Technology: Just the Beginning, not the End

?Think Globally, Act Locally? spouts one of the catch phrases of Earth Day. I am beginning to see that the first part is becoming easier every year.

Recently, I taught a fifth-grade class my Global Perspectives program and although I didn?t design it with that slogan in mind, it fits well. We look at the wealth disparities across the globe and end with discussing what we personally can do to help ? such as recycling (acting locally).

However, this one class stunned me with its capability to think critically and the fact that they were already thinking globally. It wasn?t just the two students who had been abroad in poor countries influencing the others either. Given our conversation, I am fairly certain the internet also played a serious role in their perspectives.

Technology can be problematic and controversial; technology in the classroom even more so.

The pro argument basically rests on the importance of technology in our lives today and the need to give our students ? our future ? a step up in using it.

On the against side, you have studies that fail to show a concrete educational benefit and the fear of kids turning into ?tech zombies,? spaced out on electronics without a connection to the real world.

In actuality, both sides are most likely simultaneously true. The pervasiveness of technology in our world is increasingly important. Children, with their willing minds, are more likely to explore technology, discover, and learn than many older adults. Yet too much tech can cut them off from the world around them, including potentially fatal situations such as texting while driving.

For those of us in conservation, we have real fears of the future generation knowing nothing of their own backyard and therefore caring not about environmental stewardship.

What this one fifth-grade class demonstrated to me is that technology is a tool, a means to an end. If we use it as such, it has great potential to raise awareness, connections, and action on a global scale.

If we use it as an end itself, then it becomes just another type of addiction. A similar argument is much older: television. Think of all the arguments about it rotting brains ? true, though a visual exaggeration, if one considers all the ?junk? on TV and time spent watching. On the other hand, think of all the educational programs, first primarily on PBS but now on many other channels.

Like the TV, the Internet should be viewed as a tool, a beginning to discovery, not the end itself.

Those fifth-graders were learning that. This, they said, is what they found online. What do I, the naturalist, think of that? Do I think it?s true? They had not been satisfied with merely zoning out and accepting whatever they saw. They questioned, they sought, their internet experience merely a beginning and awakening of curiosity.

If used right, technology can help conservation. An e-reader can carry a whole library of field guides, information, and references that one previously would not be able to take into the field. After all, how many people, when faced with a question on their field experience, held it long enough to look it up upon return to home, the nature center, or the library?

Or, information one finds online may spark an interest to check it out themselves. The capability to interact has encouraged citizen scientists (Journey North, Bird Counts, for example) who can easily make a difference by recording what they see outside.

Online videos can encourage projects, show animal behavior to watch for, or just explore something in a new or entertaining way so that we ourselves look at what we find differently.

Again, it is how technology is used. The fact that this class stood out for me speaks volumes in the long way we have to go in finding technology?s place. But I am beginning to trust and to hope that this upcoming generation will be far better equipped to find a balance.