Tech for tech's sake

I’ve never been the ‘techiest’ of teachers. To be fair, it has always seemed to me that whenever I used a piece of technology in class, be it an app, a gadget, a website, or a digital game, my students would forget the outside world, their peers, the subject at hand, me, and focus solely on the tech. This inability of mine to include tech tools symbiotically in class might have swerved my perspective on technology to a heavily biased one. Against it. So, take the ideas in this article with a grain of salt, will you?


I’m the kind of teacher who loves getting students in big circles for discussions, debates, sharing, contrasting - ultimately - talking to each other. I am a firm believer that learning happens in interaction and that a lesson is the result of a quite simple, though freighted in its own idiosyncrasies, equation: students + teacher = lesson, everything else is optional. This is, to me, the quintessence of education. I have this dream of reaching a level of command of methodologies and the English language that I’ll be able to teach students at the park, with nothing but a white board on a canvas’ stand and notebooks. Socrates style. In that sense, it might have already become clear to you, dear reader, that technology was, and still is, to me, an obstacle, an unnecessary hurdle between my students and me.


I write this to share with you my very personal (and possibly biased) perspective on the surge of tech tools, or at least the surge in the search for the shiniest tech tool around. To me, technology comes to solve a problem. Humankind wanted a faster way to carry goods around, hence the invention of the wheel. We wanted to have movies at our disposal and stop piracy, hence streaming apps. This seems like a very logical line of thought when looking for a piece of tech online: you have a problem, you look for a solution to that problem. However, this doesn’t seem to be the way tech is being looked for nowadays.


I know that being thrust into online teaching has contributed to the skyrocketing demand of tech tools for the classroom. However, I’m yet to figure out whether this increase in demand is a symptom or a crutch. Allow me to elaborate on that in the following paragraphs.


If we look at this amplified demand as a symptom of the moment we’re going through now, we’d advocate that because we are teaching online more than ever, we need digital tools to emulate, or rather, redesign our face to face classroom interactions in the online environment. Fair enough. We have a clear obstacle, a necessity, and technology is swooping in in a red cape to save the day. Kudos.


On the other hand, if we don’t know for sure what our needs are and don’t know exactly what gap, what divide we need bridging, we might be looking for tech to bridge another kind of gap: a human one. If we’re looking for tech tools as we would look for a new gadget at an Apple store, we might be trying to bridge a gap not meant to be bridged by technology, be it hardware or software. To quote a colleague of mine, Tamires Gama, we might be looking for ‘liveware’. Thus, substituting the ‘human touch’, as cliché as that may read, for a shiny tech tool, might just not cut it.


What I mean to say by this is that using technology in class must be purposeful, otherwise it might just take over the lesson and have students having a brilliant dev demonstration in place of a humanistic class with meaningful, thoughtful interaction with peers and teachers. Arguably the kind of interaction o