There’s too much techno pie in the sky in John Chubb and Terry Moe’s Liberating Learning, writes Darren of Right on the Left Coast.  He doubts that “technology itself  can revolutionize education.”

Edison thought that the movie would do that, as every student could then have access to the best teachers on the planet via film; that hasn’t come to pass.

Darren remembers film strips and VCRs.

He also doubts “technology will provide information that cannot be ignored; transparency will be required by the public, and decisions will be made based on this more readily available data.”

 That may be true in the future, but I’ve seen no evidence of it yet here in California in the present day. Our schools publish “school report cards” and the state publishes test performance scores for each school–I haven’t seen a mad rush of people using this information to “improve” schools.

The book suggests teachers would play a variety of roles in the “brave new technological world.”

Some may work with students in computer labs, handling much larger classes than today’s teachers do (because the computers are taking over much of the actual teaching). Some may work with students online, but still do it in real time. Some may engage in distance learning but do it asynchronously (that is, not in real time). Some may work mainly with parents, monitoring student progress and assuring proper student oversight. Some may oversee or serve as mentors to the front-line teachers themselves.

It sounds good, Darren writes. But how realistic is it?

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  1. Ponderosa says:

    Darren makes some good points in his review. Too many Americans are zombie-eyed adherents of the Cult of Technology. It’s a fundamentalism like Marxism and Ayn Randism. Infuse technology into everything and all will be well. Evidence to the contrary has no effect on these people. Schools have be saturated with technology for 20 years and results have been stagnant (but tech companies have made billions).

  2. Margo/Mom says:

    Certainly Christensen makes a persuasive case in Disrupting Class. In fact, institutions do change. Education happens to be among the most insular, but that should not lead us to believe that it is impermeable. I have seen health care change dramatically in my lifetime–not so much from technology, but in terms of systemic organization. Single office docs are now a rarety (if not extinct), replaced first by group practices, and now by various for-profit care giving organizations that hire docs as one would any employee. For better or worse, that is revolutionary change.

    But the phrase that caught my eye is the one about technology not providing data that cannot be ignored. Whoa, Nellie, hold on to that one. While it is certainly true that a dysfunctional system is capable of ignoring just about anything (the proverbial elephant in the living room), I think that historically, the trend is that the truth, once uncovered, will out. I am thinking of a much lower tech data gathering endeavor–and its ramifications. Around the turn of the 20th Century, there was a great interest in the study of childhood development. Following the lead of Stanley Hall, and others, groups of mothers organized around the Child Study principles, logging information about the growth and development of their children. One of the interesting discoveries was that the children of the poor and immigrants lagged on certain indicators such as height and weight.

    It is hard for us to imagine today stores selling milk that is watered down, or possibly infected with tuberculosis. WIC (which provides nutritional supplement and dietary education to low-income families) has become institutionalized, as have food stamps. These are revolutionary changes, and required tremendous change in the expectations of the federal government–not to mention development and expansion of several professions (public health nursing and social work) largely populated by women. But these are all direct outgrowths of women painstakingly (and manually) logging the growth and development of a nation of children. Data that couldn’t be ignored.

  3. Charles R. Williams says:

    The real contribution of technology in education is not in instructional activities but in streamlining administrative tasks. My wife has parents notified immediately by email when their students miss an assignment. The gradebook is on-line. There is a weekly syllabus posted every weekend.

    With some exceptions the use of technology in instruction has been a waste.

  4. Charles brings up a great point. I remember marveling at my high school chemistry teacher’s gradebook–all those assignments, all those tests, all those labs, and he had to add up every student’s score by hand (OK, he used a calculator, but still).

    Administrative tasks are what computers do best wrt education.

  5. tim-10-ber says:

    Before my comments —

    I have a question — what type of technology training do teachers receive in schools of education? Is any required? If yes, what skills do you have to master?

    I had prepared remarks but they were more of parental rant. So…I decided to get a better understanding of ao many teachers’ refusal to use technology in the most basic way with students. The feeling I get is there is an elitist view among teachers they do not have to use technology. I want to understand why or why not.

    My kids experience with technology and mastering skills in middle school (academic magnets with a great computer lab, four year rotation for 6 weeks each year and basic mastery of keyboarding, word, excel and powerpoint by 8th grade). My older son had a school with a computer lab and not a single computer for three years for the benefit of the students. The teachers used them to check personal email and play games. No joke.

    My older son acquired his tech skills in private school in both 8th and 9th/10th grade. This school is the one my younger now attends. They require all students have computers beginning in either 5th or 7th grade. While computers will not improve their education the ability to be very comfortable with technology, email teachers, have homework and syllabus’ on line, turn work in on line, have textbooks on line, etc, is truly awesome.

    Kids these days are very, very tech savvy whether or not their is a computer in the house. They generally have a cell phone.

    So…if my feeling about teacher’s attitude’s toward technology right or wrong? I have had both default er forced/government school experience and private school experience with technology. I want to understand this better. Thanks!

  6. I am a techno skeptic too, but does anyone feel the invention of the textbook has had a beneficial effect on education? If so, how long did it take for the effect to happen? Books were high tech centuries ago. I think many agree books revolutionized society, but did they revolutionize education?

  7. In California, teacher preparation programs are evaluated in part on how technology knowledge, and how to use it in class, is used in the programs. In many cases, though, that might mean nothing more than having a familiarization with MS Office.

    I don’t think it’s “elitist” to expect my students to know how to do actual math instead of knowing how to make a machine do math. There’s a time and a place for technology, and surprising as it may seem, K-12 math classes aren’t the place IMNSHO.

    Yes, my students know a lot more about how to manipulate technology and the internet than I do, but I’m not convinced that downloading pirated music or hacking the copy protection on dvd’s is something I need to concern myself with. I’m also not interested in getting a Facebook. But please, go check out some of the 4500 posts on my blog, which I’ve been maintaining for about 4 1/2 years. You might even click on the “calculators/computers/tech” label in the left column and read some of the over 100 posts I’ve written on the topic.

  8. Margo/Mom says:


    I observed one of my son’s better teachers teaching a lesson on mean, median and mode. It happens she was a non-typist technophobe. Her allotted computers were buried under junk in a small room off the classroom.

    She effectively taught the definition and algorithms for mean, median and mode using traditional methods: lists of numbers on the board that students copied and manipulated on paper. Her one concession to technology was that after copying and ordering the numbers as required, students could use calculators to add and average (a required accommodation for some). I don’t think any of her sample problems involved more than 10 2 digit numbers. None linked to any possible uses for figuring mean, median and mode.

    I would wager that one seldom uses mean, median or mode with such small groups of numbers. Measures of central tendancy are only helpful in understanding data in numbers too large to be grasped at a glance. And one simply doesn’t manipulate those kinds of numbers with paper and pencil (and calculator). At a minimum, one would use a spreadsheet. Once equipped with such a tool, one might find it useful to know the average number of students who attend basketball games in order to plan how many hot dogs to stock for the concession. One might want to know whether the 8 oz, 12 oz or 16 oz drinks were most popular, and if it was the same for all types of drinks.

    In fact, somewhere on the web is a nifty little gizmo that shows all three (mean, median and mode) on a number line for various manipulable groupings of numbers. Helps to set in mind exactly how these three things relate, and differ.

    But, like I said. This teacher, even though she was quite good, was a technophobe who couldn’t type. Don’t know where she could exist, outside of education.

  9. Darren,

    A few years ago, my child’s teacher told me that she was taught in ed school not to use email to communicate with parents. This was in California. Do you know anything about if/why new teachers would be taught such a thing?

  10. Hunter McDaniel says:

    “A few years ago, my child’s teacher told me that she was taught in ed school not to use email to communicate with parents. This was in California. Do you know anything about if/why new teachers would be taught such a thing?”

    Maybe because it leaves a record, which could be used as fodder in a lawsuit? And there really isn’t any way to restrict an email to be read only by the person it is addressed to. And plenty of kids are smart enough to get to their parents email account (and even impersonate their parents back to the teacher).

  11. tim-10-ber says:

    Darren — Thanks. I am by no means in favor of calculators being used by students until they master the old fashion way of doing math – in their heads and by hand. (Margo/Moom, I am sorry to hear calculators were used as accommodation in the example you mentioned.) I do not believe calculators should be used on tests, period. So…math might be a bad example. I do, however, believe once the students show mastery they could apply the formulas they have learned to problems in real life examples like Margo/Mom outlined. By showing kids how to apply algebra, geometry and calculus more might enjoy it and understand how it impacts them throughout their life. (Yeah, yeah, I know how to build these activities into the schedule with NCLB, EOC exams, etc.)

    My concern is more about the lack of use or willingness to use technology by teachers in constructive manners such as communicating with parents, with students, posting of homework on line, the course syllabus, key dates for the class, etc. You did not address any of these. Do you use these basics with your class/students/parents?

    I believe technology skills (keyboarding, powerpoint, word and excel) should be taught in middle school and should be expanded in high school.

    English teachers and others in middle and high school require papers to be typed. Teachers require students to put together power point presentations in middle school. Teachers require students to use excel spreadsheets. At least this was my experience with my son in an academic magnet middle school that had an incredible tech center and classes. The kids spent 6 weeks per year for four years in the tech lab learning these skills. What a head start for high school. Sadly, his academic magnet high school (#30 in the country because of how many student take AP and AP tests…) I guess his experience was no where near the norm for public school kids at least not in my city.

    I am glad the blog is still going. Maybe I will visit again…

  12. Roger Sweeny says:

    In my school we are told, “Don’t put anything in an email that you wouldn’t want published to the entire world.”

  13. Margo said:

    “She effectively taught the definition and algorithms for mean, median and mode using traditional methods…”

    What do you dislike about this? Makes perfect sense to me; this is how you develop a sense for maths.

    Just curious, what sort of training do you have in maths?

  14. In my school we are told, “Don’t put anything in an email that you wouldn’t want published to the entire world.”

    This is standard advice for anyone using email in the workplace. But the rest of the world manages to use email to communicate. And most of us don’t have tenure.

  15. While I’ve worked with some techno-phobic teachers, it has been the exception in my experience, not the norm.

    I use email — heck, I vastly prefer email — for communicating with parents. Uses less time, can be done with kids in the room, and I can stop and look something up if I need to. There are liablity issues with email because it of its documentary nature — we are cautioned about that. If you are going vent about what a PITA so-and-so is — don’t do it in an email to your buddy in the Math Dept. Do it in the lounge at lunch instead!

    My gradebook is online. All my assignments and handouts are online. I have extensive resources for the kids online. Certain assigments are never printed out — am trying to reduce the amount of paper I handle. My classes have wiki’s for novel discussion. Some assignments are done with powerpoint, skype, etc.

    The reading and writing isn’t all that much different, although I have to make sure I get the kids enough practice in writing out essays in long hand for the AP exams/ACT. The research is much expanded. It used to be one would assign a “term paper” with research once a year. Now it is very rare for me to not have some sort of research built into every unit.

    And the effect on teaching itself is phenomenal. I have access to thousands of lesson plans and can collaborate with other teachers around the world instantly. This is a far cry from what was going on even 10 years ago. If technology has changed education at all, this is where the big paradigm shift is.

  16. I think irony must be disappearing from the world if no one’s going to give Ponderosa a good whoopin’ for complaining about “zombie-eyed adherents of the Cult of Technology” using a personal computer, connected to the Internet, posting on a blog.

    Ponderosa, the reason so many people believe that infusing technology into anything will make it better is because in general that’s what’s happened when you infuse technology into just about anything.

    You’re free to use a turkey quill pen and parchment to pen your comments, hop aboard ol’ Dobbin and mosey on down to Mr. Godsey’s general store to post your comment via U.S. mail but it’s pretty tough to ignore that fact that acting as a zombie-eyed adherent of the Cult of Technology you can accomplish the same task in a fraction of the time and a fraction of the cost. I’d say that was better.

    What’s kind of interesting about the discussion of the use of computers/technology in teaching is that over time the debate’s morphed from fears by teachers of being replaced by computers to a sort of vague curiosity of what the heck computers can be used for in education. Certainly the fear of being replaced by computers has receded but nothing’s appeared to fill the void of exactly what utility computers might have in education. There’s no obvious, “low-hanging fruit”.

    Oh by the way Ponderosa, don’t be so tough of tech companies for selling lots of computers to the education system that haven’t had any visible effect. Someone made the decision to buy those computers and after a couple of decades of buying computers to no noticeable effect you might want to direct some of your disdain towards the people who make the buying decision. They’ve got, oh, a teensy bit of culpability as well.

  17. I think Darren may be mistaken this time. The very mediums through which we think, learn and interact are changing at such a great pace that education can’t help but be changed by it. I would agree that technology in education has been applied in mostly superficial ways so far, but that may change in the next 5-10 years as students and teachers change.

  18. Ponderosa says:

    Administrators advise against email because TONE can be so easily misread, and disputes can escalate easily. Phone calls are safer.

    Timber: in general, teachers are not technophobes or technosceptics. They jump on every tech bandwagon as giddily as any normal American. You know, they have the conventional life-enhancing iPods, iPhones, high-speed Internet, etc. (And as a result, their lives are so much better than those of their parents.) And most laud their districts’ purchase of expensive Lumens projectors, fancy document cameras, Front Row voice amplification systems, desktop thin clients, voice-over Internet phones that can do conference calls with Saturn and Jupiter and save the transcripts on your Outlook, Data Director software suites that slice and dice test scores six trillion ways, etc. They love this stuff. And yet I think it may be dawning on some of them, as it has for me, that we are spending a steadily increasing proportion of our time and brain-energy talking and thinking about technology –the putative vehicle for the curriculum –rather than the curriculum itself. We are sending emails to the tech guy about problems, hooking up cables, entering data, walking to the copy machine, reading instruction manuals, attending tech in-services RATHER THAN thinking about our subject matter, its intricacies, and the intricate task of figuring out how to craft it so that it will enter our students’ minds effectively (and no, there’s not a quick techno-fix to this difficult challenge. It demands a messy, wet and knowledge-heavy human brain).

    To an extent, it’s a zero sum game, and many of those of us ON THE GROUND know this this to be true.

    The medium is becoming (has become?) the message.

    For those of you who do not really understand what a liberal arts education is all about, this is nothing to worry about. For you, education may be mainly about creating fiendishly adept tech manipulators who will put in 15 hour days for lean, mean global tech firms.

    A liberal arts education has the potential to free students’ minds from this techno-tyranny, this mass conformity, this Cult of Technology by showing them humans who lived in different ways, who cared about different things.

    I’m not anti-technology, but I feel it is increasingly the tail that wags the dog.

  19. Margo/Mom, just because you might always use a spreadsheet in adult life doesn’t mean it’s a waste of time to do the basic calculations by hand with simple numbers when learning the concept.
    And doing it that way also provides practice with basic arithmetic along with the mental occupation of learning a new skill. In Dan Willingham’s book “Why Students Hate School” there’s a fascinating graph showing ex-students algebra knowledge for varying years after they did their last algebra class, broken down by the maths classes they had done after algebra. Students who had stopped taking maths after algebra forgot their algebra very rapidly. At any one point students who had gotten an A in their algebra class remembered more than students who had gotten a C but their rate of forgetting was as rapid. But ex-students who had taken maths classes past calculus didn’t show this forgetting – students who had taken their last maths class 50 years ago remembered as much algebra as students who had taken their last maths class 5 years ago. Interpretation – when those students were learning calculus and vector calculus and so forth they were practising algebra so much that it was driven into their very long-term memory.
    So by implication, students practising calculating median and modes and means by hand are driving arithmetic into their very long-term memory as well as learning how to calculate averages. If they did it all by spreadsheets they wouldn’t get that practice.

  20. Margo/Mom says:


    There’s an interesting editorial over at EdWeek right now about “the dumb class.” The author cites a study of kids in the “dumb class” who did not feel competent to carry out commonly taught math algorithms–and demonstrated this incompentence on a test. Yet, when researchers followed the same students into a grocery store, they were able to perform these algorithms with accuracy, and in great numbers.

    Ragnorok is concerned with what level of math I have studied. I can tell you that after following an advanced track in high school, I studied no math at all in college. I did have to demonstrate compentency (in order to avoid going back to undergrad and picking up some math) in my masters program prior to being admitted to courses dealing with finance, statistics and research. I was able to do this through testing. The story about being able to “use” the algorithms comes to mind for me because when I was observing the mean, median and mode class, I had to pay attention to the definitions–because I couldn’t remember which was which. However, when I thought about ways in which these things might be applied, I had sufficient examples in experience.

    So–the pencil and paper method of going through the algorithm and memorizing the definition, is an effective way to ensure that kids can pass a test (and her kids–all with learning disabilities–surpassed the general population in the school), at least until we begin to include an expectation of kids using technology in the testing. However, to retain the information–as you point out–requires using it. Paper and pencil and lists of made-up numbers are not conducive to doing this. Using available tools (such as a spreadsheet), with real (or like-real) problems is conducive.

  21. Margo/Mom, I haven’t read the article, but Dan Willingham also talks about that sort of learning in his book – from memory he calls it shallow knowledge – a student will know how to solve a problem in one setting but change the setting slightly without changing the underlying problem (eg switch from getting students to calculate an area of a field to the area of a wall, or in this case from doing it in a shop to doing it abstractly in a maths class). Apparently this is perfectly common and it seems to be a necessary stage before deep knowledge, where you can identify the underlying problem behind different surfaces (well at least cognitive scientists don’t know of any way of skipping over this stage and going for the direct learning, although there is often a big difference between “we don’t know how to do this” and “this can’t be done.”, and there is a lot of variation in how fast individual people move through the shallow stage).

    When I first started learning statistics at high school it was with pencil and paper and we still did a number of applied problems, both word problems from textbooks and in-class projects (we started using computers in stats class in the final year at high school). Pencil and paper are entirely compatible with like-real problems in statistics and indeed real problems. For example, Edmund Halley prepared the first age-mortality tables in 1693, well before Babbage started designing the first computer in the 19th century. (Though I’m not sure that pencils were even invented in Halley’s time.)

    The downside of learning statistics with computers is that you miss out on the practice doing arithmetic, as I discussed in my earlier comment, apparently there is some evidence from cognitve science that multiple years of practice are necessary for life-term retention of mathematical knowledge, and I think arithmetic is a valuable skill for life-time retention.

  22. In terms of what teachers have to learn, it depends. I’ll be starting a transition to teach program next year and none of the coursework has anything to do with technology unless the instructor adds it. This makes sense to me, since my original degree involved computers and I really don’t need to go to a technology class. I’d be more interested in short-term training sessions involving technology that’s actually available to me wherever I’m working (actually, I’m happy to get the manual and figure it out for myself). Undergrads at the same university take a basic computer course. They don’t learn anything cutting edge, though, and they don’t really learn how to teach anything about computers. It’s more of a boot camp to make sure they know something about computers so they can get their work done and they aren’t clueless around kids.

    My own children attend a school where they have a computing class once a week for 30 minutes. The computers aren’t brand-new, but when they’re young they’re mostly learning how to manipulate the devices. Once the children are all reading reliably, they learn about the internet and how they should behave while using it. They learn to use office-type software. In middle school they are taught how to use advanced search engines and how to determine if the results are meaningful and valid. They have to write a research topic relating to technology. Last year’s papers ran the gamut from Facebook and its relevance and safety to the history and future of the mp3 file. Interesting stuff. They leave school knowing how to use these tools.

    I communicate with my children’s teachers via e-mail, for the most part. I prefer it and I know they do too. They will use the technology that makes their lives easier (online grading systems, for example), but they don’t go out of their way to add technology onto an already busy day. The technology at our school isn’t the newest and I know that over the last few years there have been so many hiccups that some teachers have said, “let me know when I don’t need to call the tech guy to get the lesson started” and given up on the fancy stuff. I can’t blame them. There’s a lot to be done in a day, and waiting around for a person to come make it all work because it’s too complicated or it’s broken doesn’t make any learning happen.

    I think of technology as a tool. Just as kids need to learn to use pencils, eventually they have to learn a little technology just to get by. It doesn’t matter if they learn about technology incidentally, because someone has thoughtfully integrated it into other subject matter learning, or as a separate thing. I use technology everyday, but except for the times when I worked as a programmer and consultant I didn’t earn money directly from technology. I used it as a tool to more effectively complete my tasks. Just because you have a hammer, that doesn’t mean everything is a nail. Use the right tool for the job. We need to teach our kids the same. Just because it’s pretty and shiny and has great promise doesn’t mean it will be effective in teaching children.

  23. Tracy W, I haven’t read Willingham’s book yet, but does the study control for the IQ and socioeconomic status of the students, as well as the professions they chose?

    Students need to master the algorithms. They also need to master “simple” paper and pencil methods. Technology becomes a crutch, if used blindly. If you know that 8% of 100 is 8, then you should know that 8% of 95, and 8% of 105, will be near 8. It won’t be 16, even if your calculator tells you so. The ability to make quick, ballpark estimations is much more useful than the ability to plod through a spreadsheet.

  24. Margo, in reference to your comment about doctors being employed by for-profit corporations, I would like to add that it is also increasingly common for doctors to be employed by non-profit hospitals/clinics/corporations. As a close observer, I am in no way convinced that that model is inherently better than independent groups or that the non-profit hospitals are better than physician-owned ones. In one significant respect, the physician-owned ones are far better; vastly less administration of any kind. That last comparison is one I have seen between public vs private schools.

  25. Margo/Mom says:


    You are right about non-profits in health care, and there is a rapidly blurring line between for-profit and not-for-profit. But, I wasn’t advocating any one over the other, merely trying to imply that wholesale change is possible.

  26. Oh, give it up Ponderosa.

    There’s probably a great deal of value in being able to drop obscure literary references into casual conversation but that’s offset by the inability to change a tire. Or at least the conceit that knowledge of how to change a tire, and the person who possesses that knowledge, are worthy only of condescension.

    If we’re all done with the “mere mechanics” phase of the rant about the value of a liberal arts education can we return our attention to what the heck anyone’s going to do with computers in education that warrants a startled realization that a breakthrough of epic proportions has occurred?

    So far we’ve got e-mail and a couple of other generic applications like the web and instant messaging offered up as educational applications but which anyone can tell you doesn’t qualify as the breakthrough that’ll take education from something Socrates would understand without explanation to something more befitting an age stuffed to bursting with eeelectronic brains.

    E-books seem to have suddenly taken center stage with California’s embracing of open source texts which aren’t, strictly speaking, necessarily e-books but can be. But at heart open source books are text books. Maybe good text books but technology’s not necessary for the creation of open source textbooks. All you need is an open source copyright license.

    So does anyone have an application for computers/communications in education that warrants an “Oh my gawd!”?

  27. I don’t.

    Take the example of email. Some teachers exchange emails with parents, but many teachers and administrators, cited in this thread, are explicitly advised _not_ to use email. In this case, many feel that a “lower” technology–the telephone–should be preferred.

    If there weren’t the halo of Progress around e-books, would they be preferred to printed texts? Printed texts are much sturdier, and you won’t lose access to all your textbooks if you drop your backpack too roughly.

    Now, increased use of technology increases a school system’s budget, which can lead to increased salaries for administrators. “Managed a $XXX million dollar budget.”

  28. Parent2 – the studies controlled for the students’ grades at the end of the algebra course. Students who got As forgot as fast as students who got Cs if they didn’t keep taking maths classes but because they knew more to start with, at any point in time after the end of the class the sutdents who had gotten an A remembered more than the students who had gotten a C.
    Students who had kept taking maths courses past algebra forgot slower (or not at all) despite their grades. A students remembered more of course at any point in time?
    I haven’t read the original research papers, but why do you think that controlling for IQ and parents’ socioeconomic status would add in more information than just controlling for grades at the end of the last algebra course?

  29. IQ may have an influence, as it includes a memory component.

    Socioeconomic status would be even more important. If the study includes participants whose last algebra class lies 50 years in the past, the characteristics of the student make a difference. Students who went on to math beyond calculus 30+ years ago were much more likely to be either from affluent families, or to have been recognized as brilliant. In either case, they’re also likely to have landed in professions which require the use of math skills. Even a lawyer, or small business owner, will need to calculate interest rates.

    I agree with the conclusion that practice increases the likelihood of retaining knowledge and skill. It’s just that setting the division between subjects at “algebra” and “past calculus” includes other distinctions between the groups. Access to further courses in math was (still is) determined by a host of factors.

  30. Should education look like something Socrates would not recognize? Has the human brain evolved in any measurable way?

  31. Should education be immune to change? To improvements in performance and efficiency?

    On the basis of the responses of the proponents of the current system of education, the answer would be a carefully obfuscated “yes”.

    Sorry, no longer acceptable.

  32. Ponderosa says:

    The new Lumens projector and document reader in my classroom cost many times what my old overhead projector did, but its images are grainer and duller than what the old technology gave me. It’s also more complicated and likely to break down and require tech support. My library of overhead transparencies, painstakingly gathered over the years, has been rendered obsolete (I can salvage them to an extent by backing them with white paper, but it’s hard to avoid a bit of an obscuring shadow in the image).

    Of course education should be open to change –but it ought to adopt innovations very judiciously. Not every new thing is a good thing (this is something tech fans seem reluctant to admit). In fact, I would venture to say that FEW of the novelties that tech salesmen (or ed school professors) eagerly push on us are worthy of adoption. And many have harmful unintended consequences, like the great loss of efficiency when a new textbook or new machine forces us to throw out our old lessons and habits and build new ones –with little or no genuine improvement in our “product”. It seems to me this happens all the time, and the net effect of all these waves of “creative destruction” is less creative than destructive.

  33. Allen, can technology deliver “improvements in performance and efficiency?” How?

    It’s very useful for word processing, keeping records, and correspondence. On the other hand, a very basic computer system could perform those tasks. It would be much less expensive to provide teachers with a rock-solid server-based email and grading system, and to maintain enough basic computers for word processing.

    I don’t know of any reputable study which has shown an increase in student performance through the use of technology–perhaps you do? We’ve spent billions on this goal, and all we’ve done is inflate school budgets.

    “Efficiency” is an interesting word. Yes, with the use of computers, schools should be able to have leaner administrative staffing–should have had it long since. Why don’t they? If they haven’t been able to deflate administrative bloat since the ’80s, I decline to believe that ever more expensive hardware and (proprietary!) software programs will increase administrative efficiency.

    When it comes to teachers and aides, in our local public school there’s been a huge increase in special education aides. I don’t know of any technology which can supplant a human in keeping track of a child who needs to be watched every second. Do you?

    The great dream of many proponents of technology in education seems to be centralized content provided to students sitting in rows, absorbed by the computer-delivered lessons. I don’t find this to be an inspiring vision. In addition, it runs counter to the current progressive philosophy which has a grasp on the public school system.

  34. Well on the basis of the value technology’s brought to every area to which it’s been applied I’d say that the lack of impact technology’s had on public education is more a function of the particulars of public education then of failings in technology.

    If you look at the use of technology everywhere other then public education you see that it’s been applied improve performance and cut costs.

    But it’s only outside public education that those factors matter. In public education performance isn’t measured nor is it rewarded so it stands to reason that there’s not much value seen in a performance improvement that results from the use of technology. Costs are also largely immaterial since tax revenue is not a function of customer satisfaction but of political clout. In fact, from a political standpoint efficiency improvements that result in lower costs are a distinctly two-edged sword since the success in politics is directly related to budget size.

    So we have an institution in which performance and efficiency are not valued which might be a pretty good reason for why technology’s had so little impact on public education and why administrative staffing has burgeoned at five times the rate of increase of teaching staff. You’ve got to do something with all the money that’s poured into public education if you aren’t using it to improve educational results.

  35. It is generally popular for politicians to spend more on public schools. Spending more is popular, and shows that you are “doing something.”

    Cutting schools budgets to the bone wouldn’t improve the situation, though, as there are layers and layers of laws and contracts which govern where the money goes.

    I don’t agree that technology always, automatically, improves everything. It helps a great deal with managing the industrial supply chain. I’d agree that large urban districts could probably save a great deal of money if* they could update their supply tracking systems, for food, stationery, janitorial supplies, and textbooks, á la Walmart. (*big if.)

    It helps with rote paperwork and forms, of which there are many in modern public schools. I wonder, though, if making it easier to fill out forms leads to more and longer forms? Does the time devoted to filling out forms remain constant?

    The glowing opinion pieces I’ve read on technology in schools have cited successes in online technology for certain populations, primarily homeschoolers, and gifted students seeking advanced classes. That ignores the fact that these are self-directed, eager learners, on the whole. If the public schools were filled with students with a thirst for knowledge, they would be very different places.

  36. I use technology in the classroom to streamline the writing-feedback cycle with my students, mainly since they and I both seem to be able to type faster than we can hand-write and I’m lucky enough to have access to computers during the school day so my students who lack access at home don’t have to feel singled out. Used to be a set of major writings (i.e., 2 to 5 five pages for each of 150 kids) would take me two weeks to offer meaningful feedback upon and then return. Now I can do that in one (albeit busy) weekend thanks to my use of technology…just the simple comments feature in MS word and a bank of stickies for the comments which may be oft repeated, nothing outofthisworld.

    Perhaps this works as evidence of more efficiency? As a result, my kids with faster and thus more meaningful feedback…since the learning experience is in the very recent past, not weeks ago…and I also can give greater depth of feedback because I type it faster (and they read it more easily). As a result, I see more meaningful changes in writing, rhetorical organization, and critical thinking attempted by my students, and they also have more opportunities to act upon my feedback because the feedback cycle can be repeated at a higher frequency as opposed to if I were offering hand-written feedback. In the last three years I’ve only had one student not pass the state writing test, and I teach in a remedial program, so take it for what you will…either the test is too easy or the approach has net us some good results.

    While this isn’t a “wow” example, it is an example of technology being used as a tool, not a showpiece. I also use the internet to guide students in media literacy, understanding bias, doing academic versus personal research, etc. Again, not a “wow,” but certainly serving a purpose. I use online reading assessments to get loads of feedback on the discrete skills and comprehension deficiencies my students may have (not just that they don’t understand, but that they trend toward an inability to infer a main idea or to ascertain temporally disconnected cause and effect…specific literacy issues like that.)

    To me, nothing is worse than using technology for technology’s sake…to show off or just because. I have some friends in other districts who forced their students to blog, and when I asked them about their instructional purpose in doing so, they couldn’t really articulate it other than “so they would blog.” To me, that is misuse of technology and a serious waste of time.

  37. Parent2 – good points on the different life experiences, although I do think that controlling for the end of course grade would capture most of the effects of IQ on long-term retention.

  38. Mark — exactly the sorts of things I do with technology. Using the MSWord Comments feature also allows my students to shoot me a draft at night or on a weekend for some feedback before it is due (I limit this, but allow the option when I am going to be home marking/planning anyway). Students really benefit, and it is quite efficient, but again, not something Socrates wouldn’t recognize as education.

    My kiddos also appreciate not having to read my handwriting.

    FWIW, I have had kids blog just for the idea of audience and to train them to talk to each other instead of to each other through me. I also want them to learn the difference between playing online (Facebook, etc.) and creating a more professional persona that they’ll need in college and career.