Technology in Education

There is a lot of talk about the uses of technology in Education. The Seattle Times recently ran an ill-informed and ill-considered editorial about it.

What potential benefits can technology offer students? How should it be used? How should it NOT be used?

Technology offers some tempting opportunities.

Individualized Instruction. We are all struggling to find a means to provide more individualized instruction that provides lessons at the frontier of each student's knowledge and skills. Technology could really help with that by allowing each student to work at his or her own pace on skill-building exercises.

Dispensing Information. In a Google era, the role of the teacher as a dispenser of information is outdated. The teacher needs to focus on other roles. If we accept the truth that electronic media is better as an on-demand source of raw data, and if we delegate that duty to it, then teacher time would be freed. That time could then be used for the roles that the teacher does better than the machine: motivating, providing context, engaging higher order cognitive skills, teaching collaboration skills, and more.

Electronic Media. Let's face it, the dominant medium of our time has shifted. It is now electronic. Preparing students for the future requires preparing them to be conversant as both consumers and producers of electronic media. Printed text and Standard English are not dead - you're reading this and it is little more than an electronic version of printed text written in Standard English. But this blog does have an untapped potential for mixed multi-media. I could insert an image, a sound file, a video file or a data file if I thought it would help me achieve my goal as the creator of the document. Observe how these various media styles are integrated into the Stranger Slog. There are skills to be learned there and we would do our children a dis-service to fail to train them in these skills just as it would be a dis-service to fail to train them in the creation and interpretation of the dominant media of the past (drawing, text, photography, telegraph, radio, television).

Student Data Management. I'm hesitant to include this in the list of benefits. So far, it is only a potential benefit. The problem here isn't the tool but the poor use being made of it. There is a possibility of some elegant uses of student data to suggest needs for teachers and administrators to address. Unfortunately, the current data set and the current administration chooses instead to misuse the tool primarily as a management tool for teacher supervision. This tool is a microscope and they are using it as a hammer.

Potential Cost Savings. This is something of a lie. If you review the best uses of technology in education you will see that they are primarily new efforts, not more efficient versions of existing efforts. Consequently, technology won't save any money, it will just allow us to do additional things more cheaply than we could do them without technology. But it is no more a savings than buying a luxury car on sale when you could have bought an economy car instead.

Technology also has over-reached and, as described above, been mis-applied. There area  number of times when people have looked to technology to do more than it can do well. And technology comes with costs.

I'm not surprised that the Education Reform movement has supported expanded uses of technology in the classroom. There are a number of themes within that movement and technology resonates with all of them. They include:

  • Spending money on stuff sold by the private sector instead of salaries in the public sector
  • Individualized instruction
  • Higher worker productivity through technology
  • Privatization of public education
  • Standardization of public education
  • Training children to sit at computers for extended periods
  • Measuring complex educational outcomes with simple metrics
  • The de-professionalization of teaching


I have a link I want to put up to a very good CNN story on the US public education system. It includes a part about technology learning that I found interesting and yet wonder how to make it work large-scale.

I wrote the same comment on this issue at the Times' editorial on how technology will save public education.

There is a cost to doing EVERYTHING. I would guess most districts don't have the wiring, the equipment, the servers or the people to manage all of it. It would take some real money if on-line learning is to become a true part of public education.
Anonymous said…
I'm not sure I believe the "more efficient and saves money" aspect of technology solutions in education. Bet we would spend the same amount (or more) but just be putting it into different peoples' pockets.

Anonymous said…
My opinion is that students who are very young should be doing hands on learning, not sitting at computers. Our boys were in Montessori classrooms and technology was not emphasized at early ages. They certainly learned it when they got older and were not at any disadvantage.

When students are older, some online resources may be useful. If online lectures are offered in areas not available at a particular school, then independent studies could be arranged. This could help retain students.

My fear is that the ed reform people would love all students sitting and having the same lecture at the same time at all schools. They could fire all those incompetent teachers that they endlessly complain about. And Microsoft could sell all the software to the schools. This is where I am afraid they are headed.

S Parent
Bird said…
My fear is that the ed reform people would love all students sitting and having the same lecture at the same time at all schools

Didn't we do this before when television was new?

There was a bunch of folks trying to get tv into the classroom for all kinds of instruction as the hot new thing.

I don't know why folks who would never consider pushing for tv instruction feel that pushing for pure online instruction makes much sense in most cases.

The social component of learning is really important, particularly for younger children.
Greetings, thought I'd share what we're doing with technology at TAF Academy. I wrote a paper on it in May. Below is an excerpt. Of course we're doing even more this year: skyping, blogging, etc. all for the sake of demonstrating knowledge through authentic projects.

Here is a sampling of a few ways student use technology to support or demonstrate their learning:
o Students taking Chinese use Jing screen capture and audio features in combination with MSFT Word and PowerPoint. Students can demonstrate and practice verbal and written skills and output to a Flash File that can be assessed by teacher.

o 9th grade students are learning JavaScript from programmers at Microsoft to create websites to communicate different points of view on energy policy.

o 8th Grade students used data from real accident reports to make decisions on causation of crashed, and used that data to build simulations in Alice programming language to communicate their findings.

o All students have a wealth of online learning sites that supplement what they’re receiving in direct instruction from their teachers.

Students at TAF Academy use technology tools to accomplish these tasks
o Curriculum, collaboration and assessment – All curriculum, project descriptions, and daily tasks are posted on Moodle by the teachers. Students also use Moodle to collaborate on projects, post and answer support questions and get their work assessed by their peers and teachers.
o Visual Communication—Students use the following tools to communicate what they’ve learned to be assessed or used by other students.
o Jing (screen capture software)
o MSFT Movie Maker and Photo Story
o Digital Video and Still Cameras
o Chinese and Japanese language packs for character typing
o Audacity (sound editor)
o Web Coding and Design, Coding—Students use the following tools to build programs that demonstrate learning.
o Notepad ++
o Alice
o Presentation —Students often the following tools to create presentations as part of a larger project.
o Microsoft Office
o Prezi
o SMARTtech Notebook

We ensure that every student has the basic skills to explore any form of technology (whether we introduce it to them or they discover it on their own) and use the functionality needed to meet their end goal.
Laura Clawson said…
Any company of comparable size to the Seattle School District will have a serious IT budget, including technology staff. It is a major expense. Companies offset this budget with staff reductions, a "benefit" of computerization. We don't want computers to replace teachers.

That said, college is highly computerized at all levels, from registration to assignments to communication between student and professor or student and student! Job environments are also increasingly computerized. Students in high school need to be prepared for the highly computerized world they'll encounter after graduation.

Another factor to consider is the advantage of students who have computers at home. If the schools do have computer labs, where will disadvantaged students learn computer skills? How will such students compete in college? in the work place?
Geek Parent said…
"college is highly computerized at all levels, from registration to assignments to communication between student and professor or student and student! Job environments are also increasingly computerized."

You are correct. My daughter in college is experiencing exactly what you cite. She is able, as a result, to "hand-in" assignments in the middle of the night, check her teacher's comments on her work while eating breakfast, and register/add/drop courses in her pajamas. Her roommate Skypes with her family in another state; she uses Khan Academy (free online math from K-college) to brush up on her math.

My own office is about to go almost entirely paperless. If we "save" children from technology, they will be at a huge disadvantage.

Ms. Dzikio, your Academy sounds amazing. Keep up the good work!
Anonymous said…
Learning how to push buttons is not an education.


"Levesque noted that reform efforts had failed because the opposition had time to organize. Next year, Levesque advised, reformers should “spread” the unions thin “by playing offense” with decoy legislation.

She was giving it (her advice) to a group of education philanthropists at a conference sponsored by notable charities like the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation…

…has coincided with a gold rush of investors clamoring to get a piece of the K-12 education market. It’s big business, and getting bigger: One study estimated that revenues from the K-12 online learning industry will grow by 43 percent between 2010 and 2015, with revenues reaching $24.4 billion."

SolvayGirl said…
Computers are tools. They can be used or misused. Technology can be a great supplement to a student's education, but should not replace the human elements of teacher and classroom discussion.
Many children are already more tech savvy than their parents, they will hardly be left behind in the workplace because of a lack of technology.
Every industry uses different software, and usually the most advanced version of said software. It is highly unlikely that the software a child uses in elementary school (other than, perhaps, Word) will be the same as what they need in college or on the job.
Let's teach our children to read and do math, but more importantly, let's teach them to think, to reason and to try to understand the deeper meanings of things.
Anonymous said…
Tech is important and has a bright future, as it always has.

But I miss the days when people used to talk to each other on the street, in the coffee shops, and on the bus. They don't anymore. And we're paying for it as a society. WSDWG
Anonymous said…
I encourage all to read this NYTimes article before coming to any conclusion about the value of technology in the classroom.

A Silicon Valley School That Doesn’t Compute

And this science article:

Simple Retro Toys May Be Better For Children Than Fancy Electronic Toys

ken berry
Anonymous said…
I've watched the District fix, replace and modernize technology from elementary to high school since our first Apple computers then Mac classics at my elementary school. It has cost us dearly. By the time elementary kids reach high school, tech has changed. We should not be emphasizing tech at elementary. Yes, some kids and their families love it. But it can wait. And the money would be better used in other ways.

There are countries where kids graduate at sixteen and seventeen. Why not save tech until the last year of high school and make it a sort of a trade school in technology. They would be most likely using a later version of technology (although probably not the state of the art) and they might be motivated to stay in school and work harder to get there.

Just a thought. There is research that shows handwriting teaches the brain (WSJ last year) and learning to read analog clocks teaches more math than digital. I'm no expert on all the critical thinking skills that are lost when STEM skills are all that we value. But I want thinking kids with a sense of history who can compare and contrast ideas and issues as a result of vibrant discussions and rich reading. Technology may be broadening in some regards but it is also limiting in others.

Give me a Renaissance education any day.

Also, my classroom computers haven't worked without glitches since the day they were installed. And I've spent a lot of my own time and money trying to make them fail-safe. It ain't possible.

Anonymous said…
BTW, technology: another profit-oriented marketing scheme. As seems to be all of education these days.

SolvayGirl said…
Northender said: Give me a Renaissance education any day.

Absolutely! That's why my husband and I are scraping every penny to pay for a private education for our child (and thanks to my mom and dad for their generous help). If we could have had her in any one of the publics that give closer to a Renaissance ed, we would have done it., but they are few and far between. We were lucky and grateful to have Graham Hill for our elementary (warts and all), but our middle/high school options were sorely wanting.

This rush toward technology is two things:

1) the search for the magic bullet (when there is truly none out there besides a lot of hard work that starts with the family and goes up the line).

2) a way for private businesses to make big bucks at the public trough.
Anonymous said…
One more thought - if you do want tech in the shcools why not teach how to write software?

That takes logic, math, persistance, hard work, etc. All good skills to learn.

Spending millions on soon-to-be-outdated tech makes no sense when languages, the arts, civics, etc. are ignored.

What do you get by pushing buttons when you don't have an education to even know what you want to know?

Anonymous said…
JC, it sounds like that is exactly what the Technology Access Foundation school is doing. It appears to be far more than pushing buttons.

But even without teaching programming there is so much techology everywhere around us that I think schools that ignore it are short-changing their kids.
I don't think anyone would suggest completely replacing teachers with technology, but multiple methods of teaching is a good way to reach the largest number of kids. Using technology is but one option.

Miss Terry
Anonymous said…
How would we be short-changing kids? Give some specifics and we can assess the value of your ideas.

Replacing teachers with technology even slightly? You know, what you get with computers is recall. Some problem solving but usually kids will find a way around the thinking to get to the solution. Trial and error; choosing different routes until they win. Winning is all. Not necessarily strategizing or puzzling it out. I know, different for different kids. But where's the control?

And I do agree technology is important. Just not that important. Teach it when it means something to kids. The cost-benefit ratio is way out of whack.

BTW, there are programs out there that I like. Technically Learning which uses Legos; maybe TAF - don't know what it does really. Teach programming - I love it! When they are ready.

I posted on a previous thread the story that the Christian Science Monitor carried a picure of a Chilean student protesting profiteering in education. That's what it is about.

Anonymous said…
let's look at what I said about kids learning in different ways. If you're familiar with Khan Academy, a FREE online math tutorial website, it offers instruction on math concepts in several different ways for each. One is a video of how the concept works. One is traditional math, one is with drawings (a least for simple concepts-almost like manipulatives). This would not replace a teacher, but it might fill in a weak spot a teacher leaves, or instead of a kid trying to get the extra help he needs from a busy teacher, can work at his own pace during "free" time and watch and re-watch the video, or look at the illustrated examples. This is helping my collge daughter pass math. But it starts with 1 + 1.

Teaching programming has lots of positives since even our phones these days are small computers. Our appliances are programmed, our cars are programmed. If we teach kids programming, that's going to go a long way to help us understand how stuff works and how to better use them.

I think it's about far more than profiteering. Computers/techology is everywhere. My 12 yo does most of her homework on a computer and teachers have required Powerpoints, edited photos and of course, word processing. We can either help kids with this or watch them fall behind. Technology is here, whether we like it or not.

Miss Terry
Anonymous said…
I remember this debate except it was over the use of calculator in the classroom. Technology as a tool. That's it. Really. It can enhance, can complement, can retrieve and store, can compute, can simplify, can be addictive, can entertain, can be expensive, can overwhelm, can distract, can be useful ...or not. Depends on you.

-my choice is to shut this thing down for the next 2 days as a 20 lb. turkey awaits. Happy Thanksgiving folks!
I can say the reason TAF is focused on teaching STEM (not just technology) is because of the lack of representation of people of color in the STEM fields.

Just spoke to a friend of mine's son who is graduating from Stanford this year. He's taken entry level programming classes as part of his business degree and he said 90% of the students had already had a significant number of years of programming behind them. He struggled. This is the competition. If you're a student of color (particularly attending public schools and living in a low income neighborhood), the likelihood that you've had that kind of exposure (in or out of school)before college is slim to none.

Now I agree mastering the basics is the primary reason one goes to school, but use of today's tools for learning and demonstrating what you know should be a part of the equation. No need to swing too far in any direction (Luddite vs tech heavy).
Anonymous said…
Yup. Agree with your final comment. But he was several years behind in "programming." That's not computers in every school. That's specialized and needs to be planned, focused and targeted. To all kids - not just some. But not all-the-time everywhere. That's my point. Teach thinking skills, learning skills and they will get the logic of programming more easily when it is appropriate.

seattle citizen said…
There are certainly many applications for technology in education. I'm certain Trish is utilizing many of them to great success.

But this thread got me thinking about the technology already in the hands of children, and whether THAT is put to good use.

Like a gun, tech can be used for good purposes and bad. I'm increasingly concerned that children, while gaining access to amounts of information I, in my youth, could not even imagine, are a) skimming the information - "learning" things without connecting them to a deep and thoughtful framework; and b) using technology to, in my mind, waste time.

Texting, tweeting, updating...How long does it take? To what ends? Kids have access to instant communication - is it worth it? Is it thought out? Does it take the place of human face time and careful consideration?

Surfing, googling, cutting and pasting...Is it connected to research protocols? Or is it haphazard and happenstance? Is "business at the speed of light" good business, or is it rendering products that are shallow and disconnected from reality?

Bits, bytes, graphs and charts...Is there room for spirit and humanity in these? Certainly there is: Connectivity is daylighting atrocoties around the world as we speak, and earnest humans everywhere are taking up digital arms against oppression - and digital tools to educate themselves OUT of oppression - yet I have this nagging feeling that with all the typing and tapping and sending and deleting something is lost: Human connections to real, solid earth and its inhabitants.

Seven billion people, technology tells us, that's a whole lot. How many are uplinked? How many are plugged in? What are the costs, what are the benefits? Are a mere 500 million lifting themselves out of reality as they text each other as they share dinner? What about the other 6.5 billion? Are they still part of the equation?

What are the costs of the resources that drive technology? Are rare earth metals the next oil, to be battled over in remote regions as unconected humans languish in the toxicity left behind?

Yes, tech has some powerful inducements, addictive almost...but in our rush into the future, I think it's wise to put on the brakes, now and again, and ask - at what cost?
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