New technology, same old teaching

Schools aren’t getting much bang for millions of technology bucks, concludes the Center for American Progress. Education leaders buy the latest technology — whiteboards, laptops, e-readers — without thinking through how digital devices will help meet learning goals.

Across the nation, we found that many schools were using technology in the same way that they have always used technology; students are using drill and practice programs to hone basic skills. Students are passively watching videos and DVDs. Too many students do not have access to hands-on science projects.

. . . schools are not using technology to do things differently.

Technology may be widening the digital divide, the report warns. In many schools, “students from disadvantaged backgrounds are being given the least engaging, least promising technology-facilitated learning opportunities.”

School leaders lack “the tools and incentives needed to connect spending to outcomes and reorganize programs in ways that take full advantage of school technology,” the report finds. No state is looking at technology return on investment.

 As policymakers and other stakeholders invest billions of dollars in school technology each year, we should be asking ourselves: Are these investments the best use of our limited dollars? Is technology allowing us to do things that we do not—or cannot—already do? How are we ensuring that students have the skills that they need to succeed?

In some cases, technology is improving learning and widening access to courses, CAP concludes. Technology has the potential to “kickstart the process of leveraging new reforms and learning strategies.” But, so far, it’s usually an add-on to the same old, same old.

President Obama’s ConnectED proposal would revamp the federal E-rate program to fund high-speed Internet access at 99 percent of schools within five years.

The Leading Education by Advancing Digital, or LEAD, commission has released a plan to expand digital learning, reports Education Week. Updating school wiring to support high-speed Internet is #1. In addition, LEAD recommends putting digital devices in the hands of all students by 2020, accelerating the adoption of digital curricula, investing in technology-rich schools of innovation and giving teachers training and support to use technology effectively.

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  1. I’m not at all convinced that fancy technology is necessary for learning. I can see the use of high-quality DVDs, as adjuncts to text sources, to illustrate things like planetary motion, plate tectonics, possible construction methods for things like the Pyramids and Stonehenge and to accompany history texts and to allow for extra practice or more advanced work in ES. Right on the Left Coast (link at left) has a link to recent research that showed no academic benefit from giving laptops to every kid. It’s not a magical solution.

    • Kind of depends on the problem you’re trying to solve.

      If you’re trying to teach kids then a laptop might, or might not, be a useful tool. Depends on the educational resources accessible via the laptop. No resources? It’ll be games that are played. Resources? Learning can happen.

      Inasmuch as the public education system has, as far as I can tell, a uniform record of failure in the use of computers to augment education I’d say education isn’t the problem that’s being attacked.

      If the problem is to appear effective and cutting edge, as well as what to do with all that budget money that just keeps flooding in no matter how it’s wasted, then computers are just peachy.

  2. Ze'ev Wurman says:

    On one hand, I feel like momof4. Being and old technology hand I see waste and technological illiteracy all around education and the best I can say is that it is not worse than “educational TV” or “educational films” or “typewriters.”

    On the other hand I think: Maybe it is like with office business — you invest an technology and see no productivity improvement for years. Then, one day, once a critical mass is achieved, productivity explodes.

    Hard to say. But seeing the technological illiteracy of most teachers, I still gamble of the former. Eventually, learning is about having the leisure and the drive to dig deeper. Technology is not conducive to depth or leisure.

  3. SuperSub says:

    In the end, there’s only so many ways to teach 2+2. And as a science teacher…I’d rather spend the money on sheep brains, dissection trays, and scalpels. The kids would get more out of it too.

    • Improve a mechanical device and you may double productivity, but improve man and you gain a thousandfold – Khan Noonien Singh

      And maybe Star Trek has something – it’s about improving man, not fancy gadgets. As SuperSub said, actual lab supplies might be nice. It worries me to think that actual labs are giving way to simulations for students.

      The Flickering Mind is a nice read on the impact of technology in education.

      • Labs are a big deal. I taught CC students and last year taught hs students for the first time. Our homeschool co-op runs on a shoestring, but we don’t skimp on labs. It’s amazing how doing a hands-on simulation really helps to drive concepts home. I think it’s because watching one is passive, but in doing one they have to actually know what to do next. Some labs are traditional ‘experiment’ labs, but my students even liked simulating DNA replication or protein synthesis when we used pipecleaners, string, and cardboard cutouts for enzymes and ribosomes.

  4. Anecdotal, teachers have told me that the ‘laptops for all’ programs improve classroom behavior, because the kids who were disruptive now spend all their time playing games or chatting with friends or looking at magazines online… However, it seems like there should be a cheaper way to deal with disruptive students….

    • A cheaper way to deal with disruptive students. A trip to the dean’s office was usually the ticket in my day…

      All the technostuff in the world won’t help a student if they don’t know how to read, write, or set up a math problem. A manufacturer in Washington found this out when 9 of every 10 applicants (high school diploma or equiv) couldn’t handle a 30 minute, 18 question math exam (calculators permitted) which covered converting inches to feet, etc.

      The guy who I’ve been corresponding with at this facility has said he is ‘frustrated’, and if I was him, i’d be frustrated as well, as the exam they are giving is stuff which any middle school or 5th grade student should know how to do without having to think about it.


      • Sounds like something that a competent person could do in 3 minutes, not 30.

        • I once took a practice exit exam in math our school district was offering (to show taxpayers the difficulty of the math portion of the exam).

          Students were given a maximum of 3 hours to finish the exam (60 questions). It took me less than 15 minutes (no calculator permitted) to finish it, and I got 85% correct (passing score was 60%) without checking my work.

          Sad indeed the quality of american high school graduates these days.