When is Educational Technology Appropriate?
The appropriateness of educational technology must be carefully evaluated upon its selection. The simplest solution that meets all the learning criteria is usually the best. Some technologies may not always be the best or most appropriate solution for certain situations. For example, a teacher sharing class updates may find a blog is a more appropriate tool that reaches the intended audience, and meets the goals of communication better than a newsletter that gets stuffed in an elementary student’s backpack and tends to be left forgotten in a pile on an office desk (assuming the newsletter makes it home at all). Another teacher may find that not enough of their students’ parents own a computer, rendering a paper newsletter the more viable solution.
The law can also determine what is appropriate. Copyright and fair use laws must be followed. Educators should also be aware of what is culturally and socially appropriate. Racial or sexually offensive language should not be included in instructional materials. Students must be aware that there are real-world consequences when they abuse technological systems. Safety issues, public concerns, and legalities may hinder the adoption of some technologies that contain educational value. Allowing access to YouTube, for instance, is a hotly-debated topic in many schools, since this site contains undeniable educational potential. There are numerous instructional videos on YouTube, but also a wide range of controversial material most parents would not want their children viewing.
Some teachers see no redeeming value to collaborative authoring tools such as wikis or Google Docs, or think that if they have a Facebook account, their students will inevitably use it against them. Some parents refuse to allow their children to use the Internet in school, because they don’t understand the academic advantage, and don’t share the vision of encouraging responsible, appropriate Internet usage. Many educators lack even basic awareness of educational technologies, let alone their appropriateness.
One issue I’m concerned about is where we’re headed with our enforcement of appropriate usage among K-12 students. Most schools have some sort of filtering software that prevents students from accessing inappropriate sites on the Internet. I support this, but I believe many educators consider this a solution when it’s really just a bandage. Students with ill intent will routinely try — and succeed — to find ways around any filter set up to keep them out. Also, with the way mobile trends are heading, it’s only a matter of time before nearly every student has an advanced smart phone with a data plan, which will render all school Internet filters useless. Banning cell phones typically has the effect of driving them underground in schools.
I believe it’s the responsibility of educators to help students understand appropriate usage of technology, encourage responsibility in using the resources with which students are provided, and stay alert of possible misuse. This is a crucial component that is missing from many educational environments. A conversation has to occur on two fronts: (1) educators must be aware of the technologies, their benefits, and the potential dangers and abuses, and (2) parents should know what technology tools their children are using, and be informed of the educational potential of these tools.
Educators and parents are the ones who elect the legislators that pass laws concerning student safety in our schools. If they do not understand the difference between encouraging appropriate usage, and banning any potentially offensive technology, we will see an increase in filtered sites, decrease the access to sites with learning potential, and relinquish the opportunity to teach students educational value for many emerging tools.