Thursday, April 05, 2007

Educational Technology

From today's Washington Post:

Educational software, a $2 billion-a-year industry that has become the darling of school systems across the country, has no significant impact on student performance, according to a study by the U.S. Department of Education...

The study, released last night, is expected to further inflame the debate about education technology on Capitol Hill as lawmakers consider whether to renew No Child Left Behind this year...

Industry officials played down the study and attributed most of the problems to poor training and execution of the programs in classrooms. Mark Schneiderman, director of education policy at the Software and Information Industry Association, said that other research trials have proven that the technology works, although he said that those trials were not as large or rigorous as the federal government's...

Although some of the companies are now criticizing the report, many were initially eager to be studied and praised researchers.


This comes as a shock to anyone? Technology in any form is a tool, nothing more. It's not a silver bullet.

10 comments:

Eric said...

And is anyone really surprised? Technology is, as you said Darren, a tool. Used properly it is a great enhancement to almost any type of lesson with our media savvy students. Personally I have used it to great success, particularly this year. What is unfortunate is that the districts throw all this money into various technologies but refuse to 1 - Keep it up to date (the computers in my classroom are unable to run 90% of the software out there) and 2 - train teachers in how to use it in the classroom.

On a side note - thanks to Reading First all of our K-3 teachers were given laptops 2 years ago. Roughly a third of the computers are still sitting in teachers closets having never been turned on. Good us of money? I think not.

allen said...

As a tech-head I caught the computers-in-education bug early. Since I didn't have a dog in the fight I was free to consider the on-going failure of technology, not just computers, in education.

I came to the conclusion that the reason was two-fold. First, the technology hadn't matured sufficiently. Not just the computers but the data transmission and display technology was too crude to be effective. Software wasn't all that bad but that's more a measure of how little we've learned about crafting educational software in the intervening years.

The other reason was that there was no market for the technology. School districts had no incentive to employ the technology and without a reliable customer base who's going to follow the pioneers into the market?

The advent of charters may change the market though.

Since charters will at some point in the future start competing with each other the incentive to pursue efficiency and effectiveness may come to public education.

David said...

Asking whether "technology" is useful in schools is like asking whether lathes are useful in factories. Depends what you're trying to make, what kind of lathe it is, and how you use it. Also helps if you plug it in and hire someone who knows how to run it.

Too many "educators" seem to think that technology is some kind of magic pixie dust that need only be scattered around to be effective.

Michael Schrage had some worthwhile thoughts on educational technology, which I may have linked here previously.

Ellen K said...

Tell that to our state legislators. Part of the case that pushed Texas to what is known as the "Robin Hood" share the wealth bill was the difference in technology available between rich and poor districts. And one of the chief proponents of such funding displacement wanted every single child issued a laptop. In the district my son attends, they tried that with one of the low performing middle schools. The program had to be stopped when laptops were hocked, stolen or found to be used in questionable activities in the home ranging from abusive email scams to pornography. The problem is that there are ways to teach children that are low tech and effective. But everyone wants to think that simply having a computer in the classroom automatically assures passing test grades. I know teachers who never use their class computes. One very successful math teacher told me she would happily give up her dedicated computer lab, if she could have less than 30 students in the room and be able to work with them on a more individual basis. Technology poorly placed and used by people poorly trained will never be a good substitute for a well trained teacher. But down the road that is what many states are hoping will happen-students will roll up to their computers and simply click in answers all day and "learn" by osmosis. I have heard this from people in the field. And I have to laugh when I think of all the things kids manage to do other than learn when we go to the computer lab for just one day. Who will monitor content? Who will monitor results?

Darren said...

In the district for which I used to work, the superintendent's pet project was I CAN Learn, a computer-based algebra program. Every math teacher in the district was against it--I was the curriculum chair at the time, and gave up the position rather than implement that program--yet it was instituted anyway. I left the district at the end of that year.

Just a couple years later they weren't using that program because it didn't "fit their needs". Four million dollars down the drain.

rightwingprof said...

The real issue here is what happened to common sense. Why would educational software have any impact on learning, after all? Does nobody ask themselves common sense questions these days? Ditto for the clothes pin teacher, as well as the teacher who is outraged because the principal told her she couldn't throw shoes at her students.

Mike said...

Even today, I find myself amused and depressed by the many articles in various educational journals touting, in rapturous prose, how this or that bit of technology transformed education. This is one of the primary reasons I've stopped subscribing to such journals, the other being a near overdose of political correctness, but that's a post for another time.

So, Ms. Teacher, you've just discovered the internet and blog software? It's transformed the lives of your students? So Mr. Teacher, you've just mastered PowerPoint, and it's transformed your teaching? More likely, Ms. Teacher, you now have students expressing themselves inanely in another medium and burning more class time to do it. More likely, Mr. Teacher, you're now using a bit more color than your old overhead projector allowed, but your students are already a decade ahead of you, and PowerPoint graphics bore them to tears. They've seen it all before.

There are indeed worthwhile bits of software that make certain learning tasks easier and more effective, music composition and theory programs come to mind, but most educational software falls into the caterogy of records keeping or computer versions of pen and paper exercises, simply different and not necessarily better or more efficient ways of doing things. All too often with software, one must have appropriate, upgraded computers. Should you work in a building that doesn't have a single computer capable of burning a DVD, how likely is it that the latest software will run efficiently in your building, to say nothing of transforming lives?

Teachers transform lives. Tools, to one degree or another, make that process easier or more efficient. There is no magic in education, merely hard work, hard work that can be enjoyable and rewarding, but hard work.

Darren said...

Mike, I think I'm going to take your last sentence and hang it up in my classroom. I congratulate you on your eloquence.

Mike said...

Dear Darren:

Aw, shucks...

Andy Losik said...

The first thing that my elementary students hear from me when they enter my Infotech class is that the laptop is a tool. It is a tool for gathering information and a tool for expressing what has been learned. It is a backhoe. It is a saw. It is a jackhammer. It is a tool.

A school district could just as well go to Home Depot and throw a bundle of stuff into a cart in an attempt to improve student learning if it is not going to dedicate sufficient resources to upkeep and teaching teachers how to enhance core instruction with technology.

As an student at Hillsdale College, I learned the value and importance of the classics and a liberal arts education. Since then, I have discovered the power that technology has to help students develop a deeper understanding of the classics. My art and music appreciation classes would not have seemed so torturous if I had had the Internet to review the works quickly flashed before us in lectures.

One of my favorite activities to do with 1st and 2nd graders is to read a story and travel via Google Earth to the actual setting. Talk about developing a better understanding! Robert McCloskey's "Make Way for Ducklings" was written in 1941. Today we can fly from rural Michigan into the congestion of downtown Boston to see the trouble the ducks would face today.

Technology CAN be a powerful enhancer but only when viewed as an optimizer of teaching, not THE teacher. Integration is essential. If a school isn't focused on strategically integrating its technology, it might as well buy Sawzalls instead of wireless routers. I could check one of those out from the library for the weekend and fix that flappy corner of my barn roof!

I am a believer in technology and I try like crazy to make sure the resources are used the right way.

Take a look at some of the activities we do at http://mrlosik.blogspot.com .