The Overselling of Education Technology
By Alfie Kohn Mar 16, 2016
my response to ed tech is “It depends.”
Some people seem to be drawn to technology for its own sake—because it’s cool.
Other people, particularly politicians, defend technology on the grounds that it will keep our students “competitive in the global economy.”
But the rationale that I find most disturbing—despite, or perhaps because of, the fact that it’s rarely made explicit—is the idea that technology will increase our efficiency…at teaching the same way that children have been taught for a very long time. Perhaps it hasn’t escaped your notice that ed tech is passionately embraced by very traditional schools: Their institutional pulse quickens over whatever is cutting-edge: instruction that’s blended, flipped, digitally personalized.
We can’t answer the question “Is tech useful in schools?” until we’ve grappled with a deeper question: “What kinds of learning should be taking place in those schools?”
Tarting up a lecture with a SmartBoard, loading a textbook on an iPad, looking up facts online, rehearsing skills with an “adaptive learning system,” writing answers to the teacher’s (or workbook’s) questions and uploading them to Google Docs—these are examples of how technology may make the process a bit more efficient or less dreary but does nothing to challenge the outdated pedagogy. To the contrary: These are shiny things that distract us from rethinking our approach to learning and reassure us that we’re already being innovative.
putting grades online (thereby increasing their salience and their damaging effects), using computers to administer tests and score essays, and setting up “embedded” assessment that’s marketed as “competency-based.” (If your instinct is to ask “What sort of competency? Isn’t that just warmed-over behaviorism?”
But as I argued not long ago, we shouldn’t confuse personalized learning with personal learning. The first involves adjusting the difficulty level of prefabricated skills-based exercises based on students’ test scores, and it requires the purchase of software. The second involves working with each student to create projects of intellectual discovery that reflect his or her unique needs and interests, and it requires the presence of a caring teacher who knows each child well.a recent review found that studies of tech-based personalized instruction “show mixed results ranging from modest impacts to no impact” – despite the fact that it’s remarkably expensive.
an article in Education Week, “a host of national and regional surveys suggest that teachers are far more likely to use tech to make their own jobs easier and to supplement traditional instructional strategies than to put students in control of their own learning.”
OECD reportednegative outcomes when students spent a lot of time using computers, while Stanford University’s Center for Research on Education Outcomes (CREDO) concluded that online charter schools were basically a disaster.
Larry Cuban, Sherry Turkle, Gary Stager, and Will Richardson.
Emily Talmage points out, uncannily aligned with the wish list of the Digital Learning Council, a group consisting largely of conservative advocacy groups and foundations, and corporations with a financial interest in promoting ed tech.
more on educational technology in this IMS blog