In the wake of the annual EdWeek Technology Counts issue, there has been some discussion surrounding the idea that technology is education is harmful. I attribute this to a few factors, including to overstated claims for educational technology in the past, concerns about very specific uses of technology in education like calculators, and the comfort some of us take in the instructional environments we experienced. This rejection of technology is unfortunate, however. Effectively utilized technology has an important role to play in increasing the effectiveness of our schools.
The focus on technology as an end in and of itself is very misplaced in K-12. Instead, districts should focus on providing an adequate level of infrastructure for staff and students and then using technology where it can improve student and staff productivity, allow for a more personalized learning experience, and provide an interactive learning experience.
READ 180 is an example of an application that meets all three of these criteria. Web-based homework like WebAssign meets two of these criteria. Practiced use of a learning management system like Moodle or Blackboard can also meet two or three of these criteria. The MAP assessment that several other area districts use also meets all of these criteria.
There are specific skills with applications that students should have. Keyboarding proficiency is the most important, but all students should have a base level of skill in the use of a word processor, spreadsheet, and presentation application. Students might elect courses where more specific skills would be developed if they had an interest in music, digital art, engineering, or specific vocational training. But overall, the specific tools should not be the objective. They’re just tools and they change rapidly.
Even in Waunakee’s Photoshop and Animation courses, the emphasis is not so much on Photoshop or Cinema 4D as the visual qualities the student wants to arrive at and the planning of how to arrive at that product.
Mind-numbing PowerPoint presentations don’t facilitate executive planning and creativity. Judging by the comments I’ve seen, that is generally accepted here at least.
Most recognize that technology has strongly promoted productivity in private sector enterprises, but that success is not uniform and there is no reason to expect that technology use should provide uniformly successful outcomes in schools. Erik Brynjolfsson at MIT has used firm-level evidence to demonstrate that the impact of technology on private sector productivity is a function of the level of capital investment, training (professional development in education terminology), and compensation incentives. Purchasing technology is not enough and using it effectively is illustrated by what Brynjolfsson terms the “Wal-Mart-Kmart difference.”
However, the capital investment, providing access to technology in the first place, is a cornerstone. The cornerstone does not guarantee a cathedral, but there will be no cathedral absent the cornerstone. We shouldn’t be asking whether technology can make a difference in K-12 education. It will. Instead, we should be asking how we can use technology to improve learning outcomes for students. Productivity, personalization, and interactivity are the best indicators of whether technology use will deliver those improved learning outcomes.
Using technology effectively is predicated on making an adequate investment consistently. In many Wisconsin districts, including Madison, the investment in technology is inadequate. This limits the ceiling for improvement.