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Or Is It About the Technology?

screen technology by ruttyA few weeks ago, I published a series of my thoughts on 21st century learning and teaching in a post titled “It’s Not About the Technology.” For a tech integrator and enthusiast like me, it was almost uncomfortable to articulate these ideas independent of technology. As a quick recap, my main points were that educators must focus on the skills of problem solving, addressing the needs of individual students and learning, as opposed to teaching.

This week, Ben Grey posted a thought-provoking article to “Tech & Learning” titled “Why Technology?” As friends of mine in ed tech positions across the United States are losing funding for their departments, and even their positions, Ben Grey’s questions are all the more pressing. As the author of a post titled “It’s Not About the Technology”, what would I say if I were asked to stand in front of a board of education or other decision making body and answer the question “Why should we continue to use and pursue technology in our district?”

Honestly, I would start by taking a quick, informal poll. Where have you received and made most of your recent calls? Your cell phone or your land line? Have you ever by passed a gas station because they didn’t have pay at the pump? Where do you look for information? In an encyclopedia or on the internet?

What do our children need to know in order to be successful in our world? Already in 2009, you must be able to navigate the internet and be savvy about decision making and purchasing. North Carolina’s Department of Motor Vehicles is no longer sending out license plate renewal notifications by US Postal Service. All drivers in North Carolina will have to go online to renew their registration. Our children have to be prepared to live and prosper in this world.

But what are we really talking about here? We talking about standing in front of a decision making body that has to weigh sustainability, budgets, personnel and other political factors. They can easily argue that technology use in the classroom has not been proven to raise test scores. Technology is always changing, so how can we keep up? Opponents say that kids get enough social media at home. So, let’s talk a language that they will understand.

The state of California spends approximately $400 million dollars per year on textbooks. Yes, that’s $400, 000, 000 every year. A university professor I know figured out that his university could hire three full-time teaching faculty positions if the university would go paperless. A particular school system in Maine spent nearly $10, 000 this year on hospital/homebound services, not including labor costs. It costs $200 per person to send a teacher to interactive whiteboard training with particular software companies. Webinars can be included for free for unlimited participants to learn on their own time in their own way. For any governing body, these numbers should be staggering. The great news is that we have the resources to combat these things in a modern, all-inclusive and multi-functional way. Technology.

What do high schools need in order to establish academic credibility? They must offer a high variety of courses in all disciplines. They need to provide opportunities for individual and collective groups of students to pursue independent areas of advanced studies. What do you do when you cannot afford a Japanese teacher for ten interested students or an Advanced Placement Biology teacher for nine motivated students? You coordinate with a community college, university or partnering school to offer these courses to students virtually. How can you provide SAT test prep for students who have to work late and on weekends? You create a free Moodle course that students can access from home at times that are conducive to their busy schedules. How do you provide high quality hospital/homebound instruction for students? You enroll them in a regular education classroom and you have them Skype in to a grade-level appropriate classroom where they can interact with curriculum, teachers and peers to facilitate learning. How do you make sure that teachers are getting “just in time” professional development? You create a series of professional development activities that are collaborative in nature to address the demands of individual teachers on a schedule that meets family obligations as well. How do you create an environmentally conscious school system while saving hundreds of thousands of dollars on equipment, toner, repairs & paper? You help students. to learn and share in a paperless learning environment. How do you avoid spending millions of dollars on loosely correlated textbooks that are error riddled and often out-dated before they are printed? You build courses around free, open source resources that are web-based, accessible from all edges of the globe and are easily differentiated to address the learning needs of all students without sacrificing the integrity of the curriculum’s content.

Before systems around the United States (and the world) start cutting technology positions and funds, I hope they will consider that these positions and resources may be exactly what saves us in this time of economic uncertainty. While I will holdfast to my ideas that there are fundamental concepts that must be in place before 21st century learning will be at its best (with or without the technology), maybe it IS about the technology when it comes to best serving our students today and beyond!

Photo Credits: “Screen Technology” by rutty on Flickr

10 Responses

  1. The complaint about using technology in teaching is that it doesn’t lead to higher test scores. The problem is not the technology use, the problem is the test. Standardized paper & pencil tests cannot assess the learning produced through the use of technology. Standardized tests measure discrete language skills or discrete bits of knowledge while technology is aimed at facilitating new connections and the integration of knowledge.

    Your post gives excellent examples of why it is important to teach our students about the power of technology and how to harness it. The next step is to develop assessments appropriate for measuring student knowledge of and facility with technology. When the right ruler is used it will be astonishing to see how much our students have really learned.

    Once we do that we will no longer be trying to measure apples by looking at oranges.

  2. Kelly,

    Well stated. Well thought out. And a wonderful follow-up to your post “It’s Not About the Technology.”

    One of the fundamental lines I use when talking about 21st Century teaching and learning is that while it has everything to do with technology it also has nothing to do with technology all at the same time. No wonder School Boards are confused about funding this critical component in 21st Century education.

    One of my favorite statistics regarding spending (though it has nothing to do with technology per se) in the world of education comes from Washington, D.C. where that district spends roughly 74 million per year to bus its special education students to school. For that cost, its superintendent, Michelle Rhee, contends that she could buy each student a fuel efficient car and driver and still come out ahead in the long run.

    Maybe if more school boards pondered the question “What does your ideal school look like?” as Meredith Stewart (@msstewart) did here http://bit.ly/jRFWq then perhaps we’d all be better off. But that’s just me.

    Thanks for keeping us all thinking….

  3. I also think that another aspect of the problem is that educators and school boards ask the wrong question. Do you ever hear them ask “is there research proving that pencils and paper and chalkboards raise test scores”? Of course not–because it is assumed that they are needed for the basic functioning of the classroom. Could we teach without paper and pencil? Would students learn? Absolutely. But they make the job more effective and more efficient–we can do more with them than we can without.

    Technology is a tool, not a goal. Simply adding technology to a school won’t raise test scores any more than buying extra pencils will. It is the way we use the tools that will make the difference, and I don’t think we really know yet what are the best ways of using those tools to make our teaching and student learning better.

  4. Awesome post covering all the key points about the value of technology in education. I work in the Silicon Valley in CA, home of much of the innovation in the tech world, yet I have 4 worthless outdated computers in my classroom that can not even go on-line and can barely run Kidpix! I have an ancient laptop about to take a dive any day now and if it does, I may not even have a computer to take attendance as budget issues have frozen all spending! It is unbelievable how far behind many of us are even though we truly want to integrate technology into our teaching. Thank you for including all of the relevant aspects of this discussion; what an amazing world education would be if all of your ideas were actually happening! We can keep voicing our goals and dreams and hopefully, little by little, we will be able to see them through.

  5. Great post.

    The ‘how to think v what to think’ argument is a healthy one that I hope never goes away no matter what technology or pedagogy is in vogue. I would like to speak up for text books – or any static tome of knowledge for that matter.

    Aren’t there some things that we want kids to just know without necessarily discovering for the first time? Without knowing the answer, are we increasing or decreasing the rate of expansion of human knowledge/capability through requireing that students re-discover curriculum over and over again? Surely some things can be taken ‘as-read’ so that we can push our knowledge further out more quickly…and if we bugger things up, well, I am confident someone will detect it. Maybe I am overly optimistic…..

    At this point I don’t see how modern western nations have any choice but to embrace technology – if for no other reason than ‘all the other kids are doing it’. Can you imagine the brave politician announcing that “research shows that kids 20 years ago without smart boards, school-broadband and iPhones tested just as well as today’s kids and therefore I am cutting all ICT infrastructure funds and buying chalk…lots and lots of chalk’.

    The developed world practically demands that the citizen is able to operate technology. Wanna vote? Use the computer. Submitting tax? Use the computer. Buying movie tickets? Use the computer. Got relatives overseas? Use the computer. Wanna protest? Use the computer.

    The move towards an online citizenry is a big as deal as teaching everyone to read and write.

  6. […] Or Is It About the Technology? « Keeping Kids First educators must focus on the skills of problem solving, addressing the needs of individual students and learning, as opposed to teaching. (tags: learning) […]

  7. This makes a wonderful counterpoint to your previous blog post about “It’s not about the technology”

    Also Deven Black’s point is very well taken. What’s wrong with education is not education. It’s assessment.

  8. {{{ What do our children need to know in order to be successful in our world? }}}

    {{{ Before systems around the United States (and the world) start cutting technology positions and funds, I hope they will consider that these positions and resources may be exactly what saves us in this time of economic uncertainty. }}}

    In 2 months it will be the 40th anniversary of the Moon landing. Was that a success?

    A lot of businesses first began using computers in the 60s. How many of them started doing their accounting on computers? Double-entry accounting in 700 years old. How hard can it be? Do we hear educators saying that accounting should be mandatory in the schools?

    How can anyone understand technology today and not know about planned obsolescnece? Does the depreciation of technology have something to do with technology? Can the teachers in our schools connect the dots? How much do Americans lose on the depreciation of automobiles every year?

    The kids need to understand technology enough to figure out what to do and not do with it.

  9. The question is not about the value of technology and the benefits it brings to education. The problem is changing the mindset of both the decision makers and some teachers. The first are unwilling to invest in education. The latter are reluctant to be teachable in the new technological tools.

  10. […] By Kelly Hines, Keeping Kids First […]

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