Thursday, March 10, 2005

A false promise?

There's been a lot of talk for the past decade or two that computers will revolutionize education. They'll fundamentally transform schools by increasing efficiency, streamlining instruction, and guaranteeing content delivery.

I'm skeptical.

I started reading Todd Oppenheimer's book The Flickering Mind, which covers this very topic from a skeptical point of view.

But I also want to remain open to the possibilities that technology does afford to classroom teachers and students. Consider assessment, for instance. Most states have their annual high-stakes standardized exams in the spring and the results aren't returned till the fall. By then it's too late for last year's teacher to do anything about it. And if the schools rely on those tests, the current year teacher won't have a measure of what the child has learned until he's gone to the next grade. And so on and so on. What if students took their tests at a computer and received instant feedback? Wouldn't that help improve instruction?

I'm interested in getting people's ideas about this topic. The Texas Public Education Committee, where I've been working a bit lately, takes up a bill designed to greatly increase the amount of technology used in the classroom. It's probably a good idea, but, as always, the devil is in the details. What are the legitimate, appropriate, and useful applications of technology in the classroom? And when does it become just another quick fix for all that ails us?

Oppenheimer begins his book with a quote from Thomas Edison in 1922: "I belive that the motion picture is destined to revolutionize our education system." Similar claims were made by prominent people about radio and TV. Will computers actually revolutionize education? Or is it, as Oppenheimer claims, a false promise?


Blogger Mike in Texas said...

I teach computers to elementary age children and one thing I can tell you is, its just another tool you can use, its not a cure for every problem.

Computers are great for giving kids extra practice on a skill or concept but they cannot teach the concept to them. And they can know powerpoint or word inside and out and it isn't going to make the content of their presentation any better.

6:34 AM  
Blogger Jonathan Kallay said...

This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

9:17 AM  
Blogger Jonathan Kallay said...

I'm torn on this one. On one hand, the idea that computers would transform education was, I suppose in retrospect, pretty asinine. On the other, I wonder if computers would have made their way into schools as quickly as they did if it wasn't for the overselling of their virtues. While enormous sums of money have been wasted, it's hard for me to imagine that they would have been more wisely spent elsewhere.

Besides, the false promise, I think, extended into spheres other than education (I think we've all seen the reports saying that, with web surfing and email, computers have failed to increase worker productivity). To hold education to a higher standard of efficiency than the private sector seems pretty mean.

One thing I will attest to is the blatant stupidity and incompetence under which technology was and continues to be, in many cases, disseminated into schools. Part of the reason is the culture of greed caused by the scarcity of resources in education. Offering educators anything is like feeding dogs- they will gobble it up without wondering if they are hungry or if the food is good for them. The most sickening thing is the hardware and software manufacturers' ploys for getting their wares into schools- the classic pusher's 'first one is free' method to create a lucrative dependance. Often this is in the form of a grant that requires the applicant to submit an essay on the wonders that the benefactor's technology will perform in the classroom; a grant that has no provisions for support or upgrades over the long term.

9:20 AM  

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