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The role of technology in progressive education I: Balance and caution

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Some folks yell “stop” when it comes to technology and children, while others embrace technology and bring it freely into the home. It is not surprising to see similar disagreements among progressive educators.

Balance –that is the key word when it comes to technology and education. Whether people like it or not, technology is not disappearing anytime soon. It is part of modern culture. Parents can decide whether to have a TV or not in the house, how much to limit computer time, and how many video games and gadgets to own. Balance is the key word. As soon as over-usage occurs, too much technology can be detrimental to a child’s growth, mostly because it prevents a child from having other experiences such as being out in nature, playing with neighborhood friends, or building forts, tree houses and ponds.

What should progressive schools do?

Some schools view technology as inherently inappropriate and do not allow them in the school and recommend that technology not be used at home. Other schools view technology as tools for learning and struggle with how to limit the use to educational purposes. If balance is the key word in the parenting arena, then it should also be the key concept in schools. Done thoughtfully, incorporating technology into a progressive classroom can be instrumental in enhancing learning.

The Head of School from Green Acres School in Maryland, Neal Brown, draws the connection (see video) between the societal focus of progressive education and technology. Technology, Brown implies, can be seen as:

"developing a real world skill, tapping into kid’s natural curiosity and creativity . . . . [and] if part of progressive education is to make the wall between school and society more permeable, technology certainly allows for that."

If a school decides to go with technology, it is supported by progressive education ideals as long as certain parameters are kept in check, so that the technology is purposeful and meaningful.

While technology is not the magic bullet for creating environments for all types of learners, it can be helpful with students that have problems writing, spelling, and even note-taking. Or in other words technology can help children who learn differently or who may choose to study alone because they get distracted too easily. Technology is also useful for distance learning, a great concept for adult learners and the child who needs to study from home for one reason or another.

However, Dr. James Spira, Clinical Professor of Psychology at the University of California in San Diego, in Technology Source cautions teachers not to let technology turn instruction into a didactic process where facts are gathered at the expense of creativity, or create an unresponsive environment where teachers become disengaged from students and provide little feedback. He also states that:

“technology need not be a tool used simply for accumulating more information to add to one's existing database. Instead, it can be used in support of learning to make creative use of information in order to interact more successfully with the world in which one lives.”

So if a progressive school chooses to update their technology, where can they get the money? See Part II.

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