The Sometimes Unnecessariness of Technology

I enjoy watching baseball. In particular, I try to catch the Milwaukee Brewers when televised and I am free. There is so much strategy involved: When to hit away, when to steal a base, when to pitch inside. Every action has a potential impact on the final outcome.

Swinging_strikeout
Image Source: Wikipedia

Baseball is an imperfect game in which, like other sports, the participants are always striving for perfection. That includes the umpires. They are tasked with calling balls and strikes on pitches teetering toward 100 miles per hour. A split second is all they get to decide if a runner is safe or out. They don’t always get it right, but most of the time they do.

A recent wrinkle added to the game is instant replay. Managers can ask for one on a close play in the field. Calls can be reversed upon video review. I don’t mind this addition, as a baseball game is a series of stops and starts as it is. One more pause in the action isn’t going to hurt.

Where will technology’s influence creep next into baseball? From what I am reading: Automated strike zones. Computers already augment televised games with pitch-by-pitch graphics that show the exact location of each delivery from the pitcher. Commentators refer to this frequently when discussing the batter’s judgment or the pitcher’s ability to locate pitches. More accurate calls and less player-umpire arguments would be some of the benefits of this technology upgrade.

I am not convinced that this would be better for baseball. There is a type of balance achieved with an umpire behind the catcher as the pitcher and batter duel it out. Maybe it’s the simple presence of a triad surrounding home plate. Nature loves odd numbers. Also worth noting is the relationship between the catcher and the home plate umpire. They look out for each other, like when an errant foul ball strikes one of them in a vulnerable area of their body. Watch a game to see what I mean.

Education is feeling a similar push to digitize many aspects of the profession and process. Assessments such as reading screeners can be administered more quickly using computers. Students can submit work to their teacher with a click of a button. Some of the improvements, such as blogging and parent communication, are welcomed upgrades. They provide a broader audience and heighten home-school communications.

But adding technology for the sake of improving results and accuracy does not mean that the final outcomes are necessarily better. If going digital decreases the relationships between participants, what happens to engagement? If technology reduces the need for certain roles that add value beyond their basic job descriptions, how does the lost part affect that larger whole? I don’t have the answers. What I do know is when a technological innovation replaces human participation, the subsequent results cannot simply be measured in balls and strikes or multiple choice. We work in the people business.

Author: Matt Renwick

Matt Renwick is an 18-year public educator who began as a 5th and 6th-grade teacher in Rudolph, WI. He now serves as an elementary principal for the Mineral Point Unified School District, also in Wisconsin (http://mineralpointschools.org/). He also teaches online graduate courses in curriculum design and instructional leadership for the University of Wisconsin-Superior. Matt tweets @ReadByExample and writes for ASCD (www.ascd.org) and Lead Literacy (www.leadliteracy.com).

9 thoughts on “The Sometimes Unnecessariness of Technology”

  1. Matt,
    You always make me stop and think. I loved this line, “If going digital decreases the relationships between participants, what happens to engagement?” It also made me wonder: what if going digital builds relationships. Consider two situations. In one, students spend much of their time on apps that give them situations to work through. They are led through problems and challenges to build their reasoning. There is no interaction with others. Then in another, students use apps to create digital composition to show their thinking around a topic. It is placed on a blog where peers provide feedback. Interaction! Students are overheard commenting to each other as they move about the classroom. Some creations are shared via Twitter and receive responses from others. Connection.
    I’m in a book study group in my district around Amplified. It’s a digital group and participants respond to each other within the LMS (not as natural as a table conversation, but it will work until we are all together again). One of the kindergarten teachers put up a picture collage. I wish I could share it. It was about creating on iPads, but I couldn’t help but notice that in the pictures the kids were all interacting and working with friends.
    Like you, I think a lot about our use of technology. I’m thinking it’s the “how” and “why” of technology that sets kids up for isolation or interaction. Technology, like any classroom, can be about isolation or connection. It’s up to us to decide. As you say, we need to be thoughtful as we make these decisions around technology to protect the relationships that make our learning communities places to grow.
    Thanks for making me think,
    Cathy

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    1. Cathy, I appreciate everything you share here. This is what I like about writing online: The possibility that someone might extend my thinking and take it to a place only they could go. That makes us both smarter.

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  2. I had been a history and study skills teacher who used technology for 20 years, but am now a “technology integration specialist” and I wholly agree that technology is often just a new way of doing the same old thing–not improving anything for student engagement at all, but a bill of goods sold to us by Google and others.

    I am looking to integrate technology beyond Google, to use Google and its power to find information, but students need to develop the skills to interpret the data themselves with deep learning, vs. “it said” being the extent of understanding. Too many teachers have used Google as a cheap library to do the same assignments they always did, rather than the powerful source of data to MINE for meaning, with kids asking their own questions. Prove that today is really less violent than in past centuries despite what we hear in the media. Get the data yourself and collate it. That is powerful.

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    1. It sounds like you know where you want to go with regard to your students’ future learning experiences. Let me know how things progress.

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  3. Great read – this made me think of a minor league game I attended the other day. Check out some of the experimental rules being tested in the minors | http://www.milb.com/news/article.jsp?ymd=20150324&content_id=114596202&fext=.jsp&vkey=pr_milb I found the technology being used enhanced the experience for all parties involved for the most part. We have to implement technology in our schools in ways that enhance the experience for our students.

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    1. Interesting rule. I wonder how much of this has to do with the perceived level of attention that owners feel the fans lack regarding baseball’s “down times”. This is one of the reasons I love baseball. It’s slow, methodical, with lots of strategy involved. A thinking man’s game, similar to a chess match. Thank you for sharing the article.

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