Jun 19, 2008

Today I stumbled upon a blog post by Miguel Guhlin entitled "TexasCTO2008 - Legislative To-Do", which was about a recent CoSN Chief Technology Officers Clinic held in Texas on June 18th. In it, Miguel referred to the comments of a member of the Texas legislature, who was part of a panel presentation, "A Vision for Education Technology in Texas: Legislative Landscape."

Ordinarily, I would not have found such a thing of interest - I rarely find that a state legislature is really in touch with what's going on in the classroom, especially when it relates to technology. But I was particularly fascinated by the comments of Scott Hochberg, Vice Chair, Higher & Public Education Finance, Select Committee. With regard to education technology, Scott said the following:

I think the jury is still out as to what we ought to be doing there. Spent 3 years studying a laptop immersion project. After 3 years and comparing that to other schools without laptop package, the results were similar...lots of smiles, happy teachers and children, but no value added on any metric we use to measure student performance. Either it delivers no additional value or we have a crummy metric.

This is important, because Texas is often considered to be one of the leaders in education technology.

I think the answer to the question of why technology isn't making a difference in the classroom can be summed up in Scott's own words. From the post:

Scott divides his thinking and approach to technology into two areas - instructional (classroom) and compliance/accountability technology.

Essentially, what Scott is accurately stating is that the majority of education institutions focus nearly all of their technology efforts on delivery and assessment. We use technology to reinforce the same industrial-age educational methodology we have practiced for a century, while the world has evolved all around us. We passionately speak of "student engagement" when what we are really referring to is "teacher engagement." We make the assumption that just because we (ie the teacher and rarely the students) now use moving pictures and interactivity to deliver content, that this will somehow capture the attention of our students and increase learning. The reality is that none of this impresses the kids, as they are immersed in this stuff every day.

Most one-to-one programs aren't much better. If you look at the foundational theory driving most initiatives you will find that the focus can be generally summarized as engagement, rather than creativity and self directed knowledge building. I'm not suggesting that they don't talk about these things, just that they are typically ethereal assumptions made in the project summary with no methodology, staff development, or focus in the plan. You see it right in the key components, which most often consist of a Moodle (or similar) site and a kid with a laptop. The methodology revolves around delivering the content digitally (Moodle), and collecting responses from the kid with the laptop (assessment), essentially replacing paper, pencil, and book with digital counterparts. Eventually the argument (or selling point) devolves to some silly buzzword exchange. "Anywhere, anytime learning" always appears with an assertion that just because a kid has a computer and access to school 24/7 that they are automatically going to learn better. This is, at best, a leap of faith.

In order to declare "success" and wrap things up in a neat and tidy bow, what inevitably happens next is the project leaders find that one class with an innovative teacher who has discovered how to actually integrate technology in a transparent way, to drive learning through student creativity, discovery, communication, and collaboration. Then they (the politicians, for all intents and purposes) make a video, which they use to tell the world how innovative their "visionary" program is. Rarely do you see the numbers delineating increased academic performance, because they aren't there. They should be required to put a disclaimer, "results not typical", across the bottom of these videos.

I think it's safe to assume we all agree that our "modern" education system needs to change from its late 19th century roots, and that technology will play a critical role in that change. In order for technology to really impact student learning, however, it must become a transparent part of the educational process, and drive methodological change within the classroom. It cannot be an "add-on" or reinforcement of existing practices, if we ever hope to make any significant difference. I firmly believe that the best thing we can do for ourselves is to ban the phrase "instructional technology" from our vocabulary, and to focus our efforts not on delivery, but true integration.


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  1. Jim, as always, a wonderful blog entry. Thanks so much for sharing...I often wonder if ed-tech that doesn't make a difference is EXACTLY what status quo administrators want. No challenge, no change, equates to comfort.BTW, more on the NECC Says NO to Podcasters:http://www.diigo.com/user/mguhlin/necc2008?tab=250 Take care,Miguel Guhlin

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