Humanizing Education Through Technology

Humanism, setting aside theological considerations, is typically defined as a philosophy that upholds individual human dignity and “derives the goals of life from human need and interest.” In other words, it is a philosophy that meets humans where they are. Thus, a humanizing education would seek to meet students where they are, on their own terms, as learners and human beings, as opposed to a standardized curriculum delivered to all students everywhere without regard for individual differences such as cultural background, student choice, and more.

So how can technology meet with philosophy in humanizing education for all students?

Break the Standardized Mold

Over the last several decades, the education system has incorporated stringent “accountability” models (read: standardized testing and punitive oversight) instead of a focus on the needs of individual learners. This so-called “education machine” is not producing results and is ultimately not good for kids and the education of the whole child. Humanizing the education model means focusing on student needs first.

For example, instead of focusing on a state report card as the sole measure of effectiveness, a district could instead produce a more comprehensive quality profile. One common item on a quality profile is not only access to technology for every student, but metrics on how that technology is used. In one school district in Florida, educators developed a STEMSmart program at the middle school, outfitting several STEM classrooms with tables and flat screen monitors to be “designed for communication, collaboration, creative thinking, and critical thinking.” That’s using technology to shift a paradigm.

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Use Technology to Help Provide a Culturally-Relevant Education

Humanizing education requires you to actively support and celebrate the dignity of every learner, recognizing and incorporating the diversity of cultural backgrounds that exist in your classroom. Dr. Karen Beerer noted how this can be accomplished by integrating digital content into your lessons. Digital content is up to date and representative of many diverse backgrounds and can be placed in the hands of any learner to make them an active content creator and not just a passive consumer.

Digital content can be personalized to meet the needs of your learners and the unique community in which you serve. For example, instead of presenting a one-size-fits-all lesson on, say, holidays, delivered primarily by the teacher, imagine if you were to turn your students loose on such a project with digital tools. Each student could create digital content from their family’s perspective (or, better yet, another family’s perspective!) Your students could end up discussing these cultural touchstones in ways you never could in a traditional 50-minute lesson.

Take Classroom Discussion to a New and More Productive Level

In a typical classroom discussion, a few voices sometimes dominate. Students who like to sit back and ponder what others have said and think carefully through their own response before speaking up can sometimes get lost in the shuffle. A teacher, student, teacher, student pattern of interaction may develop, in which the teacher asks all the questions and only a select few are chosen to provide the answers.

By taking class discussions online to your learning management system (LMS), you can create meaningful student to student interactions in which students are required not only to respond to a classmate’s original thought, but to ask at least one thoughtful question or provide additional information and links in their response. The teacher monitors the discussion and jumps in when appropriate and/or necessary, but discussion becomes a place where all students can fully participate, feel valued, and develop a peer-to-peer sense of intellectual curiosity that is contagious. Your class discussions are now humanized.

Gather Immediate and Powerful Feedback

A key best practice for increasing student achievement is to see lessons through the eyes of your students. To do this while humanizing your classroom, you must develop robust mechanisms for gathering feedback from students, both in real time and for later consumption in order to drive meaningful instruction and student engagement.

For gathering feedback, chat rooms (either live or so-called “backchannel” chats), polls, QR code reader systems, and more can provide you with instantaneous information about how your students are perceiving and processing class objectives, allowing you to adjust your strategy in real time to meet their needs. Online surveys can garner feedback regarding learning styles, goal-setting, and how students feel the course is progressing. “Exit ticket” activities can be taken online via your LMS, analyzed, and used to drive the following day’s instruction. Feedback is fuel for humanization.b

Turn Students Into Teachers

At the same time that you are seeing lessons through your students’ eyes, you can help your students see the lesson as if they are the teachers. Students should be given the opportunity to explain what they are learning and have learned to you and to each other. EdTech tools can help.

One teacher uses Flipgrid, a “threaded video discussion platform,” from which students are able to respond to a prompt or problem asynchronously, ensuring 100% class participation while also turning the students into teachers, allowing them to communicate ideas and solutions with one another. This kind of student choice and agency is a key aspect of the humanization of education.

A More Humanizing Place

“I would like to continue thinking about how institutions create emotional and behavioral support for kids,” says Dr. Irene Yoon. “I want to support making schools a more humanizing place.” This is a noble undertaking, and today’s technology should be used strategically and passionately toward that end. In all facets of education, technology can be used to support and augment a more humanized model for all.