“Perhaps no change in our society has affected learning more than the advent of computer technology,” says Don Nielsen, Program Chair of the American Center for Transforming Education and author of Every School: One Citizen’s Guide to Transforming Education.
How we implement and train on the use of technology within the classroom is an hot topic in education. Nielsen states, “Neither the infrastructure of our schools nor the competency of our teaching corps is keeping pace with this new phenomenon.” (Superintendent Doug Brubaker of Fort Smith, Oklahoma, makes a similar point in a recent Education Week article here.
Nielsen states in his updated version of Every School, “Across sectors, adopting new technology is the easy part. Much more difficult is implementing those tools smartly, learning how to use them well, taking care of them over time, and evaluating whether they’re actually effective. When the former consistently happens, but the latter does not, people are bound to roll their eyes at promises that “innovation” will bring about dramatic improvements.”
Their skepticism is warranted. With the influx in cash, schools can purchase new and innovative technology. However, without placing these new technologies in the right hands with the proper setup, the outcome will fall short of the goal and leave schools with unusable equipment, disadvantaged students, and unresponsive staff.
Nielsen draws from the Los Angeles schools experience in 2013 in which the district provided an iPad to each student: “There have been questions about the exact cost of individual devices, students’ demonstrated ability to circumvent the security filters on the tools—and questions about the readiness of [the] curriculum…that is designed to be embedded in the devices.” In the end, the entire program was terminated and described as a “total failure” by the Los Angeles Times.
In order to successfully employ technology, schools need to look deeper into teacher training, assessment, and student preparation. As Superintendent Brubaker suggests, “Sometimes, you end up going further if you moderate your pace a little bit and make sure you’re really bringing people along with you.”
Massive Open Online Courses (MOOC) are an example of how technology can be successfully used in the classroom. Nielsen argues that “MOOCs provide the opportunity for a single gifted teacher to reach thousands of students, thereby enhancing their effectiveness and dramatically reducing the cost to the students or the government.” Nielsen continues, “Videos of gifted teachers applying their craft with real students provide an excellent training opportunity for new teachers.”
The assessment of student learning also needs to be addressed. Currently we do not good measures for what students have learned; we tend to measure only a student’s capacity to memorize. Nielsen believes that technology can enable better assessments of student learning: “incorporate continuous testing as a student moves through material, it will be possible to ensure learning and eliminate the high stakes testing…employing technology as an integral part of the educational curriculum will make that possible.”
Finally, students must be equipped to use these new technologies. As Nielsen points out, “These children will need a smaller class, more individualized attention, specific instruction on using technology and a longer school day and school year before they can be expected to catch up with their peers,” Nielsen states. Or as Brubaker nicely summarizes, “You can’t buy things without looking into the future.”