Why has education technology made so little difference? asks Marc Tucker on his Ed Week blog.
He recalls three ’80s software programs that he’d thought would be transformative.
In one, players searched for dolphins while learning the basics of navigation and observing “weather, water temperature, currents and so on.” Students “were inevitably very excited, totally engaged.”
The second piece of software, created by Marge Cappo, was stunning. She captured everyday phenomena like a child pedaling a bike down the road, and then, with the software, made it possible for the student to highlight the motions of the bicycle wheels in such a way that the abstract motion of the wheel as it moved traced classic curves on the screen that corresponded to the algebraic formulas that described these motions. It enabled the student to actually ‘see’ the abstractions of mathematics and connect those abstractions to the formulas that described them.
Tucker thought it would revolutionize the teaching of geometry and algebra.
The third program simulated “the dynamics of the systems that function in every city — from the subway system to the bus system to the water distribution system to the sewer system and so on.” Students could “change the variables and see what would happen.”
What happened? Not much.
Dolphins, navigation and ocean currents aren’t in the curriculum, teachers told him. They’re not on the tests.
Beyond that, most primary and middle-school teachers “know very little about the curves described by a point on the bicycle wheel or the uses to which knowledge about such things can be put.,” writes Tucker. “How many elementary school teachers know anything about coastwise navigation or systems for distributing electricity or the crucial role that feedback plays in the control of such systems or the role that designed systems play in virtually every aspect of modern life?”
Instructional technology will not improve learning without large investments in teaching teachers “about the doors that the technology can open,” he writes.