Education and Technology, a Chat with Professor David Kritt

David Kritt is with us today. David is an assistant professor at CUNY Staten Island. He has written the book Education and Technology: Critical Perspective, Possible Futures, a examination of the effects technology has in promoting certain values and cognitive skills in children. David is with us today to share his views on how technology is impacting education.
1) What inspired you to write Education and Technology?
Education and Technology: Critical Perspectives, Possible Futures emerged from a number of concerns about the disappointing typical uses of technology in schools. Larry Cuban addressed them in his way in Oversold and Underused, but I wanted to develop the issue in a different way, emphasizing cognitive, social, and cultural bases of learning and computer use. My co-editor, Terry Winegar, and I were confident that this focus would suggest potentials that are obscured by the current domination of educational technology by people with technical and
commercial interests. We hoped to shed some light on better uses, in classrooms and out. For example, in our book, an author reports on uses of computers by high school students to aid in design of model race cars. Another writes about using technology to help preserve ancient cultural wisdom, paradoxical as that might seem. Two artists, one who uses multimedia, the other who teaches with clay, present contrasting ways of using a medium for expression.
We wanted to offer an appraisal of the values and cognitive skills technology promotes and those it devalues. When we were met from some quarters with insistence that such debates had been won long ago and did not merit further consideration, we became even more convinced that was precisely what was needed: a continuing dialogue on how computers contribute to and how they divert us from attaining the goal of a better educated citizenry.

2) What makes the current generation of students different from others in terms of technology?
They’re different because they have grown up with information and communication technologies. Adults over 30 or so did not have the same sort of early immersion; the media ecology was very different. For example, print newspapers, which often offer more sustained treatments than online news sources, are now an endangered species. One unfortunate outcome I have seen is an emphasis on collecting information, a sort of research by pastiche, rather than deep understanding and analysis. Several authors have raised questions about media-induced changes in attention span. The fast-paced, slick surfaces of many sources of information seem to discourage thoughtful reflection.
3) How can technology change education?
Technology is not a neutral medium. It encourages certain types of thought and discourages others. That is the most important thing to bear in mind if we want to use it effectively to teach particular subject matter.
Some folks seem all too ready to worship all things technological. Clickers and Twitter are embraced as necessary for capturing the interest of the younger generation. Meanwhile, both teachers and publishers complain that nobody reads books anymore. It is wrong to idealize the past as some sort of golden age – students always found ways to avoid reading lengthy novels, and more people read pulp fiction of various sorts than great literature. The pertinent question seems to be how to revisit, in a deep way, what it means to be educated, how it has changed, and what values from the past should be preserved, all to facilitate human potential.

4) What is the biggest obstacle in integrating technology in education?
I see the question somewhat differently. It is not a matter of integrating technology into education, but rather one of determining how technology can truly contribute to nurturing a population that is not only better informed, but which is also more reflective and thoughtful. Some early pioneers, such as Seymour Papert, were primarily concerned with using computer technology to deepen problem solving and analytic skills. The best applications of technology help students understand basic principles.
I would like to see more educational software development that starts with a focus on how children, adolescents, and adults think and learn, rather than what a programmer can do or what might be marketable. This is admittedly idealistic, but essential to fulfilling the potential of information and communication technologies for both formal and informal learning, in schools and out.
5) What are some of the potential consequences of failing to understand the interaction between
education and technology?

Too many administrators are concerned with keeping up with technology. Having all the latest equipment and software is a very tangible goal, well appreciated by both funders and parents, but too often, teachers are in the position of constantly having to keep up with the latest developments. Recent studies on computer use at home, by Vigdor & Ladd, and by Malamud & Pop-Eleches, reported in The New York Times on July 9, 2010, suggest that an emphasis on computers in urban schools may only increase facility with technology, not knowledge or understanding of subject matter. It is obvious that a blind faith in the technology is not warranted.
There is insufficient understanding of the different cognitive emphases involved in say, creating a video and writing an essay. And there is insufficient understanding of the process of proceeding from initial awareness of phenomena (e.g., cell division or economic factors contributing to the U.S. Civil War) to deep understanding. Often, this requires sophisticated coordination of two types of knowledge: knowing how and knowing that. Education is something quite different than being able to access a great deal of information. Unfortunately, the technology can create the illusion it is not.
Thanks for the interview David. Again, you can find his book Education and Technology on Amazon here. For more information on democratizing online education, see Udemy’s main website here.