Technology vs Pedagogy – a false dichotomy! by @Love_DA

The debate around technology and pedagogy is often framed as one of mutual, and inevitable progress. Adopt new technologies, the refrain goes, and you will see a turn from teacher-centred to learner-centred pedagogies! From Apple Classrooms of Tomorrow to the various United Nations frameworks and the popular SAMR model, the aim of introducing technology in the classroom is said to be to drag teaching towards Constructivist learning practices. This approach has a number of problems. Chief among these is that it assumes that teachers are the problem. Add technology to the mix and it will loosen the hold teachers have on the classroom and unlock learning, which is somehow being impeded by teaching. Teachers are blamed for either being slow to adopt technology in the classroom or of doing it wrong!

But is teaching really the problem? There is no logical contradiction between teaching and learning. It is a false dichotomy. Yes, many teachers do talk too much, and there is plenty of bad teaching going on. But a belief in Constructivist learning theories does not remove the need for teaching, even for instruction. I would argue that an effective classroom involves good teaching and good learning. Constructivism describes how students learn, but how teachers teach is logically distinct. Put another way, just because I learn by constructing knowledge in my mind does not mean that the most efficient way I receive the information may not be a lecture or a book which tells me things. What good teachers tend to do is strike the balance so that they are able to scaffold learning efficiently and deliver content when it is needed.

So a much better question is not really about how technology should side-line teachers or move from teacher to learner-centred approaches, but how teachers can use technology to more effectively scaffold learning and improve instruction when that is necessary.

Framing the problem in this way may seem purely playing semantics, but by removing the stigma attached to teaching, I believe it is a necessary nuance which needs spelling out. Anyone who has ever taught with computers will know that the machine becomes a very real presence in the room which does push the teacher to the side. Student gaze is directed at the screen. The teacher becomes a support intervention. And yet this does not mean an automatic strengthening of learning. Machines may be very poor teachers and provide little or no opportunities for Constructivist learning. When the assumption is made that the introduction of computers in education will automatically lead to more active learning, what is really meant is that teachers will be side-lined and it is assumed that this will lead to more effective learning. This view is facile. The aim is noble, but there is little evidence that this is what actually happens.

We need to be very clear that an effective classroom is one in which effective meaning-making activities are going on. Knowledge is being constructed and deconstructed in meaningful ways. The pedagogy being deployed is not important. Neither is the technology. The purpose of pedagogy and technology is to effectively support meaning making. Whether or not pedagogies and technologies achieve this depends on how they are deployed and to what purpose. If the aim is to deliver content efficiently, a lecture can be the most effective choice. If the aim is to get students to explore their reactions to some text a lecture would be a disastrous choice. Teachers know this and are very eclectic. Teachers, good ones anyway, are seldom wedded to any particular pedagogy, but take a pick and mix approach depending on what they are trying to do.

The issue is thus not one of pedagogy vs technology and which one trumps the other, but how educational technologies and pedagogies support learning in the classroom. Teachers are darn right to be suspicious of new technologies, and the right to be cautious! They are also right to reject the notion that only one set of pedagogies are correct! What is actually important is the learning, and how best to teach to support that learning.

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About Dorian Love 2 Articles
ICT, Thinking Skills & English teacher at Roedean School in Johannesburg. Passionate about thinking, educational technology and teaching.
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