Today’s AP article “Study eyes effect of tech on classroom” is yet another example of media oversimplification of “wicked challenges” that are faced by teachers every day, particularly when it comes to the use of educational technology. According to the article:
Going high-tech doesn’t lead to higher math and reading scores, according to a federal study. The study on the effectiveness of education technology was released late Wednesday by the National Center for Education Evaluation and Regional Assistance, a research arm of the Education Department. The study found achievement scores were no higher in classrooms using reading and math software products than in classrooms without the new products.
How ridiculous for the article’s author (Nancy Zuckerbrod) to reach such a sweeping generalization and conclusion based on this single research study.
Let’s examine more closely the type of “educational technology use” the study involved to learn more. According to the article:
Researchers looked at elementary and secondary classes in 132 schools. The teachers that participated used more than a dozen software products to help deliver their lessons.
Note the important operant phrase here: “DELIVER THEIR LESSONS.” That is a bigger problem than the fact that test scores didn’t seem to go up for these students.
K-12 teachers have historically seen themselves as content experts. That era has past. Yes, we need teachers with content knowledge, but today more than ever thanks to the Internet and the wealth of high-quality digital curriculum there, teachers don’t have to be the content experts anymore. Teachers need to be PEDAGOGICAL EXPERTS much more than they need to be content experts today. Teachers need to be coaches, facilitators, and cheerleaders for students who engage in REAL work as they learn and create knowledge work “deliverables” for prescribed deadlines. That sort of work environment is what Roger Shank was talking about last week in his keynote at SITE, and what his Engines for Education nonprofit is seeking to empower through its digital curriculum series. (Note I am referring to K-12 teachers here, not university professors. I think it is quite appropriate for our professors to be content experts. I think they need to teach with more blended approaches to learning too, however!)
Does technology by itself serve as a panacea for improving student achievement in the classroom? Of course not! How ridiculous a newspaper reporter insinuates that it should. Let’s put her assumption in a different context to uncover how silly it should sound:
– NEWS FLASH! SHARPER PENCILS DON’T IMPROVE STUDENT TEST SCORES!
– HOT OFF THE PRESSES! BRIGHTER OVERHEAD PROJECTOR BULBS FAIL TO BOOST SAT RESULTS!
– AMAZING DISCOVERY! COLORED CHALK DOES NOT INCREASE STUDENT ACHIEVEMENT IN 132 SCHOOLS!
No technology by itself is going to boost student achievement. Anyone who has read “Oversold and Underused: Computers in the Classroom” by Larry Cuban (or even scanned the book cover summary, most likely) should be able to tell you that. We need to utilize more sophisticated frameworks for analyzing and understanding the most beneficial uses of technology for learning. The conversation is (perhaps unfortunately from the perspective of a mainstream media journalist) much more complex (even “wicked”) than a simple “happy face / sad face” or “technology in schools good / technology in schools bad” dichotomy.
GOOD TEACHING with technology DOES make a big difference. This morning driving into work I was listening to Tim Wilson’s interview with Cheryl Lemke at FETC 2006, which unfortunately appears to now be unavailable online. (It’s still on my iPod, however.) In that interview, Cheryl discusses the large body of research that DOES exist which reveals the positive differences that ARE made when technology is used appropriately by teachers.
Tim has some good notes here and here from a keynote Cheryl shared in December 2006 related to technology and the achievement gap. I’m likely going to listen in detail to Cheryl’s interview from FETC 2006 again and take some notes, which I’ll digitize and post here soon. Cheryl shared some REALLY good thinking about educational technology and the impact it CAN have on student achievement. Whether it does nor not has everything to do with HOW technology is used, and more specifically the types of learning activities in which students are invited (or are NOT invited) to participate.
More info about Cheryl’s organization (the Metiri Group) is available on www.metiri.com. Instead of believing shallow, simplistic and generally “not helpful” articles about the impact of educational technology like today’s mainstream media article from the AP, I’d suggest checking out the latest report from Metiri:
Cisco Systems and Metiri Group recently released a new report, Technology in Schools: What Does the Research Say? It is intended to assist educators to make informed technology investments. It says, “Contrary to popular belief, much is now known about the effect of technology on learning and teaching in primary and secondary schools,” adding that technology does provide a “small, but significant,” increase in learning across all uses and in all content areas when implemented “with fidelity.”
It’s an 18 page PDF file, and does require more reading than the mainstream media article from today, but I think it provides a comparatively more informative and useful take on educational research and the use of technology to improve student achievement.
Thanks to my mom for alerting me to this link! 🙂
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