Monday, February 6, 2012

Education And Technology: What Works?

At an Irene cracker barrel, Yankton state senator Jean Hunhoff, said,
The premise out there is, how do you get performance to improve?” Sen. Hunhoff asked. “The idea was merit. Tell me how you see how something could work to raise student performance, as an option. Let’s not focus on just what’s bad.”
Iagree, but it seems that data frequently conflict. One of the saviors has allegedly been technology.  In spite of my desire to follow Senator Hunhoff's injunction, I can't.  Michael Hiltzik takes issue with the idea that schools will be well served by increasing their emphasis on technology.
Every schoolchild should have a laptop, they said. Because in the near future, textbooks will be a thing of the past.
Where had I heard that before? So I did a bit of research, and found it. The quote I recalled was, "Books will soon be obsolete in the schools.... Our school system will be completely changed in 10 years."
The revolutionary technology being heralded in that statement wasn't the Internet or the laptop, but the motion picture. The year was 1913, and the speaker, Thomas Edison, was referring to the prospect of replacing book learning with instruction via the moving image.
He was talking through his hat then, every bit as much as Duncan and Genachowski are talking through theirs now.
Here's another similarity: The push for advanced technology in the schoolroom then and now was driven by commercial, not pedagogical, considerations. As an inventor of motion picture technology, Edison stood to profit from its widespread application. And the leading promoter of the replacement of paper textbooks by e-books and electronic devices today is Apple, which announced at a media event last month that it dreams of a world in which every pupil reads textbooks on an iPad or a Mac.
 I have a certain agnostic view of classroom technology:  Hiltzik seems to have a similar view.
Apple and its government mouthpieces speak highly of the ability to feed constant updates to digital textbooks so they never go out of date. But that's relevant to a rather small subset of schoolbooks such as those dealing with the leading edge of certain sciences — though I'm not sure how many K-12 pupils are immersed in advanced subjects such as quantum mechanics or string theory. The standard text of "Romeo and Juliet," on the other hand, has been pretty well locked down since 1599.
There's certainly an important role for technology in the classroom. And the U.S. won't benefit if students in poor neighborhoods fall further behind their middle-class or affluent peers in access to broadband Internet connectivity or computers. But mindless servility to technology for its own sake, which is what Duncan and Genachowski are promoting on behalf of self-interested companies like Apple, will make things worse, not better.
That's because it distracts from and sucks money away from the most important goal, which is maintaining good teaching practices and employing good teachers in the classroom. What's scary about the recent presentation by Duncan and Genachowski is that it shows that for all their supposed experience and expertise, they've bought snake oil. They're simply trying to rebottle it for us as the elixir of the gods.
It boils down to whether the student is willing to learn and whether the teacher can teach.  Hiltzik points out,
"The media you use make no difference at all to learning," says Richard E. Clark, director of the Center for Cognitive Technology at USC. "Not one dang bit. And the evidence has been around for more than 50 years."


caheidelberger said...

"the media you use make no difference..." dang! They tricked me with that new Smart Board they installed in my classroom!

LK said...

Yeah, I guess we should have two in each room so we can flip graphs from screen to screen.

I really don't want to go back to slates and chalkboards, but I'm not sure we get the bang for the buck with tech.

It seems that education is always a generation or two behind when it adopts a plan and by the time a student graduates and does two years at a tech school or four years at a college/university, the tech they used in high school is so dated it's useless.

yanktonirishred said...

If you don't feel a connection to the purveyor of can you feel a connection to the information?

I learned my best from the teachers that spoke to me instead of at me. I still do.