Tuesday, August 5, 2008

Is the Evolution of Teaching with Technology Hindered by NCLB?

In a 1995 article "The Future of Learning and Schooling in American Society", James Bosco poses the following challenge to educators:

"Those who wish to determine the extent to which schools are using information technology to change more than merely the cosmetic aspects of schools need to begin by asking school personnel what they no longer do or what they have eliminated from the school because of their use of information technology. The next question is: What is happening in this school which did not, or could not have happened, in the past without the use of information technology? The least important question is: What was done in the past and is now being done in a different way because of the availability of information technology?"

To genuinely improve schools and education through the use of technology in the classroom, the integration of it needs to go beyond putting computers in every room and showing teachers and students how to use MS Word instead of a pen and paper to write the same report they would have done before. The actual process of teaching needs to change and incorporate the many options that technology offers us for how we can reach every student to improve their education.

Also in 1995, Simon Hooper and Llyod P. Rieber further defined what it means to use technology in education:

"Technology in education is often perceived in terms of how many computers or videocassette recorders are in a classroom and how they might be used to support traditional classroom activities, but this is a misleading and potentially dangerous interpretation. It not only places an inappropriate focus on hardware, but fails to consider other potentially useful 'idea' technologies resulting from the application of one or more knowledge bases, such as learning theory. Educational technology involves applying ideas from various sources to create the best learning environments possible for students. Educational technologists also ask questions such as how a classroom might change or adapt when a computer is integrated into the curriculum. This integration means that the curriculum and setting may also need to change to meet the opportunities that the technology may offer."

This is a challenge for most educators. Many want to increase their effective use of technology in the classroom, but they don't have the time or resources. These two observations were both made prior to the passage of the No Child Left Behind Act (2001) and the resulting emphasis on requirements for reading, math, and assessment testing. With teachers now focusing on getting their schools up to the required 100% proficiency in reading, math and science by 2012, and "teaching to the test," they aren't able to spend the time needed to truly integrate technology into their content while making the technology valuable and meaningful in the education of their students. Without the proper integrations and curriculum designed to use technology in ways that best fit each student, it doesn't matter how many computers the school has - in the end they're just paperweights.

When we look for case studies of schools that are making significant gains in the field of educational technology, we often find that it is the private schools, charter schools, and other schools that are not concerned with maintaining NCLB funding that are achieving with technology. (Here's a great one I stumbled upon recently: an all-girls private high school using a technology known as DyKnow Vision to make note-taking an interactive process) Does this mean that our private schools are 'better' schools? No, they are simply less focused on passing the required tests, and can enjoy the freedom to explore new options for reaching students through technology. And their students benefit from it; they learn the problem-solving and critical thinking skills that come from using technology; they are more fully engaged in the classroom and challenged to take learning into their own hands, which has repeatedly been shown to improve overall education.

A 2005 article on Edutopia.org titled "Syncing up with the iKid: Connecting to the Twenty-First Century Student" addresses these issues in its discussion of technology at work:

"Christopher Moersch, an independent Internet-technology consultant who helps schools incorporate tech into the class, says most teachers he encounters are eager to engage their students with classroom technology, but federal testing requirements consistently get priority over technology initiatives. Consequently, teachers spend most of the day in drill-and-practice mode, preparing for standardized tests."

Are we blocking our own evolution, our own connection to this generation and the incredible possibilities that technology should be offering them, because we're stuck in a 20th century view of how to assess education? How much more could our students learn if they are challenged through the technologies they understand?

Bosco, J. "The Future of Learning and Schooling in American Society" U.S. Congress, Office of Technology Assessment, Education and Technology: Future Visions, OTA-BP-EHR-169 (Washington, DE: U.S. Government Printing Office, September 1995).

Hooper, S., & Rieber, L. P. (1995). Teaching with technology. In A. C. Ornstein (Ed.), Teaching: Theory into practice, (pp. 154-170). Needham Heights, MA: Allyn and Bacon. Online at: http://www.nowhereroad.com/twt/

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