Oct 102011

Education Technology: Questioning Our Mania for Education Technology

Education Technology: By Jack Schneider, Via Education Week, Published Online: October 4, 2011

Tom McDonald’s Comments Regarding Education (Learning) Technology: http://mcdonaldsalesandmarketing.biz/17473/learning-mastery/

Education Technology: The solution to the nation’s education problems is as simple as binary code: a smartboard in every classroom, an iPad in every backpack, and wikis across the curriculum.

That seems to be how the logic works these days, as reformers in foundations, government, and school districts pour billions into educational technology projects.

There’s only one problem: It doesn’t work.

A recent front-page story in The New York Times on the Kyrene school district in Tempe, Ariz., is the latest tale of heavy investment and slender results. Since 2005, the district has invested roughly $33 million in technology, using money secured under a ballot initiative. But even as statewide scores have risen, Kyrene’s scores in reading and math have stalled. And how have district leaders responded? They’re ready to head back and ask taxpayers for more. Even if standardized-test scores aren’t the most perfect measure of student learning, such faith in the power of educational technology seems unwarranted.

Yet it seems these days that everyone is in on the act. In 2009, for instance, the U.S. Department of Education awarded $270 million via its Enhancing Education Through Technology, or EETT, grants program, with another $650 million coming through the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act. The national economic slump and the looming budget crisis resulted in reduced appropriations for fiscal 2010, but the EETT grants program still received $100 million.

—iStockphoto/Skip ODonnell

And the public purse is hardly the only funding source school leaders are tapping for technology funding. Private foundations cut seven- and eight-digit checks for educational technology projects with stunning regularity. Foundations like Dell and Gates, with their computer roots, get much of the press; but grocery-store money is just as green. The state of Idaho was happy to accept $21 million recently from the Albertson Foundation for so-called “21st-century classrooms.” Yet Kyrene is hardly an outlier in its failure to produce results that merit such spending. Even technology boosters like Tom Vander Ark, formerly of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, admit that the research is weak. As he put it in the recent New York Times article, “It’s very difficult when we’re pressed to come up with convincing data.” But not that difficult, obviously, because the money continues to flow for educational technology projects even as thousands of teachers lose their jobs because of budget shortfalls. So what gives?

Americans, and particularly those interested in school reform, have long sought to bring technology into the classroom. Experiments with radio, television, film, and early computers were all pitched as major breakthroughs in the process of education. Yet because they did not fundamentally alter the core processes of teaching and learning, such innovations made modest or marginal contributions (Tom’s accentuation).

In the past two decades, the interest in educational technology has developed into a full-blown obsession. Not because technology is more deeply affecting the work of teaching and learning. Rather, because of a shift in the way that America’s most ambitious and well-resourced reformers see the world.

education technology




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