Monday, September 07, 2009

5. Save time by using technology

My fifth goal for using technology in education was saving time. Word processing is a time-saver, compared with pens or typewriters (especially if your first drafts aren’t perfect). Course management systems made it easier to put course materials and activities on the Web. Smart phones save time when you need to look up facts.

But it quickly became apparent that ‘time-saving’ can be a mirage. The faster that technologies appear and disappear, the more frequently we must become novices again, mechanically following directions, fumbling, energy sapped by frustration.

And each time a new technology makes a learning activity easier, the older generation worries (correctly) that ‘time-saving’ can corrupt learning. Written language is a technology. Long ago, Socrates warned that reading removed the motivation for people to train their memories. And students could repeat what they'd read without actually understanding the meaning, fooling everyone (including themselves) into thinking they'd learned something. His warnings came true.

These worries have a moral edge, too. “When I was your age, I had to slog through the snow…” is a lament that the new generation lacks the spiritual strength and character developed by hard labor. The opening chapter of Morison's classic Men Machines and Modern Times recounts a bit of history that helps explain why professionals can resist a new technology, precisely because that technology would make their work easier, quicker, and safer.

So I counted 'time-saving' as a reason to invest in technology, but I didn’t have much respect for it. I wasn’t alone. In the 1990s, I heard many, many people moan that 'my institution has spent huge amounts of money on computing, and it’s only being used for word processing!’

What reasons are cited when your program buys new hardware or software for teaching and learning. How often is ‘saving time’ the #1 reason? Does your institution offer workshops for students or faculty with the title ‘How to use Technology to Save Time?’ Why, or why not? Please post your comments below by clicking the word "comments" just to the right of "Posted by Steve Ehrmann".

Tomorrow, I'll tell a story about an educational transformation, two decades ago, that happened because word processing saved time.

Print References
Morison, Elting E., Men, Machines and Modern Times, Cambridge, MA and London, England: MIT Press, 1966.

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