Technology: Avoid, Embrace, Control, Paradox, or Transform?

I recently finished teaching a course called Engaging American Culture where we studied how Christians should interact with a culture that is often times at odds with our faith (non-Christian friends, stick with me, I promise this is about technology). One of the resources we use is Richard Niebuhr’s book “Christ and Culture” in which he gives five categories that Christians have historically fallen into. About halfway through the course I realized that Niebuhr’s categories almost perfectly describe the current debate about the use of technology in education:

Reject Technology

What it looks like: No interactive whiteboards, no computer lab, no laptops, no iPads, no cellphones to be seen. Not many schools on this end of the spectrum, but there are pockets of resistance; we all know some teachers who love this idea.

Why you’d do it: To focus on traditional, “old school” education; You have no technology budget.

You might be a Reject school if: You’re Amish.

Embrace Technology

What it looks like: The other end of the spectrum, teachers and students alike using interactive whiteboards, laptops, tablets, smart phones constantly.

Why you’d do it: To be on the cutting edge of education; To sell yourself as being on the cutting edge of education; You have money to burn.

You might be an Embrace school if: You pioneered one of the nation’s first 1 to 1 programs; Magazines and newspapers routinely call for interviews.

Control Technology

What it looks like: Computer labs and a strict no personal electronic devices during the school day policy.

Why you’d do it: You can’t have no technology but you also can’t have kids using technology unsupervised; You can sell yourself as being a high-tech yet safe learning environment.

You might be a Control school if: You’re paranoid; Every teacher and student knows the name of your filtering software; You’ve ever discussed in a faculty meeting the possibility of cellphone jammers like they have in prisons.

Technology Paradox

What it looks like: Every student has a school-provided email address but they are not allowed to check email during the school day. Students may bring their own devices but they can’t log-in to the network. Some teachers expect students to find information on their cell phones while other teachers confiscate them. Computer labs running only Microsoft Office on Windows 95.

Why you’d do it: You didn’t really plan it this way, it just sort of happened; You can’t figure out an elegant way to combine education and technology; You have about half of the technology budget you need.

You might be a Paradox school if: Let’s not kid ourselves, we’re all Paradox schools to some extent.

Transform Technology (theoretical):

What it would look like: The use of technology integrated into appropriate subject areas for the sake of learning, not for the sake of technology itself. Students and teachers alike encouraged and supported in finding new ways of teaching and learning with technology. Students taught how to avoid the pitfalls of technology while at the same time leveraging it to learn more efficiently, to be a more effective life-long learner, to be a productive member of society, and find solutions to the world’s problems.

Why you’d do it: Why wouldn’t you do this?

You might become a Transform school if: You find the right mix of passionate, concerned, informed, and capable administrators, teachers, students, and parents.

I think if we’re honest with ourselves, we all have Control and Paradox tendencies.  But, in case you haven’t guessed, I’m a big proponent of Transform (both for technology and Christianity.)


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