Thursday, August 11, 2016

EdTech: It isn't what you use, it is how you use it.

Okay, I admit I am an old grumpy teacher who has never seen any need to jump on the educational technology bandwagon.  Don't get me wrong, I love edtech.  It opens so many possibilities for teaching.  What I don't like is the idea that high tech (computers and the Internet) is better than low tech (books and blackboards).  High or low, tech is tech and nether is inherently "better" that the other.  Take a look at this post for NPR's MindShift "The Connections Between Computer Use and Learning Outcomes in Students". The first paragraph sums up the post very nicely,
"A group of recent studies on technology in education, across a wide range of real-world settings, have come up far short of a ringing endorsement."
 They then they go on to review three fairly major studies that end up showing results that range from not-so-good to bad to down-right-ugly.  Why to poor showing?  In all three cases, they took an existing program and threw money (high tech) at the program expecting that to improve the outcomes.

I know I'm old fashioned but when I taught, I asked myself four questions:

  1. What is it that I want the students to learn?
  2. What are the best best ways to present the skills and knowledge to promote learning?
  3. Which way is most likely to be best (both practical and successful)?  That will become my primary approach.
  4. What technology would best support the student using the selected approach?
I don't start with the technology and then force everything to fit the technology.  I start with the outcome, then the teaching approach to fit the outcome, and lastly the technology the support the approach.  Technology takes the backseat.  It isn't the driver.

The post goes on to discuss problems with the studies and educational research in general.  Even "normal" educational research is a pain in the neck because of so many uncontrollable or even unknown variables but when you are funded to study technology that is superimposed on a teaching situation, well, don't expect good results.
The post later makes two very good points:

"Implementation is really important, yet it’s often ignored."
"Computers are enhancing access. There’s less evidence that they’re enhancing learning."
We need to focus on the needs of the students and the materials.  And on producing teachers that know the place of educational technology, both high and low.