I’ve been thinking about this topic for a long time. It seems implicit in many discussions of educators and in blogs, industrial promotions, and conferences that include educational technologies.
Why do we need state-of-the-art technologies for students in schools? This question, asked in the spirit of comity, leads to a trail of unresolved questions.
No one is wise enough or informed enough to answer such questions with unchallenged authority. Yet these questions seem relevant in a world burgeoning with an unrelenting onslaught of gismos, gadgets, and games purported “to educate” someone.
Why do not simple common sense answers compel prompt action to allow all students access to state-of-the-art technologies? For example, the function of a technology is to increase the effectiveness and efficiency of some activity. Student learning is a measurable activity. Personal computers, such as a Tablet PC, can increase a student’s learning rates. (So can direct instruction without the use of advanced technologies.) Why does this reasoning and fact not persuade school decision makers to arrange for the ubiquitous use of advanced technologies by all students in schools? Where is the will (the action, not rhetoric) to assure each individual student the chance to learn as much as that student can learn?
Such questions exist unresolved in the public domain. Answers such as “not enough money” seem inadequate and incomplete. Probably most responses to such questions will be faulty. Yet, when these questions and responses are written, at least they exist for others to critique. Perhaps these critiques will help move discussion toward simple, prompt ways to increase student learning rates.
In 1938, Robert Lynd asked in a series of four lectures as part of Stafford Little Lectures at Princeton University a similarly then provocative question, Knowledge for What? He addressed the emergence of social science from the natural sciences. Among other things, he described influences this emergence was having on formal education.
Lynd’s question, his argument, and subsequent responses helped shape the development of the social sciences and of schools to the extent that they relied on social sciences. It seems logical to update his discussion. This is not a scholarly arcanum, nor a practical proposal. It does inadvertently highlight by inference how school decision makers give priority to many things ahead of maximizing or even increasing each student’s learning rates by using available technologies.
Rationale for Questions
Today, educators live in an environment increasingly influenced by advanced technologies. As educators, we have by tradition and convenience a wide array of discretionary use of vast tangible and intellectual resources in schools. Our total education budgets as well as our annual expenditures on education in the United States exceed the gross national product and annual revenue of most countries of the world. As a result of this discretion, or perhaps to justify it, we claim proficiency in instruction and learning as well as by inference expertise in their management. In our collective judgment, educators do not deem the use of advanced technologies a high priority in schools.
We rely on these claims to decide in each of our classrooms every day specifically what and how we will instruct students before us. Some of us try to create total quality schools with the assumption that leads to some evidence of student learning increases. Others specialize in working with a particular type of student behavior or intellectual content also intended to increase learning.
We use various personal and professional reasons for these judgments. These reasons range from whether our child has a headache at home to whether we give priority over all else to ways for each individual student to exceed politically approved minimum performance expectations for this year.
A relatively few of us assert individual initiative at our personal expense to bring the newest advanced gadget or discovery to class to accommodate our judgments about schooling, students or learning. Many of us appear to follow the leader who makes our job easier or more comfortable.
The public spotlight now focuses on our judgments. Many people consider our decisions and initiatives inadequate and us unprepared to meet our responsibilities in a rapidly emerging global culture. They accept with skeptical politeness ranging to political rejection our collective and individual judgments about uses of technologies in schooling.
Trail of Questions
As educators, we may still try to respond to these questions rather than wait for others who want to give us their answers.
Who benefits personally from educators’ answers to the question, Technology for what?
Do teachers agree that increasing (or maximizing) student learning rates is our top daily priority?
What compelling ideal or practical purpose do state-of-the-art technologies serve in student learning?
Do some interests merely want the newest gismos in schools whether or not anyone needs them?
Which imperatives relevant to novice and scholarly learning drive technology evangelists to promote the use of new technologies, such as use of digital ink and wireless connections, to increase learning?
What would happen if all new advanced technologies were forbidden in schools? Whatever each school has now is all it will have in the future. What results would occur if some authority issued an edict that forbids any new purchases or gifts of any new learning systems in schools? Would the edict make a difference in student academic and intellectual performance? If not, why not?
At least one school-technology specialist in Southern California confiscates forbidden data processing hardware and software (such as Tablet PCs) from teachers and students. Should other schools implement the same policy? Does such action allow students to increase their learning rates?
How long (days, months, years, decades) do teachers have to accommodate the ongoing releases of advanced technologies for student learning? What consequences exist for each student of a teacher who does not initiate an advanced technology sooner?
And finally, so what? What difference does increasing or maximizing student learning make to anyone? Who cares enough to change that consequence by changing his or her priorities and daily behavior to accommodate more advanced technologies promptly?