Technology has changed the way we get and share information. In the context of education – in this case I am referring to the education system, the whole going to school thing – the established methods for teaching and learning are being disrupted. In some cases technology is providing new and better opportunities for people, of all ages, to make sense of complex subjects and learn new skills. In other cases, the technology is serving as a distraction, an unnecessary add-on. I can argue both sides.
Earlier this week, the New York Times published a fantastic story about technology in schools, and more specifically about the fact that the investment that school districts have made in technology has not resulted in noticeable/significant improvements in test scores. The promise of technology as the solution to the educational challenges that exist in the United States, and around the world, simply has not yet been fully realized.
There are so many different issues wrapped up in this one article. Education is a huge and important issue. I wrote a whole chapter in my new book, Shift & Reset about education, and how our approach to teaching/engage, not to mention the ways we use technology to support both formal and informal learning need to be reconsidered. For now, let me offer two thoughts:
1) Technology is not the solution to our educational problems. Technology is not the most serious problem either. Successfully getting technology into, or out of, classrooms is not going to significantly change anything - not unless the underlying problems are addressed. We don’t have enough qualified teachers. Many teachers don’t have basic supplies to support their interactions with students. Too many young kids don’t have access to books, and enter school without the basic literacy and social skills necessary to succeed (organizations like Jumpstart, are focused on this challenge specifically). The organizations focused on addressing education challenges at different levels aren’t coordinated well enough, aren’t sharing their data and resources, or doing enough to support kids throughout their educational life.
I can keep going. But the simple point is this: fix the analog problems first, and look at technology as a way to help speed and scale the delivery of information or facilitate other efforts that support learning. When you assume that technology can solve the problem, the underlying issues will persist.
2) A key requirement is that content must be present, across many different platforms. There is a powerful role for technology to play in supporting and enhancing education, but you can’t fix a person’s ability to learn to a particular tool - a smartboard, an iPad, a calculator, nothing. Just the same, you can’t teach someone in a classroom environment only and expect them to have a full understanding and appreciation for a subject. Their experiences in life are part of the overall learning process.
NOTE: You can get a little more insight into my views on this subject from this thinking paper I wrote last year for an event with Former First Lady Laura Bush about the global literacy challenge (it was delivered at an International Literacy Day event hosted by the UN). You can also go buy Shift & Reset, which talks all about it.
In the meantime, go read the article. Then let me know if you start to think a little differently about technology and its role in education.