Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Education and technology: pros and cons

I've been browsing the New York Times, as you can tell.  Today's blog entry includes two recent articles about technology.  First,  reconsidering the role of technology in education: At school, technology starts to turn a corner, by Steve Lohr.

The educational bottom line, it seems, is that while computer technology has matured and become more affordable, the most significant development has been a deeper understanding of how to use the technology.

“Unless you change how you teach and how kids work, new technology is not really going to make a difference,” said Bob Pearlman, a former teacher who is the director of strategic planning for the New Technology Foundation, a nonprofit organization.

and, from an English school program:

Sir Mark says he is convinced that advances in computing, combined with improved understanding of how to tailor the technology to different students, can help transform education.

“This is the best Trojan horse for causing change in schools that I have ever seen,” he said.

Conversely, another NYT article, Seeing no progress, some schools drop laptops, by Winnie Hu, discusses the pros and cons of issuing students with laptops.

“After seven years, there was literally no evidence it had any impact on student achievement — none,” said Mark Lawson, the school board president here in Liverpool, one of the first districts in New York State to experiment with putting technology directly into students’ hands. “The teachers were telling us when there’s a one-to-one relationship between the student and the laptop, the box gets in the way. It’s a distraction to the educational process.”


Districts have dropped laptop programs after resistance from teachers, logistical and technical problems, and escalating maintenance costs.

Such disappointments are the latest example of how technology is often embraced by philanthropists and political leaders as a quick fix, only to leave teachers flummoxed about how best to integrate the new gadgets into curriculums. Last month, the United States Department of Education released a study showing no difference in academic achievement between students who used educational software programs for math and reading and those who did not.

It's not just technical glitches and students behaving in the ways that students inevitably will:

In the school library, an 11th-grade history class was working on research papers. Many carried laptops in their hands or in backpacks even as their teacher, Tom McCarthy, encouraged them not to overlook books, newspapers and academic journals.

“The art of thinking is being lost,” he said. “Because people can type in a word and find a source and think that’s the be all end all.”

And that final point is the one that, as a teacher librarian, I see happening all the time as a mindset and choice among kids, and that, as a teacher, is the one that I think needs serious thought about how we teach - process/information literacy, not just content.

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