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Multiple Metaphors - The Promise And Perils Of Technology In Science
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What are your views on 'educational technology'?

If there was ever a potential oxymoron, or a phrase to strike cheer or terror into the heart of a teacher, one of the nominees would surely be educational technology.

Depending on the strength of your historical or mythological understandings, technology may have the potential of Aladdin's lamp, the promise of Tutankhamun's tomb or the perils of Pandora's box! But technology is neither a magic remedy to all our ills, the realisation of golden splendour nor the residency of all the world's evils. It is somewhere in the middle.

Few tools have had the potential to create such polarity amongst teachers. Technology is loved or hated, over-utilised or underwhelming. Problems with technology are viewed either as a normal part of using a complex tool or a conspiracy designed to strike at our weakest moments with our most difficult classes.

Technology can certainly provide teachers with a relevant delivery mechanism and an elegant resource. Powerpoint slide shows can demonstrate how students can organise notes into a series of key words or phrases. They can display animations of processes too small (atomic level) or too large (astronomic level) for students to see in laboratories. They can be used to interact with the material in a way not easily replicated on either a white board, chalkboard or over head projector.

Spreadsheets can quickly and easily demonstrate the difference between displaying a set of data in a line graph format or a histogram format, allowing a purposeful discussion of the difference between continuous and discontinuous data to occur.

Palm pilots can group students in a problem solving quartet that gives them real time information and sharing as they move around their school in a virtual learning space.

Mobile phones offer even greater promise; the ubiquitous technology all students have and all schools want students to have. The apps are getting better, the platforms less distinct and the comfort levels with this type of technology are already sky-high. Why then have mobile phones not become the teacher's favourite tool. Why instead do most teachers insist that students put their mobile phones away?

Sometimes the things we most dislike ar ethe things we dislike about ourselves. HOw distracting do we find our own mobile phones? How often do we use them 'inappropriately' (eg while driving, sitting in a restaurant, cinema or theatre or even during a lecture or professional development session)? Is this why we are reluctant to have our students take out their mobile phones in our classrooms?

We make plenty of gender jokes about multi-tasking but perhaps our latest mini-evolutionary advance is the ability to multi-task. Perhaps we are becoming a society that can talk and text, walk and read a gps, drive and reset the favourites playlist? Perhaps.

Or perhaps as teachers, one of the many roles we now have, whether we like it or deserve it or not, is to teach students about the responsible use of technology and about their own ability to multitask, before one of them runs a car off the road while texting a friend.

Schools have always been a place where the hidden curriculum is more important than the actual curriculum. Responsible use of the modern educational technology tools is just another arena where the world is looking to teachers to lead the next generation. Are we up for the challenge?


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