First, it gave students access to experts from around the world; children were no longer dependent solely on their teachers for learning. Second, no longer reliant on teachers to tell them everything, students could learn at home or on their own. This “flipped” the classroom, allowing teachers to spend less time lecturing and more time explaining, mentoring, and facilitating.
Educators were dubious about printed books, writes Hess. “Schools were predominantly church-run affairs, and religious leaders worried about the lack of moral and interpretive guidance for learners left to their own devices.”
But books won out, launching an “information revolution.”
With books, students could master content and concepts outside of school, learning even when a teacher wasn’t there to tell them things. (Think of Abraham Lincoln working his way through Shakespeare and the Greeks alone on the Illinois prairie.)
But books have limits, Hess writes. They don’t speak. They can’t adapt to readers’ interests and reading levels, be updated quickly or embed “exercises that let students apply new concepts and get immediate feedback.”
Intelligent, computer-assisted tutoring systems are about 90 percent as effective as in-person tutors, Hess writes. But we need to do three things right:
First, new tools should inspire a rethinking of what teachers, students, and schools do, and how they do it. If teaching remains static, sprinkling hardware into schools won’t much matter.
Second, technology can’t be something that’s done to educators. Educators need to be helping to identify the problems to be solved and the ways technology can help, and up to their elbows in making it work.
Third, it’s not the tools but what’s done with them. When they discuss what’s working, the leaders of high-tech charter school systems like Carpe Diem and Rocketship Education, or heralded school districts like that of Mooresville, N.C., brush past the technology in order to focus relentlessly on learning, people, and problem-solving.
Like the book, technology won’t work miracles, Hess writes. And, like the book, it won’t replace teachers.