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EDUCATION/ Technology should never replace human discussion, performance, and contact

JOSEPH SCOTESE, teacher of English in Chicago, underlines that, while technology can be a useful tool, it can never, and should never replace teachers, classrooms, and human performance

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Last month, students in my World Literature class were performing short scenes from the beginning of Dante’s Inferno. Each group first acted out a very literal presentation of Dante’s words – the beginning of the journey that Virgil and Dante would take together as they progressed from our earth, down into the Inferno and eventually moving on to Paradise. After their literal short plays, things got very interesting.

Each group had to take the scene that they had just performed and find a way to creatively match it with their own all-too-modern lives. Some students played guitar and sang songs that they had written about being stuck between two worlds. Others reenacted happy or sad – but always profound – moments from their own experience – transporting the rest of us in class back to that time, so we could share it and make our own connections to Dante’s text. A few groups used computers to create beautiful, mesmerizing animations of The Inferno – with pictures, music, and words that all worked together to give all of us a greater understanding of what we were studying.

While the computer animations were wonderful, so were the songs, plays, poems, and other creative work that the students had done. But now in classrooms across the United States, indeed, across the globe, educators and students are being told that they must only use technology in order to create an effective learning environment. Instead of books, money is being spent on laptops, tablets, and the latest software. In some American states, students are now required to take an online course before they are even allowed to graduate high school.

Someone once told me that good teachers never had to worry about being replaced by computers. And while I still believe that computers and online courses could never equal even the most mediocre of instructors – I do believe that we have reason for concern. It is much less expensive, and sadly much more profitable to put thirty students in front of computers than it is to give them a real education. I have seen students mindlessly going through the motions of learning online. I once asked a student in a computer lab why they were reading a book and clicking on their keyboard every few minutes. They told me that the online class they were in required that they hit a key on their computer every once in a while to show that they were still engaged. Meanwhile, they went on reading their book.