Standards Opinion

Teaching, Learning, and Technology: A Look Back #tbt

By Jill Berkowicz & Ann Myers — October 09, 2014 5 min read
  • Save to favorites
  • Print

Today, computers are powerful and have huge memories compared to their predecessors. Does anyone even have a car phone anymore? Cell phones went from being a luxury to a necessity and then they were moved aside as Smartphones grew in arrived on the scene. Computers now are in our pockets and on our wrists, and for some, on their glasses and in their cars. Technology became more affordable for personal use, for businesses and for schools. It is a door through which the world can be accessed, an accompaniment to a teacher in and out of the classroom, a presentation tool, and a vehicle for communication.

Technology has come a long way in 23 years. From a 1991 EdWeek article:

For the first half of the decade, their only relationship to each other seemed to be that drill and practice with computers could help underachieving students score higher on tests. Now it is clear that the primary goal (and promise) of both the new technology and school reform is to create a new learning environment for teachers and students--an environment that enriches, liberates, and inspires.

At the time this article was written, the belief was that technology was going to allow teachers more autonomy, more time for professional development and time with their colleagues. It was going to help end “rigid curricular requirements, inflexible class schedules, and mountains of (often unnecessary) paperwork,” it was going to put an “end to the factory model of education,” and allow for a new learning environment with flexible curricula that would make it possible for the learning environment to be more encouraging, engage students in their own learning, and work with their peers in the learning process.

The 1991 article, written by Ronald A. Wolk, Chairman Emeritus of the Board of Editorial Projects in Education Inc. and the founding editor of Education Week and Teacher Magazine, posited that the changes would not come quickly or easily. Since then, in some places, these changes have become embedded and practiced. In others, the classrooms look almost the same as they did sixty years ago. Wolk also wrote that the belief that teachers were “technophobes” was false. He supported his argument with a survey conducted by the Wirthlin Group that found a majority of k-12 teachers surveyed believed that computers should be used in their teaching and 85% thought computers “had already improved the quality of education for students.” They also found that a majority of those surveyed believed the reason computers were not used “more effectively” was due to lack of financial resources. Now, computers cost less, and the term “technophobes” has morphed into “digital immigrants.”

The Promise of Technology Remains
We think Mr. Wolk was right. The primary promise of “the new technology and school reform is to create a new learning environment for teachers and students--an environment that enriches, liberates, and inspires.” The technology has evolved and, unlike many other things, has come down in cost. We have experienced accompanying growth not only in software that can enhance learning, but the Internet has exploded as a resource for information and sharing.

Why is it that so much of his article, remains true today? We didn’t reform. Different reasons in different places ...schools have remained almost the same, certainly since 1991, and we know, even further back than that. Technology has been added without any fundamental changes. Carnegie credits remain the framework on which high schools are designed. That framework demands the schedules be built in certain ways. Minutes of instruction are even counted in elementary schools. Few have taken the leap to design around minutes of learning instead. School days and years haven’t changed. Time for successful professional development remains a problem that has yet to be solved. In some places, professional development is considered an extra instead of a staple. New reading programs, new ways of teaching math, for some, the inclusion of technology even though it is shoved into an outdated model, all are recognized as attempts. Teachers have made those attempts. But, the design of schools we offer them only allows those additions and alterations within the old archetype. Where are those who shared Wolk’s vision of what technology could do?

Leadership Matters
In 1991, teachers reported seeing the advantages for the use of computers in their classrooms. An opportunity missed or a lesson to be learned? There are teachers who have been gifted by their leadership with the professional development, encouragement, and support needed to incorporate these extraordinary 21st century teaching and learning tools into their work with children. Others, without leadership support, had the interest and the motivation to do so on their own. And, there are those who are still waiting. This becomes a leadership issue, a policy issue and funding issue.

If we knew teachers were ready in 1991 to infuse technology into the teaching and learning environment and we didn’t seize the moment, the time has passed. But, the need remains and the evolution of technology is not slowing down.

It is Time to Change
There have been large groups of advocates objecting to the Common Core Standards and the accompanying standardized tests. Those groups galvanized against something. Might there be power in coming together for something? Advocate for throwing out minutes of instruction, Carnegie credits, and even separate subject requirements? What if it didn’t matter whether a student learned physics and trigonometry as one class in one district and trigonometry and art in another? What if schools had the freedom to leverage the talents and energy of their faculty and respond to the needs of the community to allow for physics, trigonometry and engineering to engage students in their learning by designing a better bridge to go over the town creek? There are hundreds, maybe thousands of ways technology can couple with every subject taught in schools. Our design must change in order to allow teachers to enhance their work with their students using new technologies. Isn’t it time schools were designed so teachers had the room to design better learning opportunities without jamming it into an archaic schedule? Isn’t it time?

Connect with Ann and Jill on Twitter or Email.

Related Tags:

The opinions expressed in Leadership 360 are strictly those of the author(s) and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Editorial Projects in Education, or any of its publications.