Is technology in the classroom a bust?

The New York Times ran a front-page piece this past weekend on the fact that test scores don’t seem to be getting a boost from the billions being spent on new technology in the classroom. The education-policy world has been all over the story, with some knocking The Times and reporter Matt Richtel. Others are saying the story is an important reminder that technology isn’t a cure-all.

Here’s some of the reaction:

Peter Meyer, a fellow at the Thomas B. Fordham Institute, calls the article a “wakeup call for the digital revolution” and warns that the real emphasis should be on curriculum.

“…as happened to the charter school movement, which spent lots of time and energy debating the chartering process and defending it in the face of frequent lackluster performance numbers, the technological classroom is late to an appreciation of the essential elements of education; mainly, the importance of knowledge.  What should our kids know?”

Tom Vander Ark defends digital learning on his blog, saying Richtel chose to cherry-pick weak examples of technology use in the classroom.

“It’s easy to make sweeping statements about the past and prop up critics. Richtel knows well the case for digital learning; he just chose to leave it out.”

MediaShift says Richtel buried the lede of the story, which is that standardized test scores can’t accurately measure the value of technology in the classroom.

“Richtel also neglected to point out an important piece of the puzzle: that standardized assessments are in the process of being recreated. The tests will use technology in both administering and scoring and will measure ‘performance-based tasks, designed to designed to mirror complex, real-world situations,’ according to the New York Times.”

Cathy Davidson at HASTAC also lays part of the blame on outdated tests, but then goes on to say schools ought to be investing money in training teachers to use technology.

“No school should invest in technology without investing in substantial, dedicated retraining of its workforce—which is to say its teachers.  If IBM pays the equivalent of $1700 per employee per year to help them keep abreast of new technology, new methods, new tools, shouldn’t we be investing that kind of funding in supporting the professional development of our teachers who are training the next generation of IBM workers?”

Kaplan’s Chief Learning Officer Bror Saxberg says the problem isn’t with technology or the tests, but rather that “we’re not thinking about how to improve learning based on what’s known about learning, and then applying technology to make it faster, cheaper, easier, and data-rich.”

“Even worse for students, we may be short-changing their futures this way. Instead of focusing our efforts (including technology) on mastering sometimes challenging skills that are essential in the competitive world they’re about to enter, we’re getting them to spend that time on things that we think are ‘cool.'”

Jonathan Schorr at the NewSchools Venture Fund says the central question of the story — is technology good? — is too broad. It’s akin, he says, to asking “how good are restaurants?” and then looking at overall reviews for all restaurants.

“As a guide to the future, the better question is, are there models that make innovative use of technology and offer transformative potential? The answer is an emphatic yes; there are plenty of examples.”

Richard Lee Colvin of Ed Sector (and formerly of The Hechinger Report) knocks The Times for assigning a tech reporter rather than an education reporter, and highlights a few questions the story missed.

“Q. Does the technology make it easier for teachers to understand students’ thinking? Where they need extra help?

Q. Does it make it easier for students to learn from one another, perhaps using social media?

Q. Does it help students learn basic material more quickly so that more class time can be devoted to in-depth discussions and applications of knowledge to solve problems?”

Atlanta area teacher Robert Ryshke blogs about the five things he thinks we should invest in–and technology is #5 on the list. At the top of his list? “Improving what we teach students” and “Supporting the development of excellent teachers.”

POSTED BY ON September 7, 2011