DISCUSSION: Gizmo ideology (21st century classroom)

My background is medical education and occasionally I am allowed to write a blog on this fantastic website – so long as I keep the medicine to a minimum. Let us know what you think of this alternative perspective.

Like most people or at least most of Generation ‘Y’ I have a love of technology. If you can put a little digital screen on it then I’m interested. I am not alone in my thinking. Recently I overheard a colleague stating it would be inappropriate to intubate a patient without video guided assistance. Two days later I was listening to a podcast that reflected on intubations with and without video assistance. It turns out there is no difference in mortality with either method but the video method took 15 secs longer to intubate the patient compared with the old technology (direct laryngoscopy). Although 15 seconds does not sound a longtime  it resulted in lowering of oxygen saturations to patients and a poorer neurological outcome in a few. But we still continue to recommend this method in medicine, why? Gizmo Idolatry.


Gizmo Idolatry: “The general implicit conviction that a more technological approach is intrinsically better than one that is less technological unless, or perhaps even if, there is strong evidence to the contrary.”

Check out the original article:

B. Leff and T.E. Finucane. Gizmo Idolatry: JAMA. 2008;299(15):1829-1832.

There are seven overlapping categories of incentives that may encourage clinicians or patients to favour the use of gizmos. In this blog I aim to translate the medical examples into school room examples. This blog also aims to provoke thought rather than suggest that technology is good or bad. To get you questioning whether technology in the classroom is working or are you developing gizmo ideology.

Common Sense Appeal – This occurs when technological interventions gather momentum faster than than the evidence can justify. One recent example in education has been watching how children learn handwriting. I learnt on pen and paper with lines on a page and the teacher demonstrating these on a blackboard. This has progressed from videos (cartoons of the letters), interactive whiteboards to digitally show the children how to write, and now children writing on tablets. Do the children learn any faster? Or do they actually loose the proprioception of pen on paper?

Human Love of Bells and Whistles – Does a lesson on an interactive whiteboard make my lesson any better?

Exploits vs Uneventful Diligence – in society the lower classes have performed the menial work while the higher classes hunted and danced. While the menial work was better for society everyone still aspired to do the exploits of the higher classes. This still persists in education, parents may indeed get a laptop for their child believing this will somehow innately improve their learning. I know of families that use the iPad to read their child a story before bedtime. While reading a book to your child appears uneventful it is this diligence that probably has more dividends than the exploits of a laptop.

Gizmo Utilisation as Proof of Competence – I think we all know what impressions we would form if we visited a school with interactive whiteboards, iPads, laptops, camcorders, listening stations, apple tv’s etc versus a school with desks and a white board. We now inevitably form this bias as technology has become ingrained into our culture.

Gizmo as source of Objective, Quantifiable Information – for example this occurs when you as a practitioner know exactly the level of your children’s competence but have to use technology instead to quantify their levels or progress. You can do it cheaper than a technological tool and it changes nothing to the outcome of the child.

Proof Against Negligence – having lots of technology in the classroom must mean I am a good teacher.

Channelling Money – this is often difficult to see in the classroom but I am often wary of “experts” giving advice that encourages a product from which they profit e.g. Brainpop, various phonic programmes. Or teachers gaining discount on technology with the hope that they will then buy additional pieces for the classroom e.g. certain tablets/laptops.


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