In an April 1 post on NEA Today entitled Laptops Are Not Teachers, author Tim Walker pits technology against teachers. He talks about the state’s plan to “cut teachers’ jobs, salaries, and increase class size.” This post isn’t intended to weigh-in on the debate in Idaho. As a former union president and teacher, I certainly value the work of teachers. Unfortunately, Walker seems to be attempting to make his point by devaluing technology. The entire post highlights many of the commonly held beliefs that some educators have about technology. I’ve hand picked some of those statements from the article that I’d like to address.
You simply cannot replace a teacher with a laptop
Although this is a good sound bite, I think this is extremely rare in most schools. It is certainly possible that online courses could eventually eliminate some teaching positions, but even in those cases there is still a teacher. In actuality, a school may replace a face-to-face teacher with an online teacher. For some schools this means increased efficiency and wider course offerings.
Replacing experienced educators with online classes is undoubtedly a risky move, especially since the rush to do is not founded on reliable research.
It is worth noting that a report for the Department of Education came to the conclusion that “On average, students in online learning conditions performed better than those receiving face-to-face instruction.” Sure, the research cited may not be the golden standard for research, but it certainly is better than the “gut feeling” that online learning can’t match face-to-face instruction.
Specifically, online classes and digital tools could undercut the need to take students’ individual learning styles into account. Any benefits new technology may bring would then be overshadowed by the damage done to student learning and the teaching profession.
Many online educators would argue that online learning more easily allows for individualized instruction. I also think that it is worth noting that if you take online learning out of the conversation, many educators would also argue that our traditional schools are doing a poor job differentiating instruction.
My point in this post isn’t to say technology should replace teachers. Unfortunately, the NEA article in response to Idaho schools Superintendent Tom Luna’s reform effort made this debate about computers versus teachers. In that effort, the article misses the mark by embracing some of the technology myths mentioned above that are questionable at best.