Ed Tech: Promises & Glitches
huge reason school spending has increased so much over the past generation is
educational technology. Are we getting a good-sized bang for our buck?
In many ways, yes. It's hard to imagine going back to
mimeographs and photocopies, calculus without a calculator, and even teacher
record-keeping by handwritten journal entry.
On the other hand, you're right - the spending is enormous
for ed tech, and it's no coincidence that the leaders of huge computer
companies are the ones banging the drums the loudest for the "need" for more ed
tech in schools, and "serving" on prominent committees whose conclusions are -
imagine that? - that more money for more ed tech for schools will pave the way
for success for kids.
Meanwhile, is there anybody in the country who thinks that
kids are better at the 3 R's than they were in the centuries BEFORE ed tech?
To be fair, there's lots of evidence of ways that
computers, online learning, multimedia communications, and much more in the ed
tech area have improve student learning. But there also have been many examples
in which teachers, principals, school-board members and the public all agree
that expensive ed tech projects have been disappointing, or even debacles.
Example: New York City's $80 million computer "super
system," put in place to track student performance and ostensibly make the
district more efficient, was plagued by problems and delays, frustrating the
city's 80,000 teachers and casting a cloud over the credibility of school
leaders. The ARIS - Achievement Reporting and Innovation System - has been
criticized as working too slowly, being skimpy on important information, and
failing to help educators pinpoint and address student weaknesses, as
are scholars on both sides: those who say that technology is helping reach more
students in better ways than ever before, and "saving" kids who might otherwise
have checked out mentally or even dropped out physically. But there are others
who say that ed tech has pushed out quality, time-tested traditional teaching,
and dumbed down the curriculum to the point where students are using the
expensive computer systems that taxpayers provide to simply download cool
photos of sports stars, or follow the latest hijinx of their favourite media
are difficult ethical considerations, such as the fact that a lot of the new
media that school systems are purchasing are being sold by for-profit
companies. That implies that trendy gadgets and the status of having "the
latest" educational toys may be wasting taxpayer money and detracting from
practical learning, rather than augmenting it.
there's the whole thorny problem of plagiarism, loss of privacy, addictions,
loss of face-to-face communication experiences, and also the loss of
documentation and footnoting, since so much of the information found online is
devoid of scholarly referencing.
the other hand, ed tech is certainly here to stay. So what's the answer?
this mantra: "assessment before investment." Make sure any ed tech your
district is buying is going to do what it's designed to do, and help the
learning curve without busting the budget.
truly prophetic book on the impact of technology on education and
communication, and the dangers of being dazzled by gizmos and consumerism
rather than seriously using ed tech as a learning tool, is Neil Postman's 1996
book, The End of Education.