Showing off tech toys

Ken DeRosa of D-Ed Reckoning mocks a gee-whiz story in the Arkansas Democrat Gazette on new technology in local schools. DeRosa advises:

When journalist arrives to see your new toy make sure you have a young student available to demonstrate something that looks like education. Bonus points if the student is photogenic and young enough to cuddle. Extra bonus points if the student comes from an historically underperforming minority group.

Sure enough, the story starts with cute, little Angel Chavez, 5, writing his name on the new white board.

Instead of chalk or marker, Angel picked up an electronic pen and scrawled his name, as best he could, across the class’s new interactive white board, a computer screen sensitive to touch that also runs computer programs, streaming videos and Web sites.

Will Angel learn more writing with an electronic pen than he would with a marker or a piece of chalk? How will the teacher use the new board to teach more effectively? That’s not clear, admits the Democrat Gazette reporter.

The (Metiri Group) report found that technology provides a “small, but significant” boost in learning when implemented carefully.

“Small but significant” is unlikely to outweigh the opportunity costs for the time and money devoted to technology, DeRosa writes.

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  1. Richard Nieporent says:

    across the class’s new interactive white board, a computer screen sensitive to touch that also runs computer programs, streaming videos and Web sites.

    The only significant revenue stream from either source is the federal Enhancing Education Through Technology grant program, Bradford said. The program sent $ 2. 4 million in competitive grants to Arkansas schools with large numbers of low-income students last year.

    Your tax dollars at work. Doesn’t that make you feel good?

    “They text message. They use cell phones. They do YouTube. Learning in a visual, interactive kind of way has become their best learning style. We can’t ask them to leave that at the school door because we have other ways we are more comfortable teaching.”

    Really?? Maybe the teacher should text message her lessons or better yet make YouTube videos. I am sure that will make the children learn. What an idiot!

    Today, Brannan and her students use laptops, document cameras, classroom clickers that let students answer questions electronically

    Judy, how much is 3 + 2? You choices are:
    (a) 67045964855
    (b) 0.00004586
    (c) 5
    (d) octopus
    Remember, you still have two lifelines left. Okay, let’s see what the classroom says.

  2. Another pathetic story about how the gods of technology will save us. Yes, spending millions and showering schools with electronic gadgetry is the sure thing for getting those pesky visual learners up to speed. I can see their test scores rising already.

    Visual learner, n.: Euphemism for someone who can’t read.

  3. Actually, technology can be used successfully to motivate kids. Most kids aren’t thrilled with the prospect of practicing their handwriting. Give them a whiteboard and a computer and they’ll fight among themselves to practice their handwriting on it.

    Visual learner does not equal someone who can’t read. It merely means someone who process information best when it is presented primarily visually.

  4. Richard Nieporent says:

    Give them a whiteboard and a computer and they’ll fight among themselves to practice their handwriting on it.

    Sure MiT, and then afterwards they go home and play pong.

  5. Mike,

    Just curious, does the tactile feedback of an electronic pen equal that of a good ink pen?

  6. Walter E. Wallis says:

    I would think one advantage of the electronic whiteboard – the ability to put up new problems with a click, rather than having to turn your back and write them.

  7. Ragnorak,

    Honestly don’t have a clue, I’ve never had a whiteboard to use. But a 5 year old wouldn’t be writing with a pen but would use a pencil.

  8. Mike,

    I’ve generally had a tough time with electronic pens. When I use one (for UPS, or to sign a credit card slip), it feels awkward and the output looks nothing like my regular handwriting – less legible.

    I think pencils give you good tactile feedback.

  9. Mike – motivation due to the use of technology will wear off as the practice becomes commonplace. Is the short-term benefit worth the cost when it maight be spent on something that produces long-term benefits?

    I’m all for technology that eases the workload for teachers… and if the whiteboards achieve this, then I’m all for them.

  10. Seems like too many school districts are “investing” lots of $ in technology because it’s kewl, rather than because they have any real idea of how it can be used to support their missions. Which makes about as much sense as a manufacturing business ordering a bunch of lathes, milling machines, etc and expecting these devices to somehow organize themselves into a rational production process.

    Michael Schrage, who actually knows something about technology and its uses, has some relevant thoughts: All Rousseau and No Epictetus.

  11. Actually, right now the electronic technology looks pretty good, especially the whiteboard imaging stuff.

    What it is replacing are those overheads with bulbs that don’t work, that don’t focus worth a hoot, that need to be cleaned regularly because the rollers aren’t stocked any more, and can be used more effectively in regular classroom light without dimming the lights.

  12. You could replace the bulbs, or the overheads themselves, for far less money than an active board, especially when one adds in the peripherals. Of course, the schools are spending other people’s money.

  13. JK–spoken by someone who’s never tried to jump through all those dang hoops. When the roller sheets are unavailable because they are no longer made, that means that teachers must then write on individual transparency sheets or wash the glass when it is full. Unfortunately, that means that if you need to scroll back to get the information you wrote down previously, it’s not there. Or you sort through pages of transparency sheets.

    Either that, or you spend several hours washing off a full transparency roller to reuse it. Geez, what a wonderful use of teacher time and taxpayer dollars spent paying that teacher.

    It’s also an issue that it’s hard to get decent quality, durable overheads.

    It’s easy to whine “other people’s money” when you aren’t the one wrestling with equipment that doesn’t work, can’t be fixed, can’t be replaced, because the parts either don’t exist any more, can’t be ordered, or no one knows what you do to fix them.

    Considering that in my school, the PTA made the choice to buy the technology, I’d say your pocket’s safe.

    Then again, considering that money seems to be more important than education to most folks, what do I expect?

  14. Highland HL1610 Overhead Projector (Amazon): $123.36

    Recent (3 years ago) quote from local paper on funding for an Active Board (including wiring, installation, and teacher training): 2 for $14800, thus, 1 for $7,400

    Since one Active board would cost more than 56 times the Overhead Projector, yes, I say “other people’s money.”

    (at office depot, I see a 3M overhead projector for $319.99. Still, for the cost of one active board, one can buy 23 overhead projectors. Each teacher can have his own!)

    If the attraction of the white board is to display computer printouts, or screen shots, couldn’t one print onto transparency film? (at office depot, $41.99 for 50 sheets of color laser printer). Films can be reused? And a school system should be able to buy in bulk?

    From your complaint about parts, it sounds as if your purchasing and supply department faces challenges. If they can’t handle overhead projectors, what will they do when an active board breaks down?

    If more money were buying a better education, I’d be all for it. However, when I see public money thrown away, it leaves a sour taste in my mouth. My kids attend a school which has white boards. I have yet to hear a compelling use case for them.

  15. At work we have access to state-of-the-art electronic communication technology of all kinds, and I assure you that we engineers don’t use it. Regular whiteboards and chalk-talks are far better than fancy electronic presentations, including PowerPoint.

    Most engineers will tell you that a PowerPoint presentation’s dazzling effects are matched only by its shallowness.

    Chalk-talks are harder to fake, and therefore intellectually more honest.

  16. “considering that money seems to be more important than education to most folks, what do I expect?”…this country spends a tremendous amount of money on education in multiple forms. This kind of snideness does not encourage people to believe that the money is being spent in a responsible manner.