Ask any educator, technology is an enabler. Used properly, it enhances curriculum. However, if improperly implemented, technology can have many different negative effects on education and students. One of those negative effects can be isolation.
Connector or Isolator?
Whether or not technology connects us or isolates us is a very complex topic of discussion. With one click of the mouse, an individual can be connected to someone on the other side of the world. The two parties can converse, interact, discuss, and socialize. Basically, they can engage in typical social interactions despite being across the world from one another. Wouldn’t that fact alone make the strongest argument for technology being a connector? If only it was that easy.
Today, many educators would argue that students are too connected to their devices. Instead of connecting face-to-face, many students interact on their devices as well as face-to-face. At lunch, in the halls, on the bus—you will see many students, some in groups, with their faces in their devices. They are often engaging in the social activity, but just in a different way. That begs the question: if there is the opportunity for face-to-face interaction and an individual choose to interact socially on their device, are they isolated? Depends on your definition of interaction, isolation, and socialization.
As someone who has spent the last six years in the classroom with high school aged students, I can say that I am often concerned with how much time is spent socializing on devices rather than in person. I often believe that I should be limiting technology in my practice because students obviously have enough tech time on their own and would benefit from being device-free for a while. However, forcing students to disconnect and go device free is not an easy job. Furthermore, am I just isolating them even more if I pull them away from their main form of socialization? Are people these days more isolated?
Tech as Isolator
Research points out that people today are more isolated. Social networks formed via technology are weaker (although broader and more diverse) than those formed in more traditional physical settings (neighborhoods, voluntary associations, public spaces etc.). These digitally formed networks tend to be more superficial and less involved than more traditional networks that may have been formed prior to recent developments in technology (Hampton, Goulet, Her, & Rainie, 2009).
Technology does not always provide a richer learning environment. Often, technology is misused in the classroom and this misuse leads to negative consequences. Recent research from the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) suggests that student performance improves when technology is used in moderation, however, overexposure causes educational outcomes to drop.
According to the OECD, educators are still playing catch-up when it comes to enabling our practice with technology. Specifically, the OECD states “adding 21st-century technologies to 20th-century teaching practices will just dilute the effectiveness of teaching.” As an educator who actively tries to integrate technology into my practice, this makes my head spin. I wonder: when will the pedagogy catch up with the technology? Will it ever?
Tech as Connector
As stated earlier, this is a very complex topic. Yes, technology has the ability to isolate us, but it also has the ability to connect us. I think it is very important, as an educator, to understand that technology has the ability to isolate, but also understand that technology has the incredible ability to bring marginalized groups or individuals together. As someone who has experienced first-hand the power of technology to bring learning communities together, I have a hard time simply classifying technology as either a connector or an isolator. I believe it has the power to do both and, as educators, we need to be aware of this and harness the power of technology to enable, not isolate our students.
When it comes to collaboration, technology is key. The majority of the time, when we think of collaboration, we think of students working in groups on a project. However, collaboration can happen in a variety of spaces, not just the classroom. Collaboration can happen with the help of applications such as Google Docs, Microsoft’s OneDrive, Dropbox etc. Why limit students to brick and mortar environments for collaboration? I would argue that expanding the environments enriches the learning experience.
Whether or not we as educators will ever catch up to technology when it comes to practice and pedagogy is next to impossible to know. All we can do is be mindful and knowledgeable in our practice. Teachers need to be life-long learners and with a life-long learning mindset, we are at least trying to catch up. I think if we can do that, we can be confident in our practice.
Hamption, K., Goulet, L. S., Her, E. J., & Rainie, L. (2009). Social Isolation and New Technology. PEW Research Centre: Internet, Science, & Tech. Retrieved from: http://www.pewinternet.org/2009/11/04/social-isolation-and-new-technology/
Keevil, G. (2014). Technology cuts through isolation for northern students. The Globe and Mail. Retrieved from: http://www.theglobeandmail.com/news/national/education/technology-cuts-through-isolation-for-northern-students/article18023606/
Kesling, B. (2015). Technology in classrooms doesn’t always boost education results, OEDC says. The Wall Street Journal. Retrieved from http://www.wsj.com/articles/technology-in-classrooms-doesnt-always-boost-education-results-oecd-says-1442343420