The Wise Tech Commandments

In 1995, before smartphones, high-speed Internet, Twitter, Facebook and Google, Albuquerque Academy, an independent school in New Mexico, appointed a Committee on Technology in Education.

I eat lunch today with Bruce Musgrave, Assistant Head of School for Academics at Palmer Trinity. I reminisce about how I spent the holidays, busy working on this blog. Discussion quickly moves to analyzing Lincoln, Steven Spielberg’s most recent work. We reflect on other great Civil War movies, and Mr. Musgrave mentions Glory, a wonderful film about the 54th Massachusetts Volunteer Infantry.

I always learn something new when chatting with Musgrave, who personifies a living, walking encyclopedia. But more importantly, he is a vivacious, dedicated, and immensely talented teacher. He has an undying love for his profession, and it’s no mystery why so many students absolutely revere him.

Mr. Musgrave invites me to his office to share a wonderful poem by Robert Lowell, titled, “For the Union Dead.” I’m taken aback by the author’s imagery, and I certainly plan to include the work into my American history curriculum.

But I’m blown away afterward. Mr. Musgrave tells me about how, 18 years ago, he chaired a committee at Albuquerque Academy on effective and ethical use of technology and education. He shares a 3-page report, which glistens with more pragmatism and clarity than most books published on the matter today.

Here is my take on just three gold nuggets:

“The aim of technological instruction should not be technology for its own sake.”

I couldn’t agree more, and I very much hope that this blog hasn’t conveyed anything different. With every fiber of my being, I disapprove of when anybody blindly jumps onto the technological bandwagon. Most intelligent individuals would agree (I hope), that before implementing any widespread program, schools must conduct a detailed, thoughtful survey.

Even after implementation, schools should frequently reassess how effectively technology assists in the teaching and learning process. If something doesn’t work, get rid of it. I’m still not sold on going one-on-one with the iPad, or any tablet computer. If you are an administrator thinking about making this move, follow Cushing Academy’s lead by adopting a pilot program.

“Increased responsibility on students for their own learning (autonomy).”

Educational technology can aim for no higher purpose—and it has never been easier for a student to seek free or inexpensive extra help. I adore Khan Academy and likeminded sites, which offer unrestricted vodcast tutorials on practically anything and everything.

More and more colleges and universities are also offering free massive open online courses, commonly referred to as MOOCS. If you are looking to enrich your learning experience, I urge you to check out Coursera, which has partnered with over 30 quality higher learning institutions, including Duke, Brown, Penn and Georgia Tech, to provide some truly amazing courses.

“Enhancing more substantive on task behavior for students (engagement)”

As educators, we have a responsibility to help students learn by engaging them with tools that they genuinely enjoy using. But we must be careful of the tail wagging the dog, or in this case rushing to use technology that offers more entertainment than instructional value.

But with recent research suggesting that even video games can assist in the learning process, perhaps I don’t know where to stand on “edutainment.” Last December, ABC published an interesting online story, titled, “The Benefits of Video Games.”

As mentioned earlier, research underway by the Office of Naval Research (ONR) indicates that video games can help adults process information much faster and improve their fundamental abilities to reason and solve problems in novel contexts. In fact, results from the ONR study show that video game players perform 10 percent to 20 percent higher in terms of perceptual and cognitive ability than non-game players.

“Easing of teachers’ clerical functions and increasing personal time with students.”

I’m horrible at math. I’m not just saying that. I’m bad. I mean, really, really bad. I am so incredibly thankful for learning community management systems, such as Edline, which record and calculate grade entries. I can’t imagine the alternative, and in all honesty, I don’t know if I would have coped before these platforms came along. With the click of a button, I love how easy it is to post updated averages. Without question, I wouldn’t be nearly as available without Edline.

Read the report.

As a coach, history and journalism teacher at Brimmer and May, a wonderful independent school in Chestnut Hill, Massachusetts, I have the absolute best job in the world. I am thrilled to get up every morning to engage with interesting young people, and I'm equally fortunate to have such amazing colleagues and mentors. As the founder of Spin Education, I encourage you to check-in frequently and submit posts and lessons—all in an effort to better our practice as teachers.

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