(I taught at both the middle and high school levels in Detroit. I also served as a teacher of teachers. I guess one could say that I helped educate the workforce that put the world on wheels. During part of my retirement I have worked for a virtual learning organization, implementing online learning in schools across in metropolitan Detroit.)
The industrial model school prepared American students for a prosperous life as highly paid wage earners. However, that economy is gone with the wind and a new one has been born. But what is the best path to prepare our young people for an economy based on innovative and the competitive forces of globalization? How do we, for the first time in American history, educate ALL children to a single, uniform standard?
One promise of technology is to make learning appealing, to make it “cool”. But as a seasoned educator, I ask, “Why does learning need to be appealing? Why is it required to be cool?” Schools, teachers and parents are quick to point out that students are “engaged” when they are on the computer or using some new technology. The Hawthorne Effect is the term used to identify increased productivity over a short period of time in response to behavior that is being observed. The down side is that we keep having to come up with the next greatest, latest and EXPENSIVE cool thing that excites or keeps students’ attention.
Why are we afraid to INSIST that learning is often hard work and that creating a strong economic foundation isn’t always fun or cool? Why do so many American schools and teachers believe they need to build classrooms that are indulgent when it comes to handling the conflict surrounding the real work of gaining new knowledge? Why are we afraid to PUSH our children? Why do we feel the need to provide them with a pain free existence? Most children prefer playing video games or channel surfing to getting down to the business of concentration and self-discipline. Computer technology will never replace the technology of a strong-willed parent or a strong-minded, efficient teacher.
Student-Driven Motive vs. Profit-Motive Driven
How much of the push of technology is student-motive driven vs. profit-motive driven? Is it really about student achievement or are our children pawns in a race to build the next great technology company that can be traded on a stock exchange? Are we crowding out the budget for art, music, physical education in a quest to spawn the next Mark Zuckerberg, Steve Jobs, or Bill Gates?
What’s the point of learning PowerPoint in elementary school? Does it really promote cognition and discussion (oral rehearsal)?
Certainly Facebook, Google docs, Word Press and other social media tools can support students’ writing as they attempt to discover their voices and to engage an authentic audience; however, social media cannot replace the pedagogy of teaching writing and the myriad teacher decisions, actions, and questions that teaching the writing process demands. Our students are fast becoming aggregators of other people’s writings instead of becoming creators of their own ideas as they cut and paste their way to completing assignments. Organizing students in face-to-face collaborative groups promotes engagement and interdependence which honor writing as a social and cognitive act. A “technology” that is a lot cheaper because it comes with no expensive, “planned” obsolescence.
Each new piece of technology/software requires a steep learning curve for both the student and the teacher, a curve that competes with and sometimes supplants the instructional time provided to master the content. Thus, the technology can become an appendage to the math, science, or history that is being taught. We know that time-on-task is critical to learning; how much time is devoted to learning the content vs. learning how to manipulate a cool, new digital tool?
According to Dr. Larry Cuban, professor emeritus from Stanford University who was quoted in a September 4, 2011, New York Times article, there is no trendline that technology improves learning. The evidence is insufficient and that’s probably because it’s difficult to create five or ten year longitudinal studies for a tool/product that is not created to last that long. How quickly can you spell U-P-G-R-A-D-E? The detractors state that technology engages student in ways that cannot be measured. However, schools are closed each year and educators lose their jobs because of standardized test scores that ARE measured.
Getting to School House 2.0
The Journey from School House 1.0 that prepared students for a prosperous life in a industrial economy to School House 2.0 that prepares students to become competitive, contributing members of an information, innovation-based economy is uncharted terrain that we are still learning to navigate. Technology, for sure, is a path to the future and there is no turning back, no putting the genie back in the bottle. However, School House 2.0 must also craft a rigorous, robust, democratic community that is fueled by collaboration, communication, and cooperation. We must rethink our blind faith in technology as the panacea to educating our students for a 21st century, global economy.
We must take care that technology does not become like the spider spinning a web smothering and suffocating everything in its path: teachers, librarians, the arts, physical education. We must acknowledge that teachers are the greatest capital for rebuilding America; technology like pencils, pens, and paper is but a start.