this how our students learn, even in today’s digital age? Are we not giving a bit too much weight to technology here, while losing sight of the purpose?
Amit Dua goes on to describe smart education:
“Smart education offers a paradigm shift in the way students access education. It is not just a change in the delivery of education, it is much more than that. With radical changes in technology, the teachers of today, can have a hard time in processing what the future will be like 20 years from now. Smart education solves this conundrum by using state-of-the-art technology helping both learners and teachers prepare themselves for tomorrow.”
While this all sounds very fine and as a much needed part of preparing the next generation for the future, are we in fact being SMART in smart education? Are we in fact still leading education with the help of technology or are we letting technology lead us in education? Do we choose technology based on our values and pedagogies or do we choose our values and pedagogies based on technology? In my eyes, the above statement minimizes the role of the teacher, claiming that they are not able to keep up with technology and tomorrow’s demands, and thus fail to prepare our students for the future. To solve this problem, it is proposed to use technology. It is like pulling away the carpet under our teachers’ feet. It is like losing faith in their professionalism and minimizing what they do best, teach and facilitate learning.
When trying to prepare and equip our youth for the future it is easy to jump onto the latest technology trends in the belief that this is exactly what our learners need, to be ready for the future challenges. However, many trends come and go and how do we balance and maintain the purpose of education with staying up to date with what is needed in an ever-changing world? If we are not mindful, we can easily lose track of what matters in education, connecting to ideas of Gert Biesta. If we lose track of the why in education, as a result of chasing after trends in the name of smart education, will we in reality equip our youth for an ever-changing world? Perhaps it will result in an ever-changing education instead and while being busy trying to be up to date and integrating technology in every corner of the school as well as curriculum, we risk losing sight of the purpose. When education, learning, students and teachers are being diminished to numbers, algorithms and data, we may fail to connect the dots that so happens to be part of the holistic learning process and we end up valuing what we measure instead of measuring what we value. Then what good will it do, to have our schools equipped with the state-of-the-art technology, if we are not using it purposefully?
In the next post, I will elaborate more on purposeful use of technology in education related to learning analytics, values and measurements connected to ideas of ‘less is more’.
Aminah Ottosdotter Davidsson
Al Awar, Dr. M. (n.a.). Pioneering smart learning. Ellucian Europe, Middle East, Africa, India, and Asia Pacific. https://www.ellucian.com/emea-ap/insights/pioneering-smart-learning
Biesta, G. (2015, March 9). Gert Biesta: What really matters in education (VIA Univ.College). https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CLcphZTGejc
Cambridge Dictionary. (n.a). SMART | meaning in the Cambridge English Dictionary. https://dictionary.cambridge.org/dictionary/english/smart
Dua, A. (2018, May 16). Smart education is more than just advanced learning methods. YourStory.Com. https://yourstory.com/2018/05/smart-education-advanced-learning
Naughton, J. (2020, October 3). 03 | October | 2020 | Memex 1.1. https://memex.naughtons.org/date/2020/10/03/