by Martin Cothran
The education technology train wreck in the Los Angeles Unified School District should serve as a lesson to schools on the inadvisability of trying to throw technology at education problems. It’s hard to fathom the mindset of people who think that simply distributing iPads will solve the education woes of school.
As I observed in a recent Classical Teacher magazine article, technology can serve three purposes:
- Increasing administrative efficiency
- Improving instruction
- Improving student learning
In regard to the first purpose, computers can indeed do wonders to ease the burden of record-keeping, grade reports, and keeping track of students. In regard to the second, technology can help a teacher get her or her point across better–through PowerPoint presentations, etc. (and of course even overhead projectors count as technology).
But it is the third goal of educational technology that is the most problematic. As education researcher Larry Cuban has pointed out, the research simply doesn’t support the idea that digital technology has improved student learning. In fact, some suggest it has done the opposite.
But even if it was possible for digital technology to assist student learning in some measurable way, there are numerous questions as to whether schools are even equipped to do it, particularly on a wide scale. How do you make sure the technology will do what you want it to do? How do you ensure that school staff know what it is supposed to do? Does anyone know what it is supposed to do?
How are schools supposed to handle the administration of widespread individual devices like iPads anyway? Modern individualized digital technology by its very nature defies this kind of administrative centralization. Herding cats would be easier.
And then there is the problem that we live in a world in which many students themselves know more about the technology their teachers.
Technology by its very nature is limited in its educational application. It can play a part in knowledge transmission and testing, but it is less well-equipped to further other learning goals, such as skills development (which requires hands-on coaching) and the understanding of ideas and values (which requires discussion).
But there is no sign that the educational establishment has a competent understanding either of technology’s capabilities or its limitations.
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