I am a sucker for gadgets. My kitchen closet is full of ‘em: a quesadilla maker, a cappuccino machine, a mini food processor, a mandolin slicer, a slow cooker, a panini press. And I am not even that much of a cook. But the gadgets make me look like an authentic Iron Chef straight out of Hell’s Kitchen.
It’s an image I never set out to create, but one I don’t actively discourage, either. If my family and friends want to believe my Bootlegger’s Beef tastes better because the food processor chopped the carrots, who I am to disappoint them?
Technology has created a whole new class of power tools for teachers, too, exciting new teaching accessories that guarantee engagement and higher test scores. The Smartboard is the centerpiece of the 21st century classroom, taking kids to places they might otherwise never visit. We have desktops and laptops. Like looking at yourself looking in a mirror looking in a mirror, kids can link from site to site to site.
As a self-professed gadgeteer, I embrace the concept of instructional technology. It’s OK that I don’t always know how the magic happens. But if a kid can hear Langston Hughes reciting “The Negro Speaks of Rivers,” if a child can click on an icon and suddenly be in the Secret Annex, if a class can share the pride of video production,the how takes a back seat to the moment.
But the technology is still only as good as the teacher who uses it. The most impressive arsenal of educational gadgetry won’t improve instruction if the technology is just for show, if the lessons are someone else’s brainchild. Technology can’t be an add-on intended simply to shock and awe. We cannot allow ourselves to be so taken by our gadgets that we attribute them with powers they don’t have.
Just as my food processor can’t create and serve a meal, technology alone cannot drive curriculum. There’s a commercial style stand mixer on the counter and the stainless steel appliances can be programmed to speak in five languages. But blueberry muffins made with rotten fruit aren’t going to be all that tasty. Putting an inexperienced cook in a restaurant kitchen can’t guarantee an enjoyable dining experience.
Rather, computers, tablets, Smartboards must be organically embedded in instruction. Not every lesson will necessarily lend itself to technological enhancement and we have to accept that this is OK. The best instruction is varied.
The best instruction starts and ends with humanity. Like being a good host, being an effective educator requires smarts and savvy and dexterity and poise. It’s about knowing what gadgets you need and setting the table. It’s about making dinner guests feel welcome and comfortable.