Sunday, November 28, 2010

Educational Technology: Game Changer or Game Ender?

Educational technology fascinates me.  As a society, we have a love affair with technology.  That affinity for all things that beep and whir extends to the classroom.  I like to hypothesize about where technology will take our schools in the future.  Here are a few thoughts:

1. Technology users in a new age of teaching and learning.  This model suggests technology will ultimately be the reform our schools need to become highly effective centers of relevant learning for all kids.  Computers and their infinite adaptability will be able to deliver instruction more efficiently and effectively than teachers.  In this model, teachers become coaches or glorified lab assistants.  This model can be found in the various hybrid schools popping up around the country.  

Another variation of this theme is online instruction, such as the Virtual High School Consortium or the  "e-2020" company.  In both of these models, computers essentially become the medium for instruction.  Back in the day, I used to believe this is where schools were heading.  After seeing it in action, my opinions have changed.  The lack of human-to-human contact just doesn't cut it.  I was curious if empirical research existed demonstrating the effectiveness of this model.  I have a Master's degree in educational technology, thus am familiar with the lack of empirical research regarding online instruction.  The only research I could find was based on e-2020's own research (red flag) which concluded this:

Achievement in e2020 was able to accurately predict scores on the MAP assessments. Similarly, achievement in e2020 math and reading content were able to predict NMSBA scale scores. The percent grades in e2020 relate exceptionally well to the grades that teachers assigned to students upon completion of an e2020 class; indicating that teachers tended to agree with the e2020 grading system when reporting district grades for students. Finally, a strong relationship was found between e2020 grades and graduation rate.
What does the research mean?  Kids that do well in e-2020 also do well on tests and graduate more than kids kids that don't do well.  Wow.  There's a shocker.  

The research says nothing about the actual performance of the kids overall.  I would expect the high-achieving kids to do well.  What about the average kid?  Does this educational model help them?    How about the struggling student?  What about the fact that any kid with an ounce of tech-savvy can find answers to e-2020 material online?  I think it is important to recognize the limitations of computers as teachers, even if there's a human on the other end leading the instruction.  

2.  The computer (and Internet) will be or is a portal to the world.  This model actually makes sense to me, though it is rarely used to its full potential.  The idea is simple- the Internet is a communication tool and teachers can use it to take kids on adventures they may not otherwise be able to access.  Unfortunately many of the cutting-edge social tools are feared by schools.  

A few years ago, email was the preferred means of communicating.  Most schools were slow to adopt the use of student email for educational purposes.  Then chat applications like Windows Messenger and AOL were popular.  Now kids rarely use email and chat apps; Facebook has replaced both.  

I find it interesting that few schools recognize the potential educational value of social networking or any emerging technology.  Instead of embracing and utilizing the technology (which is free of cost), schools have a tendency to react with fear and suspicion.  Schools construct elaborate policies to police technology instead of inspiring creativity and innovation.  I think it would be safe to say most schools fit in the "late majority" or even "laggard" categories of the diffusion of innovation model.  This is sad as our students are usually the early adopters.  With our help, they could become innovators.  With our help, the Internet could be a tremendous portal to the world.  [sigh]

3. Technology was window dressings.  Everybody loves computers.  Some districts tout their student-to-computer ratio as if it were an indicator of their dedication to the adoption of emerging technologies.  In reality, it is just expensive window dressings.  I've heard stories from a variety of teachers throughout the US.  The story is the same- their district spends obscene amounts of money on the latest and greatest technology, but doesn't provide training for teachers or students to use it beyond simple word processing or web browsing.  Why?  

The computers look good.  The fact that they are not being used for anything worthwhile is an afterthought.  There's no evidence the technology is improving student learning, yet the purchase seems justifiable.  In situations like this, the money could have been better spent on more teachers to reduce class sizes or more enrichment courses like art or dance.  Another alternative- the money could be spent on more support staff to help teachers integrate technology in the classroom. 

Is educational technology going to usher us into a bright new Utopian world where learning is both effective and efficient; or is technology going to amount to a really expensive anchor that drags our schools to the bottom of the sea?

These are just a few of my thoughts on educational technology... where it's going and what it's being used to accomplish.  What are your thoughts?  What are your experiences with schools and technology?

1 comment:

  1. I told both your article and Wolfram's infomercial on TED to my children.I wish to post the comment of my daughter (not yet 11) who does not really know much about computers in schools, or for what matters, about schools altogether. She says it is true that many things can be understood by reading, or someone explaining to us; but, how to understand a sphere eversion without a computer? (Good luck! Smale himself failed.)
    PS you can google, or ask, if you don't know what a sphere eversion is.