New tools, old thinking

North Carolina school districts are using $3.5 million in Race to the Top funds to “put Apple iPads in the hands of students and teachers at two low-performing schools,” reports the Raleigh News & Observer. Durham Public Schools Superintendent Eric Becoats said, “Our kids are telling us, ‘This is how we learn. This is what we want.'”

New technology rarely provides a new way to learn, writes Rick Hess, who’s unimpressed with “digital natives.” In schools with one-to-one computing, personal computers, and iPads, students typically work on “graphics, clip art, powerpoints, or adding sound and visual effects to video shorts.” Or students go to “Wikipedia for material to cut-and-paste into powerpoints or word files.”

. . . I had a chance to spend a couple days visiting acclaimed “technology-infused” high schools. Yet, most of what I saw the technology being used for was either content-lite or amounted to students using Google-cum-Wikipedia as a latter day World Book Encyclopedia. Making powerpoints and video shorts is nice, but it’s only us “digital tourists” who think it reflects impressive learning.

A “digital native” who uses an iPad to find Wikipedia’s entry on the Harlem Renaissance isn’t learning more than an encyclopedia-using student 25 years ago, Hess argues. Today’s student may learn less because it’s so easy to cut and paste text instead of copying information (or taking notes!) by hand.

I’m a huge fan of using technology to rethink schooling. But it’s the rethinking that matters, not the technology.