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Technology In Education: Active vs. Passive

by Deborah McCallum

As Plato said:

“Someday in the distant future, our grandchildren’s grandchildren will develop a new equivalent of our classrooms. They will spend many hours in front of boxes with fires glowing within.  May they have the wisdom to know the difference between light and knowledge.” Plato.

If only he was alive today, he would see the very strong parallels of this statement, with our computer screens we look at every single day. The new technologies including Smart Phones, tablets, and laptops are so much a part of our existence now, that their virtues are being extolled for use in the classrooms, to prepare our youth for safe and effective use of the devices. It is very important to incorporate and integrate technology into our classrooms and schools every single day, because we do in fact need to teach our students to know the difference between light and knowledge.

Sound Pedagogy and learning strategies can come in many different styles, shapes, & sizes, including learning with technology. It can be something that hinders, or helps a student to learn better. Using technology in education can be an active process where it creates rich learning experiences. However, it can also be a passive process that does not necessarily promote any kind of critical thinking, meaning making, or metacognition. We all need teachers, in whatever form they come in, ie., online, in person, books, modules, videos, social media,  etc… at the right times to help us take our learning to the next level that will improve our thinking.

To be an active learner in any situation, it takes characteristics such as dedication, commitment, motivation, reinforcements and good character to be able to learn effectively. The truth is, that any given person, on any given day, and in any given life situation will not have the same level of each of these characteristics to put forth to learn effectively.

I think that we as teachers, instructors, and educators, can facilitate this process by thinking of effective ways of motivating our students. Perhaps this means using Inquiry Based Methods, and being flexible with Assessment strategies that incorporate technology, to allow students to ask about, and discover what they need to, and are ready to, learn about next. Online & Blended Learning are other great ways for many students to engage in the learning process, at times that work best for them. Also, different strategies need to be employed for younger Elementary students than for secondary students.

Finally, Access and Equity are important issues in todays society, and strong parts of what Public Education can provide to students. This is a new technological era where students have the opportunity to be learning different things based on their personal needs, therefore, equitable access to technologies within our libraries and classrooms are absolutely necessary to help students understand the differences between the light, and real knowledge.

 How do you assess whether your students actually have the ‘knowledge’, or have just merely seen the ‘light’?

 Please share some strategies you have used to model critical thinking with your students.


Deborah McCallum is an Educator and a Writer. She writes both Fiction, & Non-Fiction including Curriculum, Psychology of Learning, and of how we can incorporate First Nations, Metis, & Inuit perspectives in education. With Graduate Studies in Counselling Psychology, and over 12 years of Teaching and Librarianship experience, Deborah has developed in-depth expertise and knowledge into important issues surrounding Education in the 21st Century. Visit Deborah’s blog



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  • eLearningDee

    Hi Aviva,
    I agree with everything you are saying! I too, believe in the Power of Project Based Learning, and the use of culminating tasks relative to what will help the students learn and grow as thinkers, rather than the use of a test that we must teach to. Deep understanding is important, and striving for that higher order thinking that an allow students to go beyond being Passive Participants in education and with technology,
    Thanks for your comment!

  • Aviva Dunsiger (@avivaloca)

    Deborah, I really liked your post! It made me think about the levels of the achievement chart. More than any other year, I’ve really been cognisant of these different levels this year, and ensuring that activities and tests are not just based on “knowledge and understanding.” We need to make sure that students can think deeply about what they’ve learned, communicate their new understandings, and apply what they’ve learned. I do this often thanks to project based learning. I let students explore topics and share their learning in different ways. I also try to focus more on assignments versus tests, as I find it easier to get to this deep understanding through assignments.

    I’m curious to hear what others have to say. Thanks for getting me thinking!