Most kids use tech outside of school—indeed its popularity is exploding. In order to adequately prepare students for the fast-paced, digital world, it only makes sense to integrate tech into our classrooms. But we need to ask ourselves: what this is adding to the educational experience?

The last two decades have seen innumerable tech startups rise and fall in a rush to promote online and virtual education. Unfortunately, while many such efforts are noble in intent, many others are focused on privatization of and profiteering from public education.

Here’s the bottom line—technology can be an important instructional tool, but it cannot replace instruction. Multiple studies show that virtual charters, such as those in California and Ohio, consistently fail to meet students’ needs or provide even adequate education. In a rush to incorporate new technology, the focus on mentorship in teaching is lost.

“No technology can replace one-on-one human connection in learning.”

Tech is a tool

Far too often, technology is seen as a solution in itself. We saw this with the iPad debacle in Los Angeles, and Rupert Murdoch’s failed Amplify venture. Those who try to replace educators with electronics aren’t just pursuing wrong-headed educational ideas—they’re wasting taxpayer money, shareholder value and sometimes their own fortunes.

On the flip side, when used to bolster educator-led learning, technology can innovate teaching strategies and allow students more freedom to access the world. But we must recognize that it also adds complexity. Rich and rigorous professional development and support for educators and students are key to creating truly “smart” classrooms that integrate technology effectively.

The human element

No technology can replace one-on-one human connection in learning. Clicking a screen can’t teach our children to question assumptions, consider differing points of view, or learn from mistakes. Through human interaction we develop creativity, persistence, teamwork and, of course, socialization.

Relationships are critical to students’ success in school and life—especially for students in our hardest-hit communities. When students have a trusting relationship with an adult at their school, they’re more likely to succeed academically and avoid risky behaviors like drug use, bullying or fighting. While an iPad might support a lesson, it can never create that critical bond.

Ultimately, technology in education is not an either/or, absolutist matter. Binary thinking works in coding, not in education. If we want to realize technology’s true potential to positively influence the evolution of teaching and learning, we must work to integrate the technology that maximizes the human element.