Students’ brains more important

Schools are out to discover new ways to incorporate technology into the classroom again. But computers aren’t usually used to improve K-12 education. They just make certain things easier to do. Very few educators, administrators or board members are trained to enhance learning with them.

To actually improve learning with technology, we have to notice the false assumptions that get in the way. Even Apple’s consultants mislead schools with them. I’ll address one of the assumptions now and several others in a later column. I speak as an active, degreed instructional technologist, which I’ve been for 30 years in all my work.

False assumption No. 1 is that technology is necessary for learning. Understanding this error gives you a powerful advantage. An IU professor taught me “the real technology is in the brain.” That is, a team of good minds with smart thoughts precedes any radio, television, projector, phone or computer.

As soon as the words left his mouth, my whole career began to change because I began concentrating on orchestrating students’ thoughts toward the creation of smart ideas, attitudes and solutions rather than concentrating on integrating electronic devices.

That involves making connections in students’ minds — and you don’t need an internet connection to do that. For example, you can help students see why curiosity about the routines and purposes of other departments in a company will increase the value of technical employees who often prefer to work in solitude.

Computer technology has little bearing on this problem with technical employees. They need to learn new perspectives on their role in the company that is writing their paycheck instead of assuming they’re making obvious, important contributions to it. The individuals who are willing to grasp this idea — and most are not excited about doing so — can rise to the top of their trade.

Another major connection for students of any age is to learn how listening skills open the doors to good interpersonal relationships, leadership roles and interesting jobs. A hiring manager at a huge Indianapolis business spends most of his time on problems employees should never bring to work. They gobble up his time with disputes over imaginary problems that would dissolve on their own if the workers would simply learn to listen to each other. (Some school staffs are full of this problem.)

Another worthy connection to help students make is the role of intelligent risk-taking in problem-solving, innovation and friendship. Most people want reliable, risk-free employment, but they fail to appreciate the risks their employers have to take to keep a business, an agency or a school running in the right direction.

But employers can put the work force in trouble by being afraid to take intelligent risks. Very often, well calculated leaps into the dark are the only way to reach big goals, whether it’s finding a much-needed business solution or discovering whether someone really is your friend.

These connections between subject matter and the world beyond textbooks are accomplished by the technology in the mind. Once you are able to assemble all the parts of that technology into a lesson, then you can begin exploring how computers can help students master the content.

Searching for content on the internet is not a mark of enhanced learning. Neither is reading through websites or completing online assignments and quizzes.

The practical connections above are established on an intellectual level. That means using mental technology to think, reason and argue through the ideas and to test them instead of taking tests on them.

Enhancing learning with computers is a challenge very few schools even think about. They think in terms of integrating technology into the routines. In instructional technology, that is considered the traditional, low-level use of equipment.

Max T. Russell writes for the international business intelligence and nonprofit communities.