On more than a few occasions, I have heard thoughtful educators and ed-tech thinkers talk about how technology amplifies both good and bad.
They point out that if you put learning technologies in the hands of a bad teacher, the teaching grows exponentially worse than if the teacher were not using ed-tech tools. In other words, the technology amplifies the problem, like a computer virus.
Yet in the same breath, those experts point out that when technology is put in the hands of a good teacher, the teaching grows exponentially better than if the educator were not incorporating it. You can see that potential become reality in several stories in this issue of the magazine, including one about how teachers are using the videoconferencing tool Skype and another about how they are using innovative approaches for reading instruction.
The bottom line: Technology builds on good teaching; it makes bad teaching worse.
And the same can be said for student behavior: Digital innovations enhance good behavior, but they amplify the nasty stuff.
The cover-story package in this issue about cyberbullying—written by Senior Writer Michelle R. Davis—is a case in point about the highs and lows of new technologies. The cruel ways that students can treat each other are amplified online, and symbolized by the faces on the cover of three students who committed suicide after experiencing cyberbullying.
Such high-profile cases have pushed legal and policy issues related to cyberbullying into the spotlight, with school officials on the front lines of figuring out what they can or cannot do to curb this problem. And the legal clarity about what measures they can take is, at best, murky. To further complicate matters, at least 44 states now have anti-bullying laws on the books, but the cyberbullying aspects of those laws run the gamut from effective to window dressing to possibly unconstitutional.
But there is hope. Legal and policy experts are beginning to catch up to the advances in technology. Schools and parents are more aware of what’s going on online than they were just a few years ago. And many students are taking a stand against cruel cyberbehavior.
It’s not technology heaven. But it is progress.
A version of this article appeared in the February 09, 2011 edition of Digital Directions as Navigating Through Tech Heaven or Hell