Our theme for the month of March is “Ask the post calvin.” We’re taking on questions submitted by readers and offering our best advice.

Dear the post calvin,

I’m a teacher, and I know a lot of you are teachers or grad students. How do you feel about the use of technology in education these days? I’m a techie, but I’m starting to see some of the problems with doing everything electronically and/or online. There are always pros and cons, I know, but I’m just wondering if you’ve seen mostly positive or mostly negative effects. And what ways do you use tech effectively?

Sincerely,
Teched Out Teacher

Dear Teched Out,

Technology really is a sticky wicket, or sticky widget I suppose, particularly if we are referring to classroom computers. It seems like as long as computers and the internet have been part of our world, someone has been shouting that they will blow our minds while someone else warns  they will melt our brains. And certainly, the arguments for and against technology change considerably based on the age of the students in the classroom.

Because life is so connected through technology, it becomes increasingly difficult, and perhaps ill-advised to exclude technology from the classroom. I am an advocate for “real world education”—teaching with methods and materials that replicate experiences in the adult world. The real world is diverse, global, technical. Thus, education which best prepares students should introduce them to a diverse, global, technical environment in safe, positive, constructive ways. Perhaps one reason “adulting” has appeared in our vocabulary is that the transition between child and adult responsibilities and environments is abrupt, a sort of culture shock.

The ability to use technology also has a large, mostly untapped potential to extend the classroom. Technology like Smart Boards or online classes can bring people of diverse backgrounds, ages, and nationalities into the same classroom where once students interacted mostly with people of their age and zip code.

Particularly in high school and college, then, technology, especially those programs and devices relevant to professional careers, should be introduced, allowing students to acclimate and become skilled. But even beyond mere acclimation, young minds are too often treated like buckets to be filled, when, in fact, an individual’s capacity to do good and effect change does not begin when they have a full brain bucket at twenty or thirty, or whenever they “finish” their education.

Students are often portrayed as at the mercy of technology. And I wonder if that is because the technologies the young have the easiest access to are passive, scrollable, entertaining, consumable. In a safe environment, led by wise counselors, even the young can begin to use the tools they can grasp to be constructive. Let’s teach the young to edit photos, to mix sound, to write code, to invent, to build, to solve problems.  Technology creates.

Interestingly, I often find it is the creative people,  humanities majors and academics, and generally bookish people, who are the most technology-adverse.

The sharp divide between the arts and the sciences grows more pronounced through high school and college, and both technology and technological literacy rapidly bleed out of the humanities classroom. Humanities classrooms deal in writing and discussions and rarely feature any more advanced technology than a PowerPoint. STEM classrooms deal in lectures and labs.

And because we define STEM as totally different from humanities, we compel kids to choose early whether they are going to be creative or make money. I’m not sure which camp drew the line in the sand, but to all my creatives out there, I’m telling you from the job-hunt trenches—it will be our undoing.

Embracing technology in education is the key to the survival of The Humanities, and literally the survival of humanities majors.

Technology is increasingly vital to all careers. The real world of humanities depends on technology. English majors should be taught HTML and be database wizards. From libraries, to publishing houses, to professional writing positions in non-profits and corporations, the word world demands more than proficiency in Microsoft Office. Visual artists will find that digital programs are used to produce the vast majority of book illustrations, posters, calendars etc. Even fine artists will benefit from web design and photo-editing skills to best showcase their work online. Historians and scholars of all kinds depend more and more on digital archives, and A.I. technology will certainly change research practices in years to come. Many museums are implementing interactive technology on-site and online to enhance the visitor experience. Indeed, in any field, the internet is simply the best tool to inform or gain support from the public.

The reality of the world is that more and more jobs, especially the kinds jobs humanities majors look for after college require technological fluency. And because the arts and humanities, particularly the more academic branches, inhabit the non-profit space, the artist, historian, and philosopher will find themselves wearing many hats, many of them related to technology, as they work to build that vital connection to the public.

The bigger idea here is that curiosity runs through circuits now. If you want to know something, you google it. Whether you are missing a skill to qualify for your dream job and are looking for an online course, have recently discovered your passion for quantum physics, or are simply curious about the overhead costs of raising bees, the more you know about your technology and how it works, the better answers you will get. Easily accessible inquiry is, I believe, education’s end. And the fact that technology rewards inquiry with immediate gratification makes it easy and pleasant for the brain to be curious. That, at the risk of enabling the centuries of time we as a society have surely devoted to cat videos, is worthwhile.

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