Tuesday, 4 June 2013

Technology: A Few Considerations

The original title of this post is "Your Favourite Apps (iPad or Droid) or Learning Websites".  If you are looking for a list of favourite technological applications, please skip ahead to the bottom of this post to the links of the other contributors since they can probably give you a more comprehensive list than I can.

If, however, you are interested to take a step back from the discussion of the attractiveness of technological applications and consider the soundness of the underlying assumptions, I invite you to join me for the rest of this post.

Nowadays everyone seems to be so wired up 24/7 by all kinds of electronic gadgets that the use of technology is welcomed into all aspects of our lives without question.  It appears to me that almost everyone is so enamoured with the convenience, efficiency, connectivity that technology supposedly offers that many assumptions have been made with regards to it being a solution to all the problems of modern day living.  I would like to suggest that we, as homeschooling parents, make the same careful consideration about the usefulness of technology in our children's educational life as we would about the usefulness of public schooling as part of our children's educational experience.

Consideration 1: Which Aspects of Educational Problem Does Technology Solve?
If you do a quick search on the internet about technology and education, you will find overwhelming support for the use of technology in schools and learning.  Technology can indeed increase access to information for children who live in remote parts of the world where access to modern schooling would otherwise be very difficult.  In such cases, we're talking about access to information.  Amassing information does not automatically translate into being educated, although it is certainly a step above having no information at all.  I am assuming that if you are reading this post, you have overcome barriers to access information so your concern would be that of using technology to help your children gain a better education.

That brings us to the question of definition.  What do we mean by a 'better' education?  Is it academic achievement?  If so, the quote below tells us that technology doesn't solve this particular problem.
"... there is no clear, commanding body of evidence that students' sustained use of multimedia machines, the Internet, word processing, spreadsheets, and other popular applications has any impact on academic achievement."
-- Larry Cuban
former president of the American Educational Research Association

Are we then referring to motivational issues whereby we believe that children will learn certain subjects (e.g. reading, maths, chess) more effectively using software programmes with cartoons and/or animations?  Apart from some children with very specific developmental needs who may benefit from such instructions, I am not sure learning from a machine is more gratifying than learning from an interested adult, especially for a child.

As for using technology to hold children's interest, I would strongly suggest prioritising the child's social and emotional needs first.  Many so-called motivational or behavioural issues displayed by children and adolescents are symptoms of unmet social and emotional needs, which can only be corrected through interaction with another caring human being.  Don't take my word for it -- do your own research and decide for yourself whether this is true.
"... education is not a mechanical system, it's a human system.  It's about people."

Using technology as a substitute for human interaction in the face of learning issues does not offer any effective long-term solution.  Take for example playing chess.  I could have easily saved myself the trouble of driving over 30 miles each week to take Tiger to the chess club by having him play against chess softwares online.  But I don't.  Chess softwares can't model resilience (losing a game with grace, winning a game with integrity), humour, and friendship in the ways that his chess coach and team mates can. 

Consideration 2: Age Appropriateness
By age appropriateness, I am not referring to the content ratings such as PG or 12+, etc.  I am thinking about whether the use of technology is what children need most to achieve a balanced development in childhood or adolescence.  While technology offers much convenience and efficiency to the work of adults, I am not convinced these same goals are applicable to children's development.  I strongly recommend parents do their own thorough research into child development, brain neurological pathway developments, and child psychology to determine for themselves whether factors such as having a strong relationship to caring, communicative adults in the family, developing empathy and social skills in the real world, establishing a connection and an awe for the natural world, are not as important, if not more appropriate, for the child to become a well-adjusted, balanced individual.  This report is a good place to start.

When I travel on the London Underground these days, I often see families where each member appears to be more interested in their hand-held devices than interacting with one another or noticing what is around them.  I have watched a preschooler who did not look up once from his iPhone game (no doubt it must have been an "educational" game) for the entire one-hour journey on the Tube.  His parents were sitting on either side of him, equally engaged in their own iPhones either texting or playing games.  What happened to face-to-face human interaction?  How much creative thinking or real people skills is a child who spends more time looking at a screen than looking at real people's faces going to have?

Consideration 3: Consumption versus Production
I am aware that some parents are convinced that their children are learning a lot of valuable skills through playing computer games.  I have also read about children who allegedly learn programming skills and games design skills through spending most of their time playing computer games.  If those reports were true, then these remarkable achievements ought to be congratulated.

For many years, my husband and I have tried to elevate our status from 'food consumers' to 'food producers', but we have not had much success with growing our own food.  Having said that, I know of many people who have successfully grown their own food.  That's why I'm not knocking the reports of those outstanding children who have managed to make the leap from being consumers of computer games to producers of those games.  The key difference is making the leap, and I don't think that is an automatic or easy process.  An obvious example is that I haven't heard of any musician who attributes his/her musical achievements to having been exposed to the very lucrative 'Infant Great People' merchandise.

A few people in our family hold well respected positions in the technology industry, and not once has any of them expressed a concern that Tiger is missing out by not spending enough time as a consumer of the latest technological gadget.  In fact, Tiger has proved the whole 'missing out' idea to be a moot point because he was interested enough to persuade his father to spend the most part of a weekend to teach him the basics of network architecture.  Since I don't know much about this part of technology, I am relying on my husband's assessment that Tiger is fully capable of understanding the fundamentals.

In addition, if Tiger didn't know what to do with himself at any time -- that hasn't happened yet -- I would rather see him lose himself in his daydreams or staring at the sky, than to see him spend time in front of a screen.

So, What Applications Do We Use?
We do use technology sparingly at this point, taking into consideration Tiger's age and his needs.  I expect to be using a somewhat different approach during the high school years, so please bear in mind that my response above applies to what I find to be most appropriate for Tiger so far, from birth through the elementary school years.

The most frequent use of technology in Tiger's education is YouTube.  We use it mostly to watch documentaries, as a supplement to what he has already studied from various books.  The other website that we use occasionally is Khan Academy.  I can foresee Tiger using more of this website in the future, but in the near term our focus is still primarily on hands-on, concrete activities.

If you've read the entire post up to this point, I want to thank you for staying with me through the thinking process.  For your patience and tolerance, you can now finally look at lists of useful apps provided by the other contributors:
  • Despite all the technology her family is surrounded with, Bernadette and her crew are NOT Technie Home Schoolers as they are still basically book, paper and ink types.

This post is linked up to:
  1. Hip Homeschool Hop - 6/4/13
  2. Hearts for Home Blog Hop #20
  3. Collage Friday - The Week of Practicum
  4. TGIF Linky Party #79
  5. Weekly Wrap-Up: The One with the Grumbling
  6. Share it Saturday
  7. Sunday Showcase - 6/8/13


  1. Thank you for contributing to the mix a very well-thought out and written piece, Hwee - it's clear you've really thought this through. I agree that it's good to question things that most of society take for granted. We each need to follow the path that works for us and our families.

  2. Absolutely, Lucinda! We must each do what's right for our families. :-)

  3. Hi from HHH!
    We are very hands-on learners. Tech stuff is not my thing. However, I do see how it can enhance our learning. My son is beginning to use the web to find information.

    Thank you for your considerations and links to learning.
    jeannine: waddleeahchaa.com

  4. Thank you for stopping by and sharing your thoughts, Jeannie. Many people find technology useful at different stages of learning, and different families will find different uses for it. :-)

  5. I'm certainly not opposed to using technology, but I understand a lot of what you are saying. One thing that really bothers me in respect to technology is when children bring their devices to family parties. If my kids would prefer to use them as opposed to talking with others at the event I would prefer to leave them home.

    I like the way you addressed this issue.

  6. Thank you, Julie. :-) I'm not opposed to using technology but I'd like to see people really think about the decisions they make on behalf of their children.

    Sometimes I see parents giving their children things because those things are social fads or are considered cool and trendy, but those things aren't necessarily what's best for children.

  7. Great post!! Thanks for sharing this at Share It Saturday :)


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