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Ed tech is good for kids. Except when it isn’t.

Some things just don’t make sense when we first try wrapping our heads around them. The balloon should move backwards like everything else in the car. Working together to solve a problem makes sense. Chilling water at 150 degrees to 32 degrees should be harder to do than chilling water that starts at 75 degrees.

Only it’s not.

How about this one?

  • Ed tech is good for kids. Except when it’s not.

The whole point of History Tech is focused on finding ways to integrate technology into social studies best practices. Ed tech is a good thing. Ed tech can be used to support data collection and analysis, critical thinking, collaboration, problem solving, communication. It’s a good thing.

Except when it’s not.

Recent research seems to suggest that there are times when using technology to gather and organize information actually puts kids at a disadvantage.

Laptops and organizer apps make pen and paper seem antique, but handwriting appears to focus classroom attention and boost learning in a way that typing notes on a keyboard does not. Students who took handwritten notes generally outperformed students who typed their notes via computer.

Long story short? It seems that when students take notes with a computer device, they tend to try and write everything down verbatim. This puts the brain into auto mode, simply copying down information rather than actively processing it.

The very feature that makes laptop note-taking so appealing – the ability to take notes more quickly – was what undermined learning.

The research serves as a reminder that even when technology allows us to do more in less time, it does not always foster learning.  Learning involves more than simply gathering information and then regurgitating it:

If we want students to synthesize material, draw inferences, see new connections, evaluate evidence, and apply concepts in novel situations, we need to encourage the deep, effortful cognitive processes that underlie these abilities.

These findings also suggest that students who use tech devices to access our lecture outlines or notes posted online won’t retain as much as students who must struggle to create their own meaning from new content.  When students use these online materials to access content with a simple click, there is no need for their brains to organize, make sense of, or summarize. Whether they’re automatically copying notes down during a lecture or scanning online notes posted by a teacher, kids miss the chance to engage in the mental effort that supports learning.


Ed tech is a good thing. Except when it’s not.

It can be uncomfortable to struggle with an unanswered question in our heads. We don’t like it. Your kids don’t like it. Bruce Lesh wrote a book titled Why Won’t you Just Tell Us the Answer? For too long, the K-12 system has trained our kids to memorize and regurgitate. We’ve trained our kids to find ways to copy down information more efficiently. And perhaps we jumped too quickly at the chance to use tech to help them do that.

But struggling with new knowledge to gain deep understanding is a critical skill we need to teach our kids. We need to find ways to encourage and allow students to be confused, to integrate knowledge with previous knowledge, and over time develop a more nuanced understanding of our content.

What’s the solution?

Committing to less lecture and more authentic problem solving in the classroom is a good place to start. But I also understand that there are times when direct instruction is necessary. So when we commit to better lecture strategies, we also need to commit to training our students in the use of better note taking strategies.

There’s a solution. Tomorrow’s Tip of the Week?

What that looks like.


6 Comments Post a comment
  1. ssengagement #

    This may be my favorite post you have ever had. And I only realized it this year at a new school. Kudos Glenn!


    September 22, 2016
    • glennw #


      Thanks for the comment! I am obviously a huge fan of ed tech but we also need to be aware of what research is telling us. I’ve shared earlier research and suggestions for finding a balance between too much and not enough tech – both in the classroom and out of it.

      I think we just need to be more intentional about that balance. Which is why I’m starting to fall in love with Sketchnoting – this week’s tip of the week! It can be paper and pen – very old school but it can also be high tech via iPad or other touchscreen devices.

      Have a great weekend!


      September 23, 2016
  2. Reblogged this on The DigiTeacher.

    September 23, 2016

Trackbacks & Pingbacks

  1. Tip of the week: 3 reasons why your kids should be Sketchnoting | History Tech
  2. Diigo Links (weekly) | Mr. Gonzalez's Classroom
  3. 3 reasons why your kids should be using sketchnotes | Doing Social Studies

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