Technology – master or slave?

I was recently invited to an “Technology & Education” forum where there were many lively discussions about how to bring education into the digital age.

During one of these forums, a speaker talked about how he had learned that students were too shy to ask questions during class and his solution was to allow them to use their mobile phones to post anonymous questions via an app, which were then displayed onscreen to the entire class.

Before I knew it, I was on my feet, arms akimbo, saying “That’s a TERRIBLE idea!”

Heads swiveled.

I think I said something along the lines of this:

I talk to real world employers every single day. And one of their biggest concerns is that students (particularly in Singapore), just do not ask questions.

Asking questions. Having the courage to raise your hand and the humility to say “Well this may be a stupid question but…”. Getting used to the sensation of your heart leaping into your throat when you venture an idea. Taking ownership for your thoughts. All this is crucial to your future career.

Is our job as educators to pander to students by making life easier for them, or is it to push them out of their comfort zone, provoking them, challenging and stretching them while they’re still in the blessed relative safety of their University years?

It is tempting to jump on the tech bandwagon and I’m certainly a huge fan of using technology wisely. But we always have to consider what outcomes we’re aiming for, and what behaviours we want to model.

When does technology actually enhance the learning experience, or allow us to scale, and when is it merely convenient, or worse, a gimmick.

One way in which I love to use technology is in the form of a live word cloud.

Screen Shot 2017-07-14 at 9.50.58 PM.png

This is from one of my Roots & Wings workshops on developing a Growth Mindset.

Here we asked 150 students to whip out their mobile phones, log on to a website where they could anonymously enter one or two words about their own individual limiting belief;- what they felt would prevent them from achieving the success that they wanted in life.

This was an incredibly personal exercise, so being able to use technology to preserve confidentiality and encourage honesty was immensely useful.

In these workshops, it is always a powerful experience to watch the blank screen start to be populated by real, vulnerable limiting beliefs from the students in front of us, and to watch the words grow bigger onscreen as more students type in similar responses.

It never fails to blow me away, how in every class, the most popular response is a variation of “Not Good Enough” or “Not Smart Enough”, despite the fact that I work in, according to the rankings, Asia’s Number 1 University, and globally in the top 20.

Later on, when I do a debrief with the students, I ask them what it’s like to see this limiting beliefs wordcloud grow before their eyes.

I’ll never forget one student who said “I can’t believe that everyone here feels the same way. I’ve gone through 20 years thinking that I was the only one who felt like an imposter. It’s just incredibly liberating to feel…. normal.”

It’s a interesting, paradoxical experience. Standing in a room of young men and women where technology has created a safe, intimate space so that we can have more human and humane conversations.  Digital innovation need not be at odds with humanity, as long as we keep our eyes on the moon, not on the finger that points to the moon.



One Comment Add yours

  1. Pearly says:

    Having the courage to ask questions even if u think they sound stupid is part of learning. Being able to look someone the eye and admit you dont understand is fine. Better still its in a learning instituition. How many grave mistakes have been made when professionals do not have the humility to ask questions when they dont undertand something?

    Liked by 1 person

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