We cannot allow our education to be automated

Credit: Allison Shelley for American Education

Fifth grade teacher helping student with computer lesson in class.

As a high school student, it is sad and disturbing to me to see the increasing reliance on technology as a substitute for direct instruction in our schools.

Classrooms across the country have more access than ever to self-paced online programs, individual devices and teacher education kits. Post-distance learning, the newly discovered use of technology to aid in instruction, would seem to be a bright spot.

However, our access to technology does not facilitate the learning process, it replaces the magic of teacher-student connection and lively classroom discussions.

According to EdWeek, as of May 2020, at least 59% of schools in the United States had a computer for every student, and according to Gallup, 65% of teachers use technology to teach every day.

However, in a 2020 Gallup poll, only 27% of teachers felt that “a lot of information is available” about the effectiveness of the tens of thousands of educational technology apps now available to them, and yet these apps are more present in the classroom especially after distance learning.

Among them, Kahoot!, a multiple-choice learning game, offers more than 100 million “ready-to-play games” for students and teachers. Another ed-tech app, Nearpod, lets teachers use any of its more than 22,000 all-digital lessons, videos, and activities across all subject areas.

Actively Learn is an online software offering nearly 20,000 literary works and explanatory texts, and even an automatic grading system for its activities. This type of program can virtually replace any component of the classroom experience developed by teachers: it provides built-in, publisher-provided assignments, projects, and assessments that could completely replace an English course.

All of this takes learning out of the classroom and onto the screen. It eliminates verbal interaction between students, their peers and their teachers – not ideal as we return from the social isolation of remote learning. Today, the overuse of technology and computer software in the classroom threatens to exacerbate the exhausting effects of distance learning on interactions.

Schools should embrace enthusiastic classroom debate and discussion instead of relying on the Nearpod app’s 250-character limit for student posts on its “discussion forums.” Face-to-face discussions foster critical thinking and attentive listening skills and teach students to respectfully disagree while supporting their own positions, which rarely happens on today’s digital apps.

Teachers should promote hand-annotated essays and hand-drawn posters as learning tools. Letting technology operate as a teacher during in-person learning is simply a physical version of the classroom with the drawbacks of remote learning.

Of course, not all technology in school is negative; a balance can be found. Online library-type websites, for example, can save schools money and provide access to digital textbooks if hard copies are unaffordable. The internet has many science simulations where students can visualize atoms in chemical processes. And virtual typing programs help students develop this key skill.

That said, technology in the classroom – like research information at your fingertips – should only aid the learning process.

I advocate the traditional method because I remember lively and engaging class debates on current issues, small group discussions of literature, and hands-on projects from before technology dominated every lesson.

Whiteboard lectures and handwritten notes lead to invaluable aha! moments. For example, I will always remember more the part of math lessons where students demonstrated their knowledge in different ways in front of the class than the online math games we played.

Real science classroom labs make that light bulb go out more than staring at a screen. And writing down information for a spelling test has always helped me deconstruct and memorize words better than just copying and pasting them online.

How will endless hours on computer screens solve the lasting social isolation and learning loss of remote learning? We must try to salvage the privileged moments of human interaction in the classroom, or risk stifling our social and academic development. Our education is not something we can afford to automate.

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Adam Abolfazi is a high school student from Sacramento. He previously attended public school in San Francisco.

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