Surviving the Media’s War on Educational Technology

 


Can we keep ‘techno-skepticism’ from the mainstream?

By Geoffrey H. Fletcher, Editor-at-Large

Ouch! The back-to-school press coverage has been less than complimentary of technology in education, at least according to my high-level scan of the news in early September. Numerous newspaper and magazine articles and editorials have taken shots at the use of technology in education and the money spent on it. Two recent examples:

  • The Sept. 10 issue of the Seattle Post-Intelligencer carried an article by AP technology writer Greg Sandoval in its Business section titled,“Gadgets Can Overload Students.” The article, targeting parents, cited a student who would rather go to a library than use the Web, and quoted experts saying that technology often ends up being a distraction.
  • The Sept. 14 issue of The Atlanta Journal-Constitution ran the staff-written editorial, “Online Courses Just Haven’t Clicked” (www.ajc.com/opinion/content/opinion/0905/14edonline.html). Just one quote from this opinion piece will give you an understanding of their position, if the title did not already:“Many districts have squandered millions of dollars on computers that went underused and irrelevant software sold to them by aggressive vendors. Despite the rush to get the Internet into every US classroom, no one has proved that connected students become better students.”

But the mainstream press is not the only place where technology is taking a hit. For instance, in the September issue of the respected professional educator journal Phi Delta Kappan, the title of its occasional “In Canada” column is “Black Magic.” The author, Heather-Jane Robertson, writes that we may “have been following a false prophet,” and technology may be “a really bad idea.” Robertson g'es on to say that “techno-skepticism is on the brink of going mainstream.” The example she gives is a cover story that ran in Canada’s most widely read English-language newsmagazine, Maclean’s, titled “How Computers Make Our Kids Stupid” (Sue Ferguson, 2005, www.macleans.ca/topstories/education/article.jsp?content=20050606_106930_106930).

So, what are we “true believers” to do? Here are a few suggestions:

Understand the arguments of the “techno-skeptics” and learn from them. We have not always been clear about why we are using technology in education, and our planning has not always been perfect. In addition, we have not paid enough attention to the people expected to implement the technology and the impact on the overall school culture in doing so. We are getting better at this, but we need to do even more.

Make clear what success with technology is, and get your success stories out into the public. We need to change the question and perspective from which the techno-skeptics seem to operate: D'es technology work, or is it worth it? Instead, we need to ask: Under what conditions d'es technology __________? Then we fill in the blank with various purposes. These purposes could be to raise student achievement, improve attendance, become proficient in using tools of the 21st century, etc. Just as there is more to education than raising test scores, there is also more to using technology than raising test scores.

Getting some positive stories in the local press would be a good idea as well. Don’t be afraid to call your local newspaper. They have space that needs filling every day, and stories about what kids are doing in the schools can be appealing to a large number of readers. Of course, don’t forget to let us in on the news, too: Write to us at editorial@thejournal.com

This article originally appeared in the 10/01/2005 issue of THE Journal.

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