Monday, September 5, 2011

Computer Canard

My classroom technology set-up is pretty basic. I have an LCD projector, a computer (which works very nearly all the time), and speaker installed in the ceiling. Overall, it's fairly standard when it comes to technology in the classroom. Some classrooms have SmartBoards, but I am not one of the chosen. Anyway, I tend to shy away from slide-show presentations because I think they are boring. I do use them occasionally. Mostly, the projector is used to throw graphic organizers and other visuals on the screen. It serves the same function as an old overhead projector with acetate transparencies. I do have about 12 computers in my room, but they are used for my Yearbook and Newspaper classes and are not used by the lion's share of students who come through my door.

The technology has been...acceptable. Sometimes it works well. Sometimes it doesn't. Sometimes I have to spend 5 minutes fidgeting with some cable or settings while my students chat. Sometimes I want to punch Microsoft Windows 7 in the face. Teaching isn't a very easy job and when the tools on which you rely don't work properly it makes things all the more difficult. We do have boffins who are happy to come and fix things, but you can only contact them through our Brazil-like on-line help ticketing system. 

It's not a great situation, but things are starting to become much worse. Technology is creeping into the new Common Core standards for Language Arts and Mathematics. In addition to teaching critical thinking, language, grammar, literary analysis, I am supposed to teach basic computer literacy.

Computers and their applications are becoming the new silver-bullet in education. School districts like the Kyrene Elementary District-- a suburban school district outside Phoenix--  have invested heavily in one-to-one laptops, Smart Boards, and expensive educational software that would make the learning environment more valuable. You can read a really great article about it at this link. Policy-makers and reformers have a positive gut-reaction to computers. Everyone believes that they enhance learning environments. Computers are interactive and engaging. However, there has been no conclusive evidence that computers do what the reformers claim. Larry Cuban, Education Professor Emeritus at Stanford University has stated that there has been no evidence to support that huge investments in technology translate into higher student achievement. The idea that technology can fix what ails us is a canard continued by companies that have a vested interest in nation-wide educational technology integration.

La Belle Époque depiction of a school in the year 2000.

Do parents want their children to be taught with computers who feel nothing or by people who care? Is a school an information factory or are they places where we share our cultural values? Can technology ever be bad?

What absolutely must be done is technology needs to be evaluated based on its efficacy and not its modernity. That is where the CTP comes in. I firmly believe that there is nothing wrong with pen, paper, typewriters, conversations, and the mind. Replacing any of these things with a computer hurts far more than it can ever help.