Thursday, July 23, 2009

Tech and ed spending in today's WSJ

Today's (7/23/09) Wall Street Journal reports on technology spending in education. The article is a bit confused, replicating many of the "e-lusions" that Todd Oppenheimer described in his book a few years ago. The article described federal stimulus money going into educational technology at the expense of money for teachers and other educational needs. The money has significant strings attached -- it's only for technology and tech training. So while teachers are laid off, classroom sizes expanded, and programs cut, more machines are being thrown at an educational system in crisis.

The fundamental fallacy is that machines can replace humans in education. The article repeats common dodgy research claims: a school district introduced laptops, and student scores went up over the next few years ("Sixth-graders taught with laptops the first year saw their reading and math scores rise 27% and 15%, respectively, by eighth grade, says District Superintendent Jerry Vaughn." Uhh -- they go up anyway; that's why the ISAT cut points go up for each grade level.

One North Carolina district saw signigicant gains after going to a one-to-one laptop program, but as with most tech and ed research, there is no basis for attributing causality to the laptops. My experience does support one observation by a school official: "Dr. MacNeill credits these advances in large part to the technology program, which she says has made the students 'more engaged, more active in their learning' and made school 'more purposeful and relevant to them.'" I think there is a sad statement about education and students in that statement though -- a sublation of some sort. Relevance is found in the interaction with an electronic device; and there is something in there about achieving engagement via consumption rather than self-generated. Some completely different physiological or neurological state is in play.

Some of the technology programs are accompanied by training in student-centered instruction:

Many districts receiving these funds are looking beyond simply equipping classrooms with the latest gadgetry ... in favor of rethinking the way education is delivered. In some tech-equipped schools, teachers are playing a less-dominant role in the classroom, group work and problem-solving are emphasized...

Ms. Herdman [district head of ed tech] envisions such a transformation in North Kansas City. “It’s no longer going to be ‘Turn to page 10 and look at this,’ ” she says. “It’s more collaborative work, the learning style is inquiry-based, and the teacher is guiding, facilitating learning rather than lecturing.
Which is to applauded I think, and is a responsible way to incorporate technology into the classroom. But Herdman adds, "It’s about teaching the curriculum using technology as your vehicle." I question the necessity of delivering the curriculum via technology -- it may be possible (even about that I am not so sure) -- but if so it is an expensive, and unhuman, way to do it.


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