Al Gore’s global warming film is getting great reviews and Mike Petrilli of Gadfly wonders why teachers don’t have the same media tools for use in the classroom.
If “computerized charts, photos, archival footage, even cartoons” are helpful to Al Gore, why don’t millions of teachers routinely deploy them in our K-12 classrooms?
Wouldn’t this help schools connect with a generation that has been immersed in digital media since birth? Imagine a middle school science teacher weaving film, graphics, cartoons, even interactive video games into her lessons. Along with her own knowledge of the subject and passion for helping children learn, this could create a breakthrough learning experience. Why, twenty years into the “information age,” isn’t such instruction the norm?
Individual teachers don’t have the time to put together mini-documentaries.
Why doesn’t someone—a private company, maybe the government—create an online library of full-blown media-enhanced lessons that any teacher could tap? Maybe even with video clips of master teachers giving lessons before a real-live class?
Petrilli writes about the barriers. it will take a big investment to develop lessons, even more to customize for different state standards. But “our education system is allergic to spending money on this type of R&D and capital investment, choosing instead to allocate the vast majority of resources to teacher salaries and benefits.”
The trickle of money that does flow into instructional materials is locked up by the textbook companies—the fourth barrier. While they are well-positioned to create digital content for the classroom (producing educational content, after all, is what they do), to date they have moved glacially into this arena. Why? Mostly because they haven’t yet figured out how to make the kind of money from multi-media content that they can from old-fashioned books. In the meantime, they are trying their hardest to use their political muscle, extensive distribution channels, and state-adoption procedures to block upstarts from becoming a threat.
Finally, teachers’ unions are hostile to any innovation that might reduce the demand for teachers or the pressure to raise salaries. Petrilli doesn’t see this as a real threat, but I’m not so sure. Instead of raising all salaries to attract more qualified physics teachers, schools might buy a media course taught by a master teacher and let a modestly paid teaching assistant run discussions, supervise projects and give tests. It wouldn’t be ideal, but it could be better than putting the class completely under the control of a teacher who doesn’t know physics.