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Saturday, October 15, 2011

SYSK: Will technology really revolutionize education

At the beginning of the decade, most people would have predicted that schools would be using computers and technology in ways that enhanced student achievement and learning. Today, at the end of a decade that has seen an enormous expansion in the use of technology in everyday life, schools are still using computers in much the same way that they were at the start of the decade. More classrooms have computers; more schools have computer labs; but curriculum development has not kept pace with the interconnected, social nature of today’s Internet. Even as students text, access YouTube and update Facebook on their mobile phones, their classroom computers block access to most of those same services. Teaching students to be smart consumers of sometimes unreliable Internet data and careful stewards of their personal information is of paramount importance for the next decade, but it’s not clear that schools are up to the task.

The hidden story here is that schools are spending bucket loads of their dwindling budgets on computers, software and other technology, while they fire teachers, librarians, nurses, custodians and secretaries and eliminate staff development days, and see a continuing achievement gap. Technology, like teacher quality, privatization, tenure and unions, is just another red herring that allows us to overlook the overwhelming cause of low student achievement: poverty. Bring families out of poverty and we’ll see dramatic improvements in student achievement, with or without fancy technology.

However, if we do want to see technology used in creative and clever ways to enhance learning, then teachers need to be provided more professional development opportunities to learn the technology, play with it and create innovative uses for it. This, sadly, is not happening, nor is it likely to happen with declining education budgets. One example of a creative use of technology is a series of experiments I designed for high school students to study the effects of drugs on nematodes using digital microscopy and software from the NIH to track their movements. It is a real world scientific experiment that not only teaches about the nervous system and cells, but has students collecting and analyzing their own original data. However, to develop this curriculum I spent three summers collaborating with scientists at UCSF and had to obtain all my own funding, without any support from my school, district or the state.

From the blog Modern School, by Michael Dunn

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