02 February 2015

Is Technology Spending Wasteful?

Education writer +Bill Ferriter  (Twitter: @plugusin) has written twice the past week questioning the efficiency/effectiveness/wisdom of schools driving change and improvement with technology initiatives. The two posts, titled "Note to Principals: Stop Spending Money on Technology," and "Is YOUR School Wasting Money on Technology" have got me thinking about our own district's technology policies and ideologies. I mean, I literally JUST finished a grant proposal to outfit all of my school's math classrooms with Chromebooks.

The argument that grabbed me most that Bill shares is from Emory University professor Mark Bauerlein. Ferriter paraphrases it as -
His argument is simultaneously simple and scathing: The students sitting in our classrooms are nothing short of complete failures because despite growing up in a world of incredible intellectual opportunity, they have made almost no progress on traditional measures of performance.
I feel like there is a lot of truth to be explored there - our students have volumes of knowledge in the  devices in their pockets, and we still have students struggling to pass Algebra 1 in the 10th and 11th grade at our schools. If you believe that technology should be helping these kids learn, then it should be helping students learn faster and earlier, to close the achievement gap, to engage at-risk learners, and whatever other buzzwords you're seeking to create new problems for.

I don't think the problem is in the technology, however. its in the way that the average educator/administrator/district continues to leverage it. Instead of developing systems in which students are encouraged to explore those vast libraries of accumulated knowledge via the web, we have labs and carts of desktops and laptops that stay locked away or out of use until its time for benchmarking, practice testing, or real testing. The technology isn't producing any new results because we aren't expecting any different products.

When technology is used as a substitution for worksheets, nothing has functionally changed.
When technology (or flipped learning) is used as a substitute to kids reading their textbook, nothing has functionally changed.
When the teacher uses the technology to present notes, to lecture, and to lead multimedia, nothing has functionally changed from dry-erase and filmstrips.

Ferriter's theme between the two posts ends up steering here - TECHNOLOGY is not going to save failing schools. TECHNOLOGY is not going to pull students ahead of their parents' generation. TECHNOLOGY is not going to teach children. What we DO with TECHNOLOGY affects the change we seek. When we use technology to support pedagogy that is student-centered and aims to develop and nurture students into young adults that seek out knowledge and can leverage tools to solve problems, THEN you can change students, schools, and communities.

The question is not, "What can we do with technology," but, "What do we want our students to do? How can we use technology to support that?"

@plugusin image
How do we run this grand experiment? Is pedagogical change on systematic scales possible, or should we scale back technology expenditures in favor of supporting students with human capital like tutors and teachers?

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Thanks for sharing!