On April 4, three experts in the area of educational technology answered questions on its progress, or lack thereof, over the past decade. They were Margaret A. Honey, the director of the Center for Children and Technology, in New York City; Cathleen Norris, a professor of technology and cognition in the college of education at the University of North Texas, in Denton; and Elliot Soloway, a professor of computer science and education at the University of Michigan, in Ann Arbor. Below are excerpts from the discussion.
Question: What reasons would you give to explain why technology has not stimulated the student-achievement gains we had hoped for?
Soloway: Technology has not had the impact that we believe it should primarily because kids aren’t using it in any appreciable way in classrooms. We did a survey of educational technology use in 2002 and found that 65 percent of the teachers had one or fewer computers in their classrooms. Today, the ratio of kids to computers is about 5-to-1. With that sort of ratio, kids aren’t getting sufficient access to technology for it to make a difference in learning. Only when we get to 1-to-1 will we see a real impact on student achievement. Without access, there is no hope of impact. Now, with 1-to-1, we had better do some other things right in order to see those gains, but access is the first step.
Question: What technology training is necessary for preservice teachers to be prepared for the secondary classroom? What specific training should be included in ongoing professional development for veteran teachers to help them better integrate technology into their curriculum?
Norris: I think you hit the nail on the head when you said “integrate.” Most preservice courses and professional development focus on the technology. The emphasis must be on helping the teachers integrate the technology into their teaching. Any professional development should include time for teachers to develop lessons along with the other teachers in their subject area. Teachers need software that helps them with the material they teach, and then training on exactly how it can do so. So much time is spent on adapting generic clerical applications to classroom teaching.
Question: What are some types of questions a district should be asking itself when trying to determine the return on investment for instructional use of technology?
Honey: The first question to ask is whether the use of technology resources is well-aligned and coordinated with your instructional objectives. You should also consider whether you are adding real learning value; meaning, are you doing something that could not be done as well without technology? There are many, many factors that influence students’ learning, so trying to determine the value of your investment by answering this question is a complicated undertaking. There are examples of technology use that saves teachers real time, such as conducting formative or diagnostic assessments using hand-held computers.
Question: How can schools keep up with technology when on-hand hardware is outdated? More money needs to be invested to help defray the costs of acquiring new technology in smaller districts. The federal dollars that are available only begin to address the needs; technological advances are rapid and the funding cannot keep up with it.
Norris: Even at the university where I teach, I always tell my students that I am teaching from a historical perspective, because we can’t keep up with the cutting-edge technologies either. You can only hope that if you are teaching your students how to use the technology to manage their own learning, the skills and the knowledge will be transferable and applicable regardless of where they go in the future. Your problem is the same one that the majority of districts are experiencing. The real answer is to get a new funding model for technology in the schools.
Honey: These are such important issues. There is growing advocacy around E-rate funding to be able to use that money to support more than just technology infrastructure. You should also look into what, if anything, your state is supporting. Many schools handle the issue of updating hardware by entering into leasing, rather than purchasing, agreements. And, of course, your local school board needs to understand the importance of technology for learning in the 21st century.
Question: Why is education so slow on the uptake with respect to technology? I have a grandson who is very “mouse and keyboard” skilled, but his kindergarten teacher still spends time focusing on handwriting skills. He can “interpret” decimals using his calculator, yet he is encouraged to “memorize” his addition facts. Our kids can learn much more with technology, but teachers still believe (with no evidence to support their beliefs) that the old stuff that is to be learned is the important stuff.
Soloway: You have raised a very good and provocative question. What is core and what isn’t? What is old and what isn’t? If a kid has to take out his calculator every time he needs to know if there is a good deal in a store, then that will slow him down. Even if the calculator is built into his wristwatch or cellphone, he will still have to stop and do a task that should be instant. He will have to get off the problem-solving process and drop down to the calculation level. What a waste of effort and time. Does he need to know the quadratic equation? Probably not. But what is “in” and what is “out” is a difficult question. As a family member, you can help the child learn the newer stuff. But not at the expense of what is still good and important.
A version of this article appeared in the April 18, 2007 edition of Education Week as chat wrap-up: the evolution of educational technology