Schools’ love affair with technology is a reckless romance
by Roger Hines
Columnist
October 14, 2012 01:25 AM | 14627 views | 22 22 comments | 31 31 recommendations | email to a friend | print
As one local talking head puts it, “Somebody’s gotta say it.” But few people are doing so. So here goes: Educational technology is not only being embraced; it is being romanced to the point of recklessness. Schools have developed an inordinate love affair with technology, and the results are beginning to show.

The chief result is education’s insistence upon immediacy that sacrifices substance and depth. In other words, schools are looking for a quick solution that imparts knowledge with little effort. Educational leaders are extolling the virtues of technology, claiming that equipping students with electronic tools will increase learning. Teachers are expected and sometimes required to use smart boards, power point, e-books and other technological means that will presumably “reach” students. Such action threatens academic achievement because it emphasizes the conduit at the expense of content.

Don’t get me wrong. Anyone who criticizes technology (or money) has never been without it. Technology is a marvelous tool. It’s almost as fun as it is useful. I made fun of Facebook (“Last night, ate at McDonald’s; right now I’m feeding my dog; in fifteen minutes I leave for work”) until I saw how satisfying it was to catch up with old friends. Now I have more Facebook friends than I could ever catch up with, though I solemnly swear that I will never write to tell any of them that I just swatted a fly.

Yes, technology has affected teaching and learning in many positive ways, but has also negated much that is valuable. Anybody who observes students using technology can see that it is often a distraction from the hard work of learning. Despite its bells and whistles, or perhaps because of them, it has rendered students incapable of quietly communing with knowledge. Whether a student is studying history or an automotive manual, a measure of quiet contemplation is necessary, but technology doesn’t foster or even permit quiet contemplation. It is always overly visual and rapid. No wonder students like it. No wonder educators think students are being “reached.” They are being reached alright, but by the visual, sensory overload, not the content.

Recently two famous people repeated the mantra that technology will get us to the Promised Land. Arne Duncan, U.S. Secretary of Education, in an article titled “A Digital Promise to Our Nation’s Children,” claimed that equipping every public school student with electronic tools would vastly improve learning in the U.S. That notion didn’t work out so well a few years ago in Cobb County when a school superintendent proposed that Cobb students be provided laptop computers. Our techno-savvy community rejected the idea.

In a similar article titled “The Steve Jobs Model for Education Reform,” media mogul Rupert Murdock argued that we must “use technology to force the education system to meet the needs of the individual student.” He added that old-fashioned textbooks “are outdated the moment they are printed.” One hopes that Thomas Jefferson, James Madison and Adam Smith are not offended. Jefferson’s many thoughtful essays, Madison’s Federalist Papers, and Adam Smith’s celebration of capitalism (The Wealth of Nations) demand more than dancing images. They demand that a student quietly commune with the ideas they present.

Digital technology has unquestionably transformed business, finance, and manufacturing. It has aided schools in record keeping and many other non-academic functions. One would be hard pressed, however, to show that technology itself has enhanced actual learning. Putting computers and e-books in front of an unwilling student is no more effective than Lincoln and his log or his fireplace.

One example of technological overreach is the teaching of speech online. A student in a local college recently came to me for help with an online speech class assignment. When I asked her how one could learn to give speeches online instead of in front of a group, she replied that she was allowed to tape herself giving her speeches at home and then email them to her professor. So much for learning the dynamics of actually speaking in front of breathing human beings.

Physicist Jonathan Katz, a professor at Washington University in St. Louis, is highly critical of education’s wrongheaded technology use. Taking exception to Secretary Duncan and Murdock, Katz claims that neither of them understands the role of technology in education: “A well-thought-out textbook or a live classroom discussion does a much better job of conveying understanding than anything that can be done with technology,” he writes. Katz is a science educator as well as the father of five.

A 14-year-old boy can help create a child, but that doesn’t mean he should. Technology can perform phenomenal tasks, but that doesn’t mean we should employ it for every endeavor. Education’s so-called “Digital Promise” will never deliver. It’s too non-human.

Roger Hines of Kennesaw is a retired high school teacher and former state legislator.
Comments
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Steven Pratt
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October 17, 2012
It bothers me when I hear the naysayers say that technology shouldn't be in a classroom

People seem to be missing the point surrounding all of this. Think of a carpenter... He has a tool belt filled with different tools for different jobs. He may have a brand new shiny screwdriver in his tool belt, but he certainly wouldn't use that screwdriver to pound a nail into a piece of wood. He would use the hammer that he also has in his tool belt. But he would definitely want that screwdriver when there was a screw to put in.

Teaching is the same way. Good teachers have many tools at their disposal to educate young minds. Chalk talk, lecture, discussion, close readings, hands on projects, and the like. The more diverse the tools, the better the job that he/she can do. Technology is just another TOOL in the pouch. Some people go overboard when they get new things in the classroom. Its only natural. I can just hear them now..."It's NEW. We must USE it to justify the expense to my district." What some fail to grasp is that you don't need to beat the tech usage until its a dead horse. You just use it when its appropriate. The job of a teacher is to understand when to use the right tool for the job. If the tool is a piece of technology, Yippie! If its a paper and pencil, Yay for that as well. They can both live in the same classroom and work together. They do in mine.
Teachingin2014
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January 18, 2014
Technology is a good thing if it's not forced down our throats. Computers and expensive "educational" internet based computer programs that assess students' progress (I.e., Achieve 3000, Accelerated Reader) are replacing valuable teaching time. Being required to implement these kind of programs religiously on a daily basis no matter what (this is recommended by the companies that make these programs) has only added one more thing on our plates. It's not the hardware I'm worried about. It's how these companies are preying on school districts/ schools that are looking for quick fixes that cannot replace great teaching done by TEACHERS.
DoinR
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October 17, 2012
old people--terrified of technology for instruction, make up stuff with quotes from some article to support these outdated views. Get with the times---technology based instruction is here to stay. The horse and buggy days are gone.
W L Simpson
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October 17, 2012
I wonder if this writer has stock in in textbook companies
David Mitchell
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October 15, 2012
What student data do you have to back up this claim? Has technology actually set student success back? Do you really have any idea of what technology is good for students? Do you have any technology that is not working? Have you ever looked at student data? Have you been in a classroom in the past ten years for more than 20 minutes?

I am going to guess that you are making claims with no backing. You clearly have no grasp of research or statistics. Once you are able to tell bring real student data to the table to argue why any of your claims are true then I will actually take you seriously.
Rebecca Savastio
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October 15, 2012
There are reams of data about this topic. Overuse of gadgets and screens causes: addiction, reduced memory, reduced cognition, reduced self-esteem and many more problems. The studies on this topic are abundant. However, controlled, peer-reviewed studies that show a benefit to technology programs in classrooms are scant at best. Neuroscientific research has piled up for the last ten years and has shown tremendous problems with screen usage, but educators have been too busy being wooed by Apple to notice the data.
east cobb watcher
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October 15, 2012
Bravo, Roger!! As a former teacher with many years in public schools, I have have had concerns for quite a while about over use of technology in classrooms. As you said, technology certainly has its place and we should appreciate its usefulness in education. It is a helpful tool in many areas of teaching, including evaluation, record-keeping, and reinforcement of skills; but I do not think any electronic tool can replace the much-needed discourse between students and teachers. That is when students learn to contemplate and to think on a higher level,and that skill is not learned by getting instant answers on a computer. I have heard the argument that it "engages students," which is true--it's just like the electronic equipment they have at home or on their phones! Teachers used to be trained in how to engage students, how to compose thought-provoking questions, and how to become a moderator for the answers. Are teachers being trained now just in how to use technology for the thrust of their teaching, and nothing about established/proven good teaching practices? Any experienced teacher knows, just because an approach is NEW does not necessarily mean that it is BETTER! Those who have decided that the excessive use of technology will solve all the problems of student learning and that higher level thinking is no longer an important part of a "good" education, need to contemplate that thought! Thanks, Roger! Finally someone has spoken the truth!
Dave Eckstrom
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October 15, 2012
I would agree that school administrators have a love affair with technology for technology's sake. I would also say that they are incredibly gullible when it comes to purchasing tech that the teachers have not even asked for, let alone demonstrated a need for. As a public school teacher, I don't have to walk 200 feet from my classroom door in any direction to find several thousands of dollars worth of useless technology.

However, I would not agree that "One would be hard pressed, however, to show that technology itself has enhanced actual learning." Properly used, technology can enhance learning and this has been shown in many cases. In my case, I would point to the use of computer technology to allow students to investigate more thoroughly and effectively than ever possible before, many of the STEM concepts I teach.

The key of course, remains in the teacher and the school system. Lousy teachers will just mask their incompetence behind a piece of whiz-bang technology. Lousy school systems will try to use technology simply to reduce costs or to appear cutting edge to the public. Good teachers working in good systems will leverage appropriate technology for increased learning.

Rosemary Talab
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October 15, 2012
Your concerns are valid when teachers are not provided in-service skills in order to be able to use technology for higher order thinking skills, which no standardized test can measure well. Saying that technology does not improve education is like saying that cars don't improve driving. It's about the driver.
WayneM in Cobb
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October 15, 2012
What's missing in your article is that along with technology being part of learning, we need to look at how we learn. Specifically, how we learn with technology. Technology is not the answer, not the magic pill. Technology is just a tool - a transformative tool.

You even said it in your article, "Digital technology has unquestionably transformed business, finance, and manufacturing." Don't we want our students to succeed in these areas? Shouldn't we be teaching students how to use technology to not only post to Facebook, but how to work on a class project using a Wiki?

I admit, I work in the area of technology, teaching and learning, and my children attend a public school in Cobb. But although you speak about technology and students, don't forget about the other part of the teaching and learning equation - the teachers. We need to be support teachers in the area of technology too, to help in the successful use of these technology tools and methods.

As we always try to remind our clients (teachers and students), it's never technology for technology sake, it should always be technology for learning's sake.
anonymous
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October 15, 2012
I have to agree. We throw technology at kids, which they use, but the IT folks that want to spend my tax dollars just see a chance to cut purchase orders and get kickbacks from the vendors. Today's kids can barely communicate unless they email or text. The classroom helps provide that skill.
Kelly Walsh
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October 15, 2012
Roger - While I agree that money tossed away on poorly planned tech integration in schools is a terrible shame, parents and the public in general need to be made more aware of how well education technology can work. When technology integration is properly planned and supported with professional development, it can undoubtedly make a measurable difference in student learning. Perhaps you haven't come across some of the many undeniable success stories out there like Mooresville Graded School District: http://www.emergingedtech.com/2012/10/measurable-success-in-technology-integration-mooresville-graded-school-district/ or Carpe Diem Collegiate High School: Measurable Education Technology Success – Atomic Learning Technology Integration Training. These are just a few examples of what is being done when technology is integrated done right.
I'm so afraid!
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October 14, 2012
Oh Roger...you fail to either recognize or acknowledge the opportunity afforded by well-designed technology to tailor and fine-tune learning to the individual student and their needs.

Rather than just focus on the utilitarian aspects of technology, sophisticated learning algorithms now both diagnose and focus learning specific to each student's needs RATHER than the old system of all students being run through exactly the same, one-size-fits-all textbook exercises and blackboard examples offered by the teachers.

Instead, our students classroom experiences are being supplemented by closed-loop feedback software packages that (1) instruct (2) evaluate (3) adjust the instruction based on the results of the evaluations...on a student by student basis.

In this way, each student is afforded the opportunity to focus on areas where their learning experience is not complete and truly learning the material before being pushed into the next rote classroom exercise.

Roger Hines
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October 15, 2012
Afraid,

You are describing technology as it should be used and indeed is used in many places. Help me, though, as I discourage its unwise use: for babysitting, for "research" that seldom takes students to definitive sources,for Wikipedia, and other such things for which students need so much to be taught discernment. Keep up your good work with technology! Doesn't sound like you are what I'm complaining about.
Dave Eckstrom
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October 15, 2012
"our students classroom experiences are being supplemented by closed-loop feedback software packages that (1) instruct (2) evaluate (3) adjust the instruction based on the results of the evaluations...on a student by student basis"

So, kind of like a good teacher, only it doesn't know you . . . and can't talk to you about the myriad and complex reasons why you aren't learning or keeping up . . . and it can't give you career and college advice . . . or write you a letter of recommendation . . . or help you learn how to interact with others appropriately . . . or let your parents know what they can do to help . . . or help you discover that your life isn't over even if your boyfriend just dumped you . . . or talk to you about the complex connections between what you've just learned and your job, car, plumbing, classmate's handicap, neighborhood, daily newspaper headlines . . . or thoughtfully grade your constructed response question to see what nuances of misconception caused you to not get the right answer . . . or introduce you to a friend who is in the career you are interested in . . . I could go on and on, but I'm stopping at just the stuff that happened in my classroom this morning.
anonymous
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October 14, 2012
I recently was the first parent to complete a volunteer lesson with my son's school class. The teacher asked me to write down on the board suggestions for other parents who'd be doing the same, however the only board in the room was a technology white board and she left before I could look at it. Of course, I had no idea how to even turn it on, so couldn't write anything. Not only did I feel dumb, I realized how limiting the technology can be at certain times. This column just reminded me of how that was an opportunity to help, wasted due to my inadequate grasp of technology. How many other opportunities are being wasted?
Morag
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October 21, 2012
I imagine any one of the children in the class could have advised you on how to use the whiteboard, if you had asked them.
Charles Woodward
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October 14, 2012
Yes, it is about time someone called out the non teachers for over-promising the value of technology. I agree with everything Roger Hines said. What teachers need is help and freedom to learn how to use technology in a way that teaches students to think and learn both individually and in learning communities that resemble the real world. Historically, too many people are ready to make money pushing technology on school boards. Lastly, when I read my daily Google news, I do not find a category on "education". Instead I find nothing but "technology and education". Since when did "education" become "technology and education". Let's not forget which one is the tool (and a product for sale) for learning and which one is learning itself. Google, too, should rethink how it views education.
Momincobb
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October 14, 2012
While I agree that technology should never replace human interaction, it is quite evident that our public schools are often missing the boat in technological advances. First of all, we are now looking at opening Career Academies, either at new facilities or within existing high schools. Yet, as recently as two years ago these same classes were cut at the middle and high school levels due to budget cuts. Where is the money coming from now, and will our middle school children benefit from "career" type electives, or will they get shortchanged once again? Furthermore, I have one child at a private school and one at a top- ranking East Cobb high school. My private school student is encouraged to bring his own laptop on which he takes notes and does research in class on a daily basis. Group and individual presentations are also encouraged using a variety of media sources and with teacher assistance. Needless to say, his technological skills far exceed those of my public school student. Why aren't our high schoolers encouraged to bring laptops, tablets, I-Pads, etc.? Why shouldn't our schools negotiate lower prices at which parents could purchase these products? Every single student would then be CAREER AND COLLEGE READY! Wow, what a novel idea!
Tremendous_Idea
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October 14, 2012
I know...let' go back to a one room schoolhouse with no electricity, no indoor plumbing, a slide rule for the most advanced classes - and then see how much better off we will be. Progress does not mean we throw everything we know out the window. We must adapt to the changing environment. Those that do not will be left behind - like you.
Joolie
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October 15, 2012
Of course, I'd like to point out that the people who went to those one-room schoolhouses or similarly limited facilities and learned to use a slide rule and wrote on chalkboards also were the people who created the technology that went to the moon, created nuclear weapons, in fact created the technology that we are all using today. I don't see any of the younger minds of today creating anything "new", just re-creating or adding to the technology already there. That, to me, is the saddest part of today's educational system, it does not really teach them to think, especially to think outside the box.
kllm
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October 14, 2012
I read a report that the tech elite send their kids to schools without tech. Hu?
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