I just read an article published last September in the New York Times discussing an initiative in an Arizona school district to invest heavily in technology in the classrooms. The district is faced with going back to the taxpayers to continue to support an increased tax rate to invest further in technology while standardized test scores have remained the same since the initiative began, even when scores in surrounding areas have risen.
While much of the article makes this connection between increased use of educational technology and little documentable effect on learning, Richtel, the article’s author, is careful to not take a clear stand on either side of the argument. In my mind there are two important issues coming out of this article.
Probably the most obvious issue, at least to educators, relates to equating the benefits to the use of technology to what is tested in standardized tests. Technology is about the process. It can help make understanding deeper. Standardized tests are about content. Cramming for a test using rote memorization can, potentially, help a test score. But as anyone knows who has taken this approach, the information memorized is often lost within a couple of days of the exam. If students learn less content but understand, and thus remember, that material more deeply, the net effect is a better educated graduate, regardless of what the standardized test scores say.
Richter makes a point about the quality of teacher using the technology: “Good teachers, he said, can make good use of computers, while bad teachers won’t, and they and their students could wind up becoming distracted by the technology.” I don’t think that this argument is quite so simple. Different teachers have different skills, personalities and teaching styles. The effective use of technology does not define a good teacher. However, technology in the hands of a teacher who does not use it effectively has no benefit. As is pointed out later in the article, technology can become a distraction and can make the learning environment less effective. Technology, as with any educational tool, has to be used for the right reasons and in effective ways. Technology, by itself, does nothing for education.
Educational technology is an important tool in this day and age. We live in a world filled with technology and students need to develop the skills to use these tools effectively in a work environment. They need to be comfortable with technology and need to learn how to learn so that they can keep on top of change. They also need to know how to pick up a pencil and sketch or grab a shovel and dig. High Tech devices are not the answer to every situation in the educational world or in the world at large. We need to focus on what our goals are in education, measure our progress with appropriate instruments and use the best methods available to reach those goals.
Richtel, M. (2011, September 04). Grading the digital school: In classroom of future, stagnant scores. The New York Times. Retrieved from http://www.nytimes.com/2011/09/04/technology/technology-in-schools-faces-questions-on-value.html?_r=4