Educational Technology: Myths and assumptions

Atlas

Image: Victor Habbick / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

I’ve been reading the Edutech World Bank blog post ‘Ten things about computer use in schools that you don’t want to hear (but I’ll say them anyway)‘ by Michael Trucano and finding myself nodding and sighing at intervals. The (actually) nine things he mentions range from caution about more computer labs and schools and ICT specific literacy training to acknowledging that test scores may not improve and that cheating may well increase as a result of using technology in classrooms. This is welcome rejoinder to a technologically determinist approach that technology CAN ONLY BE A GOOD THING. As educational technology permeates beynd the initial wave of enthusiastic adopters to a broader range of educators, managers and organisations and ‘standards’ and rules become the ‘way things are done’, it’s worth being reminded that different contexts and situations may require different approaches.

Two of the ‘things’ that caught my eye were:

Most kids aren’t ‘digital natives’

Even though the ‘digital natives’ argument has been comprehensively analysed and is far more nuanced, I still find that it crops up in common everyday discussions as kids just being more tuned in to technology. And indeed, many of us may have heard of the youtube video of the child who when confronted with a paper magazine tries in vain to flick it (a la style of iPad) and is distressed when nothing happens. And Clay Shirky, in Cogitive Dissonance, tells the story of a child who rushed to the back of a TV set trying to find the mouse – implying that to a child a screen must come with a mouse. I can see for myself with my own children that a world to me that seems suddenly saturated with technology is not saturated for them – it’s the new normal. And why should that be a surprise?

Yet as Trucano points out, beyond this level of instinctive engagement (if you are exposed to iPads rather than magazines, what would YOU do), is the important point that this doesn’t mean that children instinctively know what and how to learn just because they can access that learning or content through technology.

It is one thing to be able to ‘find’ a ‘fact’ using a search engine.  It is something else entirely to find the most relevant facts, and then successfully analyze and evaluate these ‘facts’ and their relevance to a particular task at hand, synthesizing this relevance and sharing the results of this processes with other to result in some sort of particular action or response.  The first demonstrates familiarity with a particular process, the second forms a fundamental part of many people’s definition of ‘learning’ (Trucano).

Children’s effective use of technology for learning depends on supportive teachers who understand what the tool or technology is capable of achieving and what its limitations might be. And that means engaging with the tool, trying things out, customizing and sharing good practice through…er… those tools! I’m beginning to realise that if sometimes I feel I am going around in circles, it means I probably am!

The other one that caught my eye is

Don’t expect test scores to improve

Trucano not only casts doubt on products which claim to raise test scores but also casts doubt on the usefulness of these type of drill and memorize tests in the first place.

These days, the rhetoric around computer use in education is often that computers can be used to help develop sets of ’21st century skills’ (variously defined).  Few examination systems, however, do a very good job in testing these sorts of skills. If your rationale for putting computers in schools is to develop these sorts of 21st century skills, but your examinations don’t test for them, don’t expect test scores to improve (Trucano).

And he’s right; if we are trying to inculcate 21st century digital skills that comprise creativity, collaboration, networking and other goodies as outlined in Conole’s (2012) blog post, focussing on rote testing and learning, while useful, cannot be a measure of whether learning is enhanced through educational technology. After all, we have moved beyond assessing whether learning is enhanced through the use of pencils.

So, as educational technology becomes more mainstream and moves beyond early adopters and innovators, continuing to keep an open mind about perceived benefits and ways of measuring will become more important, so as to keep the momemtum of innovation and experimentation alive.

References

Conole, G (2012). Digital Literacies [blog]. Available from http://e4innovation.com/?p=575

Shirky, C (2010). Cognitive Surplus: Creativity and Generosity in a Connected Age. Penguin.

Trucano, M (2012). Ten things about computer use in schools that you don’t want to hear (but I’ll say them anyway) [blog]. Available from http://blogs.worldbank.org/edutech/node/634

 

 

 

 

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