In defense of technology

Education software does too work — if it’s used, writes Gregg Downey of eSchool News. A federal study that found students who used software didn’t learn more than a control group is “half-baked,” Downey argues.

At one point, the study itself reveals this astonishing fact: “For a typical 180-day school year, average daily usage is about 10 minutes for all products combined.”

Hmm … Using math or reading software for 10 minutes a day doesn’t boost test scores.

That leads to another question: Why should schools spend $2 billion a year on technology if it’s only used 10 minutes a day?

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Comments

  1. GradSchoolMom says:

    I’m just starting to experience how far behind our public educational system is when it comes to technology. I am currently participating in a grad school project. There are eight of us in the group and we are to develop an online constructivist lesson to present to the other half of the class. We are all Instructional Technology majors and most of the class is currently teaching at a public school. Not only are the teachers unfamiliar with how to use MySpace, Wikis and blogs but they are constantly protesting that we can not put them into a lesson because all the schools have them blocked. Teachers are also not allowed to create Web sites to help or inspire their classes.

  2. The real problem with being behind in educational technology is the fact that many people at the school and district don’t realize that you can get so much for free. Everything from Office software to wiki’s to browsers……almost everything is now open source. The only thing that needs to be paid for is the hardware, which can be found at discounted prices.

    We also need to demand that teachers get on the same page as this century. Many teachers at our school don’t even use e-mail, because they feel it isn’t needed. That creates a cost issue since paper costs money while e-mail is bascially free.

    Still, we need funding to buy good hardware. Our hardware is going on 7 years old and is woefully ill-equipped to handle modern software (256 RAM doesn’t cut it). It doesn’t do much good to get kids lab time when 10 minutes of it is watching the computer boot up.

  3. SuperSub says:

    Coach-
    One major issue with open-source software is the lack of technical support. Our district IT people are busy enough updating and fixing systems using software that is provided to them… forcing them to have to essentially research any problems to find a solution would require a more staff and bigger paychecks.
    Unless a school district is growing financially, it is difficult for schools to maintain the large networks that many promote today. Our school is still using Compaqs with Pentium 2’s and Win 98 because the school cannot afford to buy new ones. We do get donated computers here and there that are more recent, so now we have a hodgepodge network composed of computers with Win 98, Win 2000, and WinXP.

  4. Miller Smith says:

    Nothing works or there is not enough of it! I was given two computer carts for the science department for a total of 32 laptops. Thi is supposed to serve 2963 students. And when we try to use the laptops for web science activities, the laptops tell us that they are not properly updated. When we try to update them we are told we don’t have admin rights. When we ask the ONE IT guy in the school, he has no time for our little problems.

    Solution? But another full set of laptops tat are up to date.

    The people who run these studies are realy missing the boat on the real problems.

  5. SuperSub says:

    I still don’t think that it’s necessary for students to use computers prior to middle or high school. The general population of students do not need computers to learn or understand the material… as long as they are brought up through the system independent of computers as past generations have been.
    My students are part of the wikipedia and google generation, where typing a few key words into a box and hitting enter will give you information on a topic that is concise and highlights the main points. I have had students who begged to use the internet to find the definition of a word when I had given them dictionaries or textbooks with glossaries.
    Students lack comprehension skills because they are used to having the main points bulleted for them as opposed to having to distill them from a passage.
    Computers have their uses, and in some well-designed cases can enhance learning, but for the most part the internet revolution, imo, has led to a generation that will not able to think for themselves.

  6. wayne martin says:

    > My students are part of the wikipedia and google generation,
    > where typing a few key words into a box and hitting enter will
    > give you information on a topic that is concise and highlights
    > the main points. I have had students who begged to use the
    > internet to find the definition of a word when I had given them
    > dictionaries or textbooks with glossaries.

    A dictionary costs 10-15 dollars, and every student sooner-or-later needs one. Dictionaries generally are not carried about, although these days Laptops are. Anyone wanting to look up a word can enter http://www.dictionary.com pretty easily, and a number of dictionary definitions are provided. Thesaurus services are also provided on this WEB-site.

    The Laptop can also be used to download (eventually) millions of books, articles and videos which can be used for both educational purposes, as well as recreation. Almost instantaneous access to information is now available outside the school room, so students should be educated inside the paradigm which is now evolving on a daily basis.

    While the modern Laptop hasn’t quite become a mythical “Dynabook”, it has become so useful that every student should be outfitted with one.

  7. Walter E. Wallis says:

    Ultimately every student will have a laptop and no books. While W98 will not ring all today’s bells and whistles it can do a lot of the drills that bore classrooms talking to the tune of a hick’ry stick. Demote computers. Give seniors the latest.
    I still miss TRS DOS.

  8. Why should schools spend $2 billion a year on technology if it’s only used 10 minutes a day?

    Because they can?

  9. wayne martin says:

    > The news media at large were gullible, incurious, and
    > downright lazy. They took PR punch lines that defy
    > common sense and mindlessly repeated them. The ill
    > effects of their sloth likely will undermine education
    > efforts for years to come–as latter-day Luddites, imbeciles,
    > yahoos, and cheapskates wave accounts of this so-called ”
    > research” whenever legislative sessions and school board
    > meetings convene to consider technology expenditures.

    > The whole fiasco is a dirty shame. But that’s what happens
    > when the reporters and editors we rely on for news and
    > analysis become nothing but repeaters.

    This is true of the media in America .. not just those reporting on this particular story. Dealing with media people is like talking to children. If you are pleasant to them and give them some “candy”, they will write a story that pretty much takes your point-of-view and sugar coats it even more than you have.

    It’s getting to the point that intelligent people can not depend on the American media to do much more than be transcribers for their information sources.

  10. wayne martin says:

    I have a friend in upstate NY who teachers school. In the mid-1980s, when LANs were beginning to make their way into “corporate” America, I called him to see if he was aware of this technology and to tell him how useful it was allowing people to communicate more effectively then ever before. (Most of the startups I worked in were small, and we basically talked over the partition walls, or passed code amongst ourselves with floppy-discs. LANs changed that forever.)

    My friend was very negative to the idea. He went on a jag about how “technology had to work” before it would be accepted into the classrooms. At that time, PCs were only about 10 years old, the AT had just been introduced; most people were still happy with a 10mb disk on their XTs. A lot of the technology didn’t work, but making it work was the challenge. To my friend, the challenges which were driving Silicon Valley to ever greater heights were simply barriers that he, and his colleagues were unwilling to overcome. So .. he and his school did without for at least a decade.

    Sadly, a lot of this technology is developed by people who think that chess is simple, and everything they develop should be equally so. The products that such people design usually go no-where, but they do make an initial entrance into the market place—and usually to some audience who are all too frequently captive audiences.

    Schools have tremendous buying power. Certainly each State’s Department of Education could be a clearing house for evaluating education software and associated hardware. How much of that is going on is an open question. With the Schools under the thumb of State legislatures, it’s a wonder they achieve anything at all.

    Regional wireless Internet access is being implement for major West Coast population centers—the SF.BayArea is being outfitted for a fairly large “cloud”. Sacramento has issued a similar RFP. There are articles in the world Press recently about “clouds” for Mexico City and London. Taipai is supposed to already have a WIMAX “cloud”. Clearwire has announced plans for WIMAX in many regional population centers on the West Coast and Hawaii. People/students will be able to access the Internet from anywhere within the “cloud”.

    With the advent of “pervasive networking”, it will be difficult not to be able to claim “access” problem. The availability of low-cost hardware reduces another “access” problem. This just leaves the classroom teacher as the weak link in the chain.

    The wealth of material available to students in video format is astounding. Recently I found CDs of “Victory at Sea” in a low discount store for $1/disc. A video history of WWII for $4—twelve hours of programming that cold be server-based (with a license) or provided to students at $4/student (on loan) to provide high quality, factual documentation of a major world-wide event that students need to learn about. I also found three or four other discs also for the same $1/disc price which provided video coverage of WWII on the European front. It is not likely that students would have the time to read very much about WWII, but being able to experience it thru the video medium of the time is a different story. There are thousands of hours of video in the National Archives that are sitting around gathering dust. No reason this material shouldn’t be digitized and made available to America’s schools at virtually no cost.

    Again .. the weak link here are America’s teachers.

  11. wayne martin says:

    One of the larger providers of education software is this outfit:

    http://www.blackboard.com/us/index.Bb

    Not being a teacher, I can’t vouch for it first hand. But it seems to have product offerings which would be needed for K-12 educators.

    One of the tools now available to schools is the ability for teachers to keep grades on-line, with parent access. This, of course, requires teachers to enter their grades on-line, and for parents to care enough to look at the grades.

    Certainly email between teachers and parents has been available for well over a decade, and cell phones need to be considered as a technology that increases the accessibility of teachers to parents.

    As I pointed out in the first posting on this topic .. the technology of technology evaluation frequently lags the technology itself by up to a decade. Over time, the evaluators will come to see what needs to be evaluated and our perceptions of the cost/benefits will change.

    Ed Schools need to increase the technology components of their programs too for Teaching BAs.

  12. Wayne
    The weak link is not the American teachers, but the pocketbooks of individual school districts. The examples concerning WiFi clouds that you cite are anecdotal and do not apply to anything near the majority of school districts. As for the low-cost hardware issue… schools do not have the capital to continually invest in updating their networks, our district has trouble just maintaining it.
    I will gladly incorporate technology that is dependable and has a clear benefit to my students. Unfortunately, in all but a few cases, I have nt found technology that meets my criteria. By the way, I’m a techie – build my own computers, have done some programming in college, so I cannot be dismissed as a techno-phobe.

  13. Wayne Martin says:

    > The weak link is not the American teachers,
    > but the pocketbooks of individual school districts.

    We’ll have to disagee on that.

    > The examples concerning WiFi clouds that you
    > cite are anecdotal and do not apply to anything
    > near the majority of school districts.

    Again, we’ll have to disagree. While I have cited some anecdotal examples, let’s remind ourselves that all of the school districts inside this “cloud” are serviced by this cloud, as well as the student’s homes. (Signal strength is an issue, but there are signal collectors which can convert a weak WiFi signal to an Ethernet signal for redistribution in-house.)

    School Districts can set up their own wireless “clouds” which could easily remove the wireline infrastructure with much lower-to-purchase and maintain wireless equipment.

    Wildblue operates an over-the-US satellite which can provide Wireless signal in areas where it isn’t economical to try to use WiFi (802.11a-n). Wireline also provides networking access in these areas. The dreaded Gore Tax provides direct subsidy from urban network users/customers to rural users/customers.

    > As for the low-cost hardware issue… schools do not
    > have the capital to continually invest in updating their
    > networks, our district has trouble just maintaining it.

    Without details, I can’t comment. However, from watching our School District—they have no master plan for hardware purchases/replacements and really don’t have much management as one would expect in the private sector.

    Of course, PCs are a part of the “network”, so the total cost is a lot higher than if you were just talking cabling, routers and software. I would be interested in seeing your District’s technology plan and the yearly payouts for networking, however.

  14. Walter E. Wallis says:

    The $100 laptop will be $200, but it is coming and anyone who is not prepared will sit in the dust wondering whot happened. Substitute vidio conferences for all those educational conclaves in Vegas or Lake Louise, and you have half the computer budget.

  15. Anybody want to hazard a guess as to why public education should embrace technology?

    It seems not at all tough to crystallize the reason the private sector has rushed to embrace technology: productivity. Productivity that translates into profits and competitive advantage.

    What’s the analogous motivation in public education?

    Everybody seems puzzled at the failure of technology to remake public education the way technology’s remade the private sector and continues to do so. Perhaps it would help to lift the veil of mystery if the reason that should motivate the elective and administrative personnel in a public school district were put into words.

    Supersub believes the technology isn’t sufficiently reliable and has no clear benefit.

    Yet that’s the technology that modern business now depends utterly upon because of the significant benefits that come with the utilization of the technology. It’s the technology that’s used in hospitals, petroleum refineries and a very large number of businesses. How much more demanding an environment must the public education system be for the same technology to be seen as unreliable and without clear benefit?

    Anybody else care to step up to the plate and take a couple of swings?

  16. “[T]he motion picture is destined to revolutionise our educational system and…in a few years it will supplant largely, if not entirely, the use of textbooks.”

    Thomas Edison, 1922

    ( http://assets.wharton.upenn.edu/~faulhabe/790/Computers%20in%20Classroom–Not.html )

    I’m pretty sure most folks here would sooooo not want MORE TECHNOLOGY if you looked at the history of technology and schools of education.

    Ed schools love technology.

    Love it, love it, love it.

    My super high-achieving district has technology up the wazoo.

    Technology and data warehousing! Which means death by data.

    What we don’t have is books.

  17. JuliaK says:

    The productivity gains in business from technology have come about in great part because companies have been able to replace workers with machines. Public schools’ tenure policies make such savings impossible.

    Computers can help with paperwork. Word processing is very handy. A motivated, independent learner can use them for drill. However, motivated, independent learners don’t need the crutch of computers to learn. For grading, and email, they’re useful. Are they suited to teaching, considering how expensive they are? I’m not convinced.

    The largest barriers to using them are the replacement cycle for hardware, the need for competent personnel to keep them running, and the mandatory upgrade/price increase cycle of software companies (Vista, anyone?). All of this costs money, and if you can’t trim head count, and can’t point to significantly greater learning, it’s a fool’s game.

  18. wayne martin says:

    > I’m pretty sure most folks here would sooooo not want
    > MORE TECHNOLOGY if you looked at the history of
    > technology and schools of education.

    I’m pretty sure most folks here would sooooo not want
    MORE DEMOCRACY if you looked at the history of
    democracy and schools of education.

    Democracy has been built on the institution of slavery. This was true in the Roman state, the proto-democratic British colonies, and the Independent US Republic.

    Technology is about the future .. not the past.

  19. wayne martin says:

    WiFi “clouds” will sooner-or-later be almost ubiquitous:

    —-
    http://www.wyff4.com/news/13233956/detail.html
    South Carolina Could Be Country’s First Wireless State

    POSTED: 12:56 pm EDT May 1, 2007

    GREENVILLE, S.C. — Soon, the entire state of South Carolina could go wireless.

    Many spots in the state still don’t have access to high speed Internet. But a new bill in the Senate could change that.

    The bill would create the Wireless Technology and Communication Commission. That group would gather the information and technology needed to make it happen.

    State Rep. Dwight Loftis co-authored the bill. He said that statewide wireless access would allow South Carolina to connect with the world.

    “It will provide the virtual infrastructure that rural communities don’t have. It will add to a benefit to healthcare. It will have a benefit in the area of education — virtual schools, distance learning. It will facilitate law enforcement, emergency services.”

    If the bill is passes, the wireless network could be up and running in just 24 months.
    ————

    Schools (meaning teachers) will have little excuse about not having universal access to Internet access. It falls to them to make something of this access to the world, it’s libraries, museums and archived information.