I began my teaching career before the dawn of educational technology. My “hardware” was an overhead projector and my software consisted of filmstrips and cassettes. But over the course of my career computers and their derivatives have become common place in the every classroom. Like most educators I embraced the new technologies and their potential contribution to improving teaching and learning. But our fascination with technology and its educational applications has become an obsession fueled not by solid evidence of its usefulness but by our desire to be “cutting edge” and competitive with the virtual world in which our students and many of our colleagues exist.
Time Magazine (June 17, 2013) published a feature in its “education “section on personalized learning and its potential to transform education. Personalized learning (if like me you are unfamiliar with the term) is being spearheaded by Knewton, a New York based educational technology company that claims to have an algorithm that can inform students and their teachers of “what they do or not do well, when in the day they learn best, whether they will pass a quiz, predicts their final grade and even how well they will perform on the SAT”. More commonly referred to as adaptive education, personalized learning and its “predictive data analysis” promises to eliminate the “one-size fits all curriculum”. An interesting claim but absent of merit. Aside from a few mildly favorable yelp style reviews by a hand full of students using the program in Buckeye Arkansas the article focused more on the program’s exorbitant cost ($89.00 per student per content area per year by my calculations) and the potential profits for venture capitalists, educational publishers and others who will be developing and marketing similar programs and products.
This is just the latest in a series of new technologies that cost school systems millions of dollars, in tight budget times, for technology infrastructures, classroom applications, sophisticated testing programs, virtual learning applications, tech support services and a laundry list of administrative functions. And what proof do we have that any of it has in fact enhanced the quality of instruction or improved student achievement? Technology is a valuable asset to educators but we need to ensure that we are not caught up in the next new thing syndrome without a framework for deciding what technologies are applicable and cost effective and which produce results.
Charlotte Danielson’s model for supervision for example has been transformed through a technology application into a multi-million dollar product involving extensive training and high tech implementation. It is the same evaluation model she introduced in the 1990’s in a book published by the Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development and distributed free with a comprehensive subscription to the ASCD journal.
Millions are being spent on all types of testing and computer analysis of test results while teacher grades based on their first hand knowledge of their students continue to matter more to most students’ parents than national percentiles.
Colleges rush to put their programs online not because it has been demonstrated that online learning is better but because college students demand the flexibility of not having to appear on campus on a specific day and for a specified amount of time.
Using technology it would seem has displaced in many instances the goal we intended to use the technology to attain.
Technology has the potential to revolutionize education and to fulfill the promise of providing every child with a quality education. It can help us resolve many of the challenges we face. At MSA we are constantly looking for ways to use technology to streamline our processes and to enhance our training and much of what we do would be almost impossible without the internet, emails and online meeting formats. I even have a blog!
But our selection of what to use, how to use it and how to measure its impact are critical questions that are too often neglected when we let ourselves to be seduced with the notion that we have to be first to have the next new thing. When we consider critically how technology can help us do what it is we need to do, education and technology can be perfect together.