Beware the Technology Panacea
Is there a school district left out there who has not wrestled with how to get more technology in the classroom? Is there any one out there not trying to figure out how to achieve 1:1, student:device ratios? No? That’s because technology is becoming v more and more viewed as the panacea for our education woes. This is a simplistic understanding of education being touted by autodidacts like Bill Gates and Mark Zuckerberg. They know we are all enthralled with the shiny smart devices and can be easily swayed into thinking these devices are the answer to our prayers. But can technology really revolutionize education?
Here are some of the many ways technology could help the classroom.
- The Flipped Classroom – where students watch recorded lessons on their own time and use classroom time to get individual instruction on portions of the lesson they did not understand. (This concept is being tried in the Normandy school district. It is most often used in post secondary education where the students have more personal commitment to the education process and have demonstrated the ability to teach themselves. Whether this will work in academically struggling districts like Normandy, whose students received numerous detentions in Francis Howell for failure to do their homework, is unlikely. But Normandy has become another state experiment in education, so good luck with that.)
- Master Teachers – an element of the flipped classroom, these subject experts could reach thousands of students at once in MOOCs (Massive Open Online Courses). Benefits include:
- Provide thousands of students access to engaging lecturers
- Lower district costs by only hiring classroom facilitators, not advanced degreed content experts
- Provide uniform education experience (but not outcome) to many students
- What will be missing is that key element of relationship that is so essential to most kids in order to learn. Annie Murphy Paul wrote in Slate, “Most people are not autodidacts. In order to learn effectively, they need guidance provided by teachers. They need support provided by peers. And they need structure provided by institutions. Amid all the effusions about how ed tech will “change the way we learn,” however, these needs rarely merit a mention.”
- Google Education Apps – as an example. Other education suppliers are also developing education applications.
- Free (for now) education tool
- Provide feedback for teachers on student progress (good for new teachers, usually not necessary for veteran teachers)
- Constantly collecting free data on student use in order to improve the product, or identify new product opportunities for the company.
- Internet Research – districts have not yet fully developed policies for how much access is appropriate. Some have limited use to certain search engines which have been found to be biased in the sites that are included. Training students to recognize bias in what they find will be a new skill for schools to teach. Complete open access to the internet is an IT department’s nightmare.
- Smart Boards
interactive whiteboards with a touch-sensitive screen that teachers can connect to their laptop or personal computer, along with a digital projectorinteractive whiteboards with a touch-sensitive screen that teachers can connect to their laptop or personal computer, along with a digital projector. Teachers type their lesson plans into their computers either in class or at home and can project those lessons onto the screen during class time.
– interactive whiteboards with a touch-sensitive screen that teachers can connect to their laptop or personal computer, along with a digital projector. Teachers type their lesson plans into their computers either in class or at home and can project those lessons onto the screen during class time. The board itself is just a tool but it enables teachers to use curricula and prepared lessons downloadable from various sites to provide an interactive lesson.
These are some of the promises of technology in the classroom.
- lower costs for school districts by replacing teachers and eliminating their salaries
- keep children engaged in the learning process
- teach better than a live teacher because it is based on science and data
- allow children to learn at their own pace
- unlimited class size
Those all sound great, and some of them are even true. But the challenge with technology is choosing the right kind for your school’s demographics and capability (fiscal/technological) and then using it appropriately. This is where most districts will fail with technology.
It is best to think of technology like a gun. By itself it is neither good nor bad. What is important is the person who is wielding it, what their level of training is, and what their purpose is. There is no shortage of technology out there for students, but the biggest problem facing schools who want to use it is inadequate training of teachers on its use. I know my district had (and probably continues to have) teachers who have $5,000 smart boards on their walls that they rarely use or use less than 20% of its capacity making it in essence a very expensive projection screen. This undercapacitized use is not unique to my district. At the Southwest By Southwest.edu conference this spring, many teachers complained about lack of adequate training on the technology being brought into their classroom. As a result they tended not to use the technology they were given and even resented having to figure out how to use it on their own.
David Oakes, a director of technology for a large urban/rural school district said, “I found the smart board I had purchased hiding in a closet, the cables missing, and the projector in use in a classroom with a document camera. This is typical of what happened with the smart boards throughout the district.”
Digedu found in a recent poll that 50% of teachers surveyed report not being adequately supported when using technology. One teacher, Cathy Growchowski, described the common scenario.
[Districts who send] a few teachers to any training, whether it’s technology or curriculum training, with the hope that the teacher will come back and train others, almost always fails. I believe this is because those who attended the training are not themselves experts, or trainers, and they really have limited incentive to take that extra time to train others (most teachers are not given any extra off time to do training of peers). “Train the trainer” programs are rarely effective because those who head “home” to train their peers rarely have the necessary expertise, or tools (such as full presentations, handouts, books and the such). Mediocre training results if attempted at all. Also, there can be an element (conscious or not) of some teachers not wanting to share the bounty of knowledge acquired. Realistically teachers are no different than anyone else–they want to shine better than the next person.
Taking on all kinds of new technology, which does show promise for being an effective tool in the classroom, without adequate training and support, becomes merely a wasted opportunity and money drain on a district.
The other problem with technology in the classroom is the potential health effects for the students, most particularly the very young students, whom districts are happily supplying with ipads and tablets right now.
Barrie Trower, a former Royal British Navy and military intelligence officer has dedicated much of his career in the study of the effect of microwave energy on the human body.
When it comes to children and WiFi, Mr. Trower says, “children are physiologically and neurologically immature. It takes years for the blood-brain barrier to form, leaving children more prone to cell-leakage from microwave radiation.” When visiting children in schools, he notes that WiFi radiation exposure is causing health problems that include, nausea, headaches and vision problems. He further says, “Children have less dense bones, immature immune systems and, by virtue of their size, they can act as aerials. Females have more complex hormone based systems to be disrupted than males.
More and more experts in the international community are urging a reduction of WiFI, RF exposure for very young children and pregnant women. In Mountain View Elementary School in Ontario Canada it was discovered, after children started complaining about headaches in the classroom that they did not experience at home, that the school had installed an ultra high powered wireless Cisco WiFi system to provide internet access to the entire school. Microwave exposure like that emitted by these high powered routers is linked to infertility, erratic heart rates, learning impairment, behavioural changes, leukemia and cancer, especially in children. The situation in Mountain View led to the formation of Safe School which is continuing to push for lower radiation exposure standards in schools.
Technology is not going to go away. In fact, Kenneth Eastwood, superintendent of schools in Middletown, who has been recognized as one of the “Top Ten Tech Savvy Superintendents,” by eSchool News said this to the Hechinger Report, “Teachers who use technology will replace those who don’t.”
Before your district commits to purchase millions of dollars of technology, insist that they budget for adequate PD. They cannot get off cheap just sending a couple teachers to training and expecting them to come back and train others. They will not have enough expertise or resources or time. Make sure they have budget for maintenance and upgrades. Otherwise you will meet resistance and loss of full capacity of use. Districts should also resist the urge to give the youngest kids the fancy WiFi connectivity of tablets. A computer station, hardwired to the Ethernet, where they won’t spend hours in front of a screen, barely moving, may be the best thing for their developing bodies and brains.