A Misguided Use of Money
Ohanian Comment: Paul Thomas offered insight in the midst of hot air and misinformation from the other contributors to this debate. Paul is well worth following on
Twitter (see below).
His post provoked a lot of angry comments. I don't think most of them actually read what he said.
by Paul Thomas
Reforming education in the U.S. often includes seeking new technology to improve teaching and learning. Instead of buying the latest gadgets, however, our schools would do better to provide students with critical technological awareness, achievable at little cost.
We rarely consider the negative implications for acquiring the newest "smart" board or providing tablets for every student. We tend to chase the next new technology without evaluating learning needs or how gadgets uniquely address those needs. Ironically, we buy into the consumerism inherent in technology (Gadget 2.0 pales against Gadget 3.0) without taking full account of the tremendous financial investments diverted to technology.
Technology is a tool to assist learning. School closets and storage facilities across the U.S., though, are filled with cables, monitors and hardware costing millions of dollars that are now useless. Notably, consider one artifact that's covered in dust -- the Laserdisc video player (soon to be joined by interactive "smart" boards).
Chalk board, marker board and now "smart" board have not improved teaching or learning, but have created increased costs for schools and profits for manufacturers. There is little existing research that shows positive outcomes from technology. One study found that "most of the schools that have integrated laptops and other digital tools into learning are not maximizing the use of those devices in ways that best make use of their potential."
Reading a young adult novel on a Kindle or an iPad, or in paperback form, proves irrelevant if children do not want to read or struggle to comprehend the text. Good teachers, however, can make the text come alive for the children whether it's on a glowing screen or a piece of paper.
Schools should not be blinded by the latest trends and the inflated costs of new technologies. Rather, we should empower teachers and divert resources into their classrooms in more meaningful ways.
We'd do well to heed Henry David Thoreau: "We are in great haste to construct a magnetic telegraph from Maine to Texas; but Maine and Texas, it may be, have nothing important to communicate."
Paul Thomas, a public high school English teacher for 18 years, is an associate professor of education at Furman University in Greenville, S.C. You can follow his work at Radical Scholarship (where you can read his unedited submission of the above piece) and on Twitter at @plthomasEdD.
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