When we speak about 21st century K-12 education and the integration of technology, we need to take care not to create the misimpression we mean the use of passive technology.    We do not  need digital projectors in order to better  projecting powerpoints onto screens (whether or not they are smart or dumb screens).  It is about using techology for active learning, not passive learning; about putting digital tools in the hands of our students to empower them to collect, analyze, and communicate information.

I am sparked here by an article in the Chronicle of Higher Ed. which seems to be bouncing around the educational blogosphere.  In it, a Dean at SMU announces his plan to require teachers to “teach naked” by banning computers from his classroom.  (The video above is an interview with Dean Bowen. )  Research cited here includes this nuggett: “59 percent of students in a new survey reported that at least half of their lectures were boring, and that PowerPoint was one of the dullest methods they saw.”  No argument here.  Bowen is admirably passionate that classtime be used for more active student learning: questioning, discussing, debating ideas with their professors.

But, and I am borrowing here from a brief note at DigitalEducation blog and the angry riposte at Teach Paperless, as correct as Bowen is in arguing against lectures and against powerpoint, banning computers from the classroom seems to misunderstand that digital tools can also immensely help students become more, not less, active in their learning.   Yes, students can discuss and debate with their teachers and classmates, but they also need to be using time to research the topic more deeply and seeking alternate viewpoints, and confirming or refuting data to support the assertion.  They need to be inquiring, sending emails or texts to others in the field they are studying, and they need to be brainstorming and forming their own impressions in writing or other formats.   All of which, computers in the classroom make more, not less, effective.

To quote Teach Paperless,

I’m all for getting rid of PowerPoint. I haven’t used the damn thing in years. But, please, Mr. Bowen, have the tact to distinguish between passive and active technologies.  It’s not tech vs. no tech. It’s active tech vs. passive tech.  And if you don’t know the difference, just raise your hand and ask. If it’s discussion and engagement you are looking for, there are plenty of social technologies that will enhance conversation and learning in any class. In fact, there are plenty of teachers using these technologies everyday in fantastic ways.  Social technologies empower teachers and students. Access to the Web and its information and communication features is vital to education, not a hindrance. Don’t throw the baby out with the bathwater. What I’d suggest is that you let you teachers keep their smart classrooms and start investing time into teaching them how to integrate social and participatory media into their teaching.  Get engaged with what’s going on.

The other claim in the Chronicle is that students initially resist the “naked classroom;” not because they long for their digital tools, but because they prefer to be passive, to sit and listen:

The biggest resistance to Mr. Bowen’s ideas has come from students, some of whom have groused about taking a more active role during those 50-minute class periods. The lecture model is pretty comfortable for both students and professors, after all, and so fundamental change may be even harder than it initially seems….Strangely enough, the people who are most resistant to this model are the students, who are used to being spoon-fed material that is going to be quote unquote on the test,” says Mr. Heffernan. “Students have been socialized to view the educational process as essentially passive. The only way we’re going to stop that is by radically refiguring the classroom in precisely the way José wants to do it.””

This is entirely a valid concern, and we in K-12 education recognize it too– that our students are socialized to watch, not act, in their learning.  But, there are three immediate responses.  One, we K-12 educators must do the hard work in precollegiate education to unsocialize students from this preference, to ensure when they get to college they expect and thrive in active learning.  Two, our K-12 students are less passive than their predecessors of a generation ago, because they are growing up playing video games (relatively) more actively than their parents, who were watching TV.   Third, and contrary to Bowen’s analysis in this article, his students are partly bored not because he has banned powerpoint, but because he has limited their utility of the incredibly engaging and powerful tools that will make their learning much more exciting– their digital tools.  And let’s not make the same mistake.  Ban powerpoint, yes, but replace it with an embrace, not rejection, of digital tools.