"More time spent on technology in the classroom doesn't necessarily help kids do better in school, a new study has found."
When you read a statement like this people tend to have one of two reactions. From many who have been hesitant to embrace technology, there is an audible, "Told you so." For those proponents of technology, they often think, "If only they trained their teachers in how to use it." The reaction you rarely hear, but the one that signals the failure of many technology infusions into our schools is: "what do we mean by do better?"
The opening quote is from an LA times article about the failures of technology implementation in Los Angeles Unified School District. This is not the first time LAUSD technology efforts have been featured as a failure and unless things change, it won't be the last."Do better" is code for "increase test scores". It's beyond me how often school districts with seemingly smart people are still thinking of technology as a tool to simply improve test scores. This lack of vision and understanding is way past an acceptable level of ignorance. After decades of these initiatives, I'm not sure if this represents a lack of courage or vision but it has to stop. If all we want is to improve test scores we need to stop spending money on technology and start spending it improving our test taking skills. Without a doubt, we could drastically improve these results with a bit of intention. Focusing on things like memorizing facts will take us a lot further than exploring and creating rich content with technology.
There are 2 things that have to happen in order for us to stop repeating the mistakes of LAUSD. First, we have to understand that technology changes the way we learn. Going back to Seymour Papert, smart people have seen how computers afford new learning opportunities. In the past decade, most everyone with access has experienced what it's like to learn from anyone, anywhere at any time. In everyday life, this is no longer an event to behold but the way we learn. Any policy maker or leader who doesn't understand and live this needs to find other employment. I can't imagine people not being exposed to these ideas and shifts by now. Recently I listened to a podcast about a person living in the US and had never seen the Internet. The episode was called Unicorn. Sadly, it seems many of our leaders have also missed out on the learning revolution that is taking place all around them. The second thing that has to change is our definition of "doing better". We should be asking how technology is changing teaching and learning. Questions like "What can this technolgy do that couldn't be done without it? Thes questions lead to fundamentally different ideas about what classrooms can and should look like. This means new measures of success. Whether it's how well students communicate and tell stories using a variety of media, building and creating art, solving and finding real and current problems, collaborating effectively with people around the world or writing code, there are infinite examples of doing better than are never going to fit inside a spreadsheet cell.
Frankly, I'm tired of reading about districts who view learning and technology in such narrow terms. Fortunately, there are many district and district leaders who are working to address these 2 things. Did the leadership at LAUSD not look around or are they so big they couldn't imagine learning from others? At any rate, equating "doing better" with "increased test scores" is a tiresome and outdated perspective even without bringing technology into the conversation. When districts invest dollars into technology they have a right and responsiblity to see results and change. It begins by seeing changes in the classroom and ends with students demonstrating their learning in ways that go way beyond a test score.