Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Is Technology Going to Finally Change Education?

Steve Lohr in teh New York Times thinks so. But I have to disagree.

As I have said time and again, technology is no substitute for a solid program of anything. Education is not exception. Sure, technology is cheaper, it is more prevalent in schools, opportunities for students to use the technology are growing, but that doesn't mean that technology is going to change education.

Lohr writes:
Yet as a new school year begins, the time may have come to reconsider how large a role technology can play in changing education. There are promising examples, both in the United States and abroad, and they share some characteristics. The ratio of computers to pupils is one to one. Technology isn’t off in a computer lab. Computing is an integral tool in all disciplines, always at the ready.

Web-based education software has matured in the last few years, so that students, teachers and families can be linked through networks. Until recently, computing in the classroom amounted to students doing Internet searches, sending e-mail and mastering word processing, presentation programs and spreadsheets. That’s useful stuff, to be sure, but not something that alters how schools work.

The new Web education networks can open the door to broader changes. Parents become more engaged because they can monitor their children’s attendance, punctuality, homework and performance, and can get tips for helping them at home. Teachers can share methods, lesson plans and online curriculum materials.

In the classroom, the emphasis can shift to project-based learning, a real break with the textbook-and-lecture model of education. In a high school class, a project might begin with a hypothetical letter from the White House that says oil prices are spiking, the economy is faltering and the president’s poll numbers are falling. The assignment would be to devise a new energy policy in two weeks. The shared Web space for the project, for example, would include the White House letter, the sources the students must consult, their work plan and timetable, assignments for each student, the assessment criteria for their grades and, eventually, the paper the team delivers. Oral presentations would be required.

The project-based approach, some educators say, encourages active learning and produces better performance in class and on standardized tests.
Let's break this passage down a little since it has a lot of different moving parts.

Let's talk teachers. Yes, technology has made it easier for teacher to communicate with parents, administrators and other teachers. They can share information, ideas, tips, lesson plans or gripes online. But the questions are simple (1) Do they use these tools and (2) how does this help education? Most importantly, how does this technology "transform" education. All I am seeing is easy in communications.

Let's talk parents. I know that online tools to monitor children are all the rage. But are the use of these tools widespread or just in certainly localities. Also, useage depends on access of the parents to a computer, which they may or may not have at work or home. Finally, back to the main question, how is this "transforming" education?

Project based assignments sound great and sound neat. But is this really transformative? I had projects in school and I certainly didn't have access to the same technology available today. I did it the old fashioned way, the library and books. In this scenario the only difference today is that through the Internet the "library" is bigger and the "books" smaller. So how as technology "transformed education."

The problem of course with the idea of ready and easy access to technology is the belief that the availability and use of such technology is really transformative. Of course it isn't. Lohr's article does not discuss how the technology is transforming education, it only talks about project-based curricula that is now made "easier."

Really, the story is not about technology but about project-based education. I have no doubt that students may be more motivated by projects. But the creation of projects, their assessment and management are not easy to manage for teachers and thus, it is unlikely to be adopted in wholesale fashion, not when teachers have an ever expanding role into areas that arguably should not be theirs, like referrals for social services, preparation for testing (yeah, remember those still have to be taken even in project based learning), as well as the normal, day to day teaching things like maintaining order and using that wonderful technology to communicate with an ever expanding group of "stake-holders."

Yet, at the same time, project based learning, with or without technology, is not for all students. I don't want my first grader to be doing "projects" rather than improving her basic skills in reading, writing and math, learning science or history, engaging art or music or just plain playing outside burning of that six-year-old energy level.

So technology makes project based learning easier, maybe even better. But that is still a very long cry from "transforming" education.

Of course, I love the last sentence of the passage I quoted: "The project-based approach, some educators say, encourages active learning and produces better performance in class and on standardized tests." Love the old standby, "some educators." Which ones and while we are at it show me the data?

1 comment:

CSmhacky said...

In order for technology to be effective in today's education system, it needs to be intelligently integrated into a rich, meaning-centered curriculum.