Make It Stop!
I feel like screaming that line from "The Exorcist": "Mother, make it stop!" Every few years, the mainstream media gets a bee in its bonnet about educational technology and starts running exposés on the following kinds of "scandals": there is no evidence that technology improves student learning; schools make wasteful investments in technology; schools use it in place of flesh-and-blood teachers; private ed tech companies are making money off of public education. If you’ve been reading the New York Times this year, you know what I mean.
I am going to concede all those points:
- We need more evidence about the impact of technology on student learning. Of course we do! We need more evidence about much of what happens in education. For heaven’s sake, we don’t even know with scientific assuredness exactly what makes a good teacher, but I don’t see anyone questioning the value of teachers. (And PS, there is plenty of evidence on technology’s effectiveness. The SIIA has a nice compilation of studies.)
- Schools need to be more thoughtful when investing in technology. We all know schools that made terrible technology investments because they jumped on a bandwagon; their superintendent got taken out to play golf once too often; some internal evangelist made a case based on passion rather than reason; they had money to spend at the end of the year and they bought the shiniest toy in the store. Now, substitute the term educational technology for just about any significant educational investment (athletics, teacher training, HVAC systems, grounds equipment) and you will find schools that made the same non-strategic purchase. The problem isn’t technology; it’s the way some schools make investment decisions, period.
- Schools are using technology in place of teachers. They better be! Do we really want some poor teacher standing in the front of the classroom drilling kids on multiplication tables? Can a teacher instantaneously pinpoint sub-skill problems a child is struggling with, and give him immediate access to targeted instruction? I could name a dozen ways in which the use of technology is better than teachers’ precious time. But does that mean that technology will replace the teacher? That’s so stupid an idea, it should never rise to the level of public discussion--ever again.
- Private tech companies are making money off of education. Is this supposed to be a news flash? Who the heck published the McGuffey Reader? Private investment has been around since the beginning of public schooling. Listen, I have some beefs with the investment community and how their dollars can distort the market (which I’ll save for another column), but let’s not confuse that with legitimate private companies offering good products and services that schools want to buy.
Can we have a Rodney King-like moment and all agree that technology is not the problem? In fact, it’s not a problem at all. Like all important educational tools, technology has tremendous potential to help schools do their jobs if they invest in it and use it wisely. I know that’s not a headline-grabbing scandal, but it’s the truth.