I remember writing letters in opposition and attending school board meetings in three local districts. In every case, superintendents, curriculum directors and board members listened politely and then voted to sign the contracts. We adopted a current events curriculum controlled in a Nashville corporate office with no curriculum adoption process. For the next 10 years, 7000 students spent 12 minutes every day watching TV at school, the equivalent of 350 hours of instructional time. (Double that if you consider the extra 5 minutes before and after each broadcast that was also lost.)
my previous district $1.3 million for computers and another $.7 million for tech support and "media services" last year. This represents 5% of the total budget or the equivalent of 30 classroom teachers.
Technology in education seems to have waned as a topic of interest in the news. Yet our spending and dependence on computers only increases. In a previous post, I discussed some privacy concerns. Let's look seriously though at its use in instruction, specifically for student research, instructional presentation and creating products.
I do it. You probably do too. We search for information about topics. That used to involve a trip to the public library or at least to the Encyclopedia Brittanica on the bookshelf. When we used print sources, there was SOME level of quality assurance. Publishers were careful about what they paid good money to put into print. Locating information in a library took some specific skills, like using the card catalog or Reader's Guides. Teachers taught how to take notes from text, record references and use index cards.
On the positive side, students have much easier access to original sources and the internet has opened up vast research opportunities. But unless students learn critical evaluation skills, the availability of garbage sources can undermine the academic gains.
Video conferencing hasn't worked well for instruction either. Online courses open up opportunities but the student failure rates are much higher than through traditional classrooms. Perhaps in a remote Alaskan wilderness area, computers mean the difference between some education and none. But by and large, instruction has not improved with the use of computers.
I don't advocate tossing our computers and smart boards in the trash bin. But I would question whether they merit the value many in education have placed on them. Like Channel One 20 years ago, those of us attracted to stuff are fascinated and enthusiastic. But the amount of time and expense may not be justified. I would ask these questions of those promoting more technology in schools.
- What evidence do you have of enhanced student learning through technology?
- Do you know what kids and staff are doing with the equipment you already have? (Walk through your open labs and check out the screens. Video games, random surfing and email or academic work?)
- Read a few randomly chosen research assignments from your school. Are they better because of access to information?
- Walk through the school and in one hour, log the frequency and types of technology instruction in each classroom.
- What problems has technology raised in your school? Hacking? Plagiarism? Pornography? Cyber bullying?
- What are you spending (total -- equipment, software, tech support, training, infrastructure, space, supervision, lab furniture) for technological tools? How do you know if you're getting your money's worth?
In 2011, we should be more concerned with overexposure to media rather than underexposure to it. A recent New York Times feature reports an average of 7 1/2 hours per day of technology consumption for our kids. Just as "more TV" was not the prescription kids needed in 1990, "more Internet" is probably not the solution to what ails us in 2011.