Technology and the Work of Knowing

There’s no question about the benefits of using technology to support teaching and learning. It’s efficient, it prepares students for college and careers, and at its best, it allows for personalization. There’s also no shortage of challenges. We spend a lot of time worrying about the time students can waste on technology, or whether they are accessing appropriate content. These are real and legitimate concerns, and we’ve struggled a lot with the question of how to address them in ways that are consistent with our principles.

But there’s a deeper problem too, one that educators probably don’t spend enough time on: sometimes the efficiency that technology provides short-circuits the learning that needs to happen.

A couple of months back, The Atlantic ran a fascinating article about how technology could be undercutting the development of professional competence. The author, Nicholas Carr argued that doing things slowly, manually, inefficiently, may be central to building expertise. 

Whether it’s a pilot on a flight deck, a doctor in an examination room, or an Inuit hunter on an ice floe, knowing demands doing. One of the most remarkable things about us is also one of the easiest to overlook: each time we collide with the real, we deepen our understanding of the world and become more fully a part of it. While we’re wrestling with a difficult task, we may be motivated by an anticipation of the ends of our labor, but it’s the work itself—the means—that makes us who we are. Computer automation severs the ends from the means. It makes getting what we want easier, but it distances us from the work of knowing.

We are basically a paperless school; technology is everywhere. But we’re also thinking a lot about when and how to unplug, to make sure we remain immersed in “the work of knowing.”