Thursday, May 21, 2015

Effective teachers use technology to stimulate motivation

Last update: Thursday 5/21/15
The author of a recent op ed published in the Chronicle (5/20/15) warns us that technology has been grossly oversold to educators, that technology cannot improve learning unless learners are sufficiently motivated. Otherwise investments in ed tech are a waste of money that may widen the education gaps between the well motivated haves and the poorly motivated have nots.

As I read the op ed I found myself getting angrier and angrier ... then sadder and sadder that there might be the remotest chance that significant decision makers could be influenced by such fallacious pessimism. Ultimately I felt sorry for the author because his career as a tech educator has evidently deprived him of one of the most gratifying experiences enjoyed by competent educators who use technology to teach technology. Yes, students who are more highly motivated will probably learn more than students who aren't. But good teachers can use technology to stimulate their students' motivations.

Anyone who has ever looked at photos on Twitter of the happy, smiling faces of kids at the end of hackthons and workshops run by Black Girls Code, YesWeCode, Qeyno Labs, C/I, and Blue1647 knows what the kids are saying to themselves:
"Wow! That was fun! I didn't know that I could do that. But if I can do that, I can do a - n - y - t - h - i - n - g!!!"
Unfortunately, this sword cuts both ways, but more often than not it has cut against Black students. Whereas effective teachers use technology to stimulate their students' motivation, ineffective teachers can use technology to kill motivation. Lacking sufficient technical competence and passion for the game, they bore their Black students into terminal states of inattention. Black students are more susceptible to this kind of suffocation because they have fewer offsetting tech role models and mentors in their families and among friends of their families than white students.

That's why I have mixed feelings about the extraordinary success of Code.org in its nation-wide quest to ensure that all students all over the country have the opportunity to learn how to code and thereby acquire the computational thinking skills that coding nurtures. Code.org is working top down, persuading governors, mayors, school superintendents and other administrators to revise the curricula of entire schools systems to include coding and other computer science courses at all levels. IMHO it is imperative that Code.org and other organizations with similar agendas achieve their objectives. That's the good news.

The bad news is that the bulk of these new computer courses will be taught by the same teachers who have failed to use technology to motivate Black students to learn math, science, and engineering in times past. Without the kinds of technically competent, passionate, and caring mentors and role models provided by Black Girls Code and other grass roots coding organizations, White students will move ahead in computer science and Black students will fall further behind ... just as the pessimistic author of the Chronicle op ed has predicted.