Another Failed ‘Shock and Awe’ Campaign

I confused an educational policy maker the other day when we were talking about classroom technology. ‘What do you think about whiteboards in every classroom?’ she asked. 

‘It would be a complete waste of money,’ I answered. 

Like so many reform efforts in education, I think schools and districts are wasting huge sums of money on "shock and awe" campaigns designed to get whiz-bang digital tools into every classroom as quickly as possible. Surrounded by messages that digital learning is essential for success in tomorrow’s world, we’ve invested billions of dollars into hardware and software that often has little impact on student achievement. This belief was only reinforced this week when the Department of Education released a report detailing the failure of widely touted educational software "solutions."

The solution to raising student achievement in classrooms across the country relies on ensuring that every child has access to an accomplished teacher. Technology can play a role in student achievement only when teachers have had opportunities to engage in meaningful professional development over time designed to change instructional practices. 

The first step necessary for "getting right in our relationship with technology" is to develop a clear vision for what role we want digital tools to play in classrooms. Do we believe that they can support assessment and regrouping of students? Do we believe that they help to deliver content in motivating ways? Do we believe that they can be used to differentiate instruction for students who need remediation or enrichment?

Prince George’s County Superintendent John E. Deasy has the right perspective towards educational technology: "No technology adds value by itself," he said. "Just employing software is not likely to lift test scores for students."  It’s time that we realized that value is only added in classrooms where high quality instruction–supported by technology solutions that make sense–is taking place.


2 thoughts on “Another Failed ‘Shock and Awe’ Campaign

  1. Mike

    I’m usually amused, but more dismayed when a colleague informs me that they’ve just discovered the internet, for example, and blogging software and plan to use it to transform the lives of their students. I’m dismayed because what they commonly end up doing is wasting huge amounts of class time as their students write poorly, with little evident reasoning, in a medium that exposes their lack of ability to a much wider audience. Perhaps not such a good thing.
    As you say, any sort of technology is merely a tool and one doesn’t purchase tools that don’t help us accomplish tasks more effectively and efficiently. And such improvements must be more than slight. Without a significant, obvious degree of improvement, most tools simply aren’t worth the added cost. Hammers are centuries old, but they work and nothing new is ever likely to displace them for a great many applications.
    That said, if I have a choice between blackboards and whiteboards, I’ll choose whiteboards for two primary reasons:
    (1) They are simply less messy and don’t produce enormous clouds of chalk dust, even with “dustless” chalk. God only knows how teachers got by in past years without dustless chalk. They wore respirators, perhaps?
    (2) For classrooms that have no external windows, they simply reflect more light, making for a brighter and more cheerful environment.
    Are these reasons for completely replacing blackboards in a school building? Probably not. Will they utterly transform instruction? Absolutely not. But if I was putting together specifications for a new building, I’d install them if I could.

  2. Jake Savage

    I absolutely agree. Simply adding more hardware without the proper training and applications does more harm than good. Besides, the vast majority of children will learn how to use a computer on their own time and for their own reasons. The best uses of technology in the classroom right now are those that you described in your previous post: providing chances for ongoing collaboration and creativity (in addition to quicker, more thorough research) regarding the topics being studied normally in class.

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