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Monday
Mar022009

A better question?

…technology is an accelerator of greatness already in place, never the principal cause of greatness or decline. – Newsweek, April 29, 2002


At a conference last week, Mark Weston from Dell computing stated that asking the question, "Does technology improve student learning?" is the wrong question.

The question should be, "Does technology support the practices that improve student learning?"

Is this a semantic trifle or is it actually profound? What are the implications for technology deployment and evaluation? What drives your tech planning? Should it be initiatives like these?

The direct link between information technologies and learning does not exist anymore than the direct link between a good stove and a good meal; a good automobile and a good vacation; a good word processor and a good book; or a good camera and good art.

This view, of course, has been expressed many times, in many ways. My own Tech Upgrade is one way; my advocacy for looking at best practices in the content areas, another. But I rather liked the simplicty of of Weston's alternate question.

Now if educators could only agree on what actual practices contribute to student learning, it would make the tech director's job a good deal easier.

And shouldn't all educators' efforts be bent toward that sole purpose?

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Reader Comments (8)

Interesting post - and two comments.

One, the posed "new" question just misses the mark (in my opinion). The question should not be "Does technology support the the practices that support student learning". I believe the answer to this question is always, "Maybe, maybe not". Perhaps the question should be, "How can technology support instructional practices which contribute to improved student learning?" Semantics? Sure.

My second comment goes to the somewhat isolated nature of the technology director's job. Sometimes I feel like the very area we should focus on (instructional practices designed for learning, not teaching) is so often not where I spend most of my time and energy. Now, one could say that how I spend my time is my problem; but structurally, technology is often thought of as some aside from teaching and learning. Sure, it is not always that way, but it does feel that way too often.

So... have we got the instructional strategies part right (enough to let the technology really shine as it undergirds a strong instructional practice)?

March 3, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterJoel VerDuin

Dear Doug,

Hardly a semantic trifle--one reason so many administrators and teachers buy the snake oil is because they do not recognize the problems with the questions posed by the snake oil salesfolks.

Here in New Jersey we're currently inoculating ourselves with Ken Kay's P21 pablum--he gets rich, our state admins get fancy (but nonsensical) bullet points for their presentations, and everyone pats themselves on the back over deeds well done, When the P21 thing doesn't work out, there will be someone else selling newts' tails.

March 3, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterMichael Doyle

A colleague of mine pointed me to this resource. It does a great job of showing the important difference between the 2 questions.

The 21st Century Classroom

I particularly liked the slide that says:

"Using technology successfully in the classroom is a MIND set, not a SKILL set."

I also liked the slide that urges: "Create a Studio Environment". The visual is an artist's studio - but could just as easily be a library. Indeed .... SHOULD be a library. 21st Century learning is the kind of learning that librarians have been championing for years - bringing students and resources together to see what exciting things might happen.

March 3, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterJacquie Henry

Another semantic trifle: technology doesn't do anything; or at least, it only does what we tell it to. The brightest shiniest newest computer in a room without a human will just sit there, looking bright and shiny and new.

So the question I think we should be asking is "How can we use technology in order to [achieve our goals]?"

March 4, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterDeborah Fitchett

Great discussion. Asking the right questions is half the battle.

I especially appreciate what Jacquie said about the distinction between a mindset and a skill set. I am a preservice teacher (anxious to soon gain the experience to back up my ideas and enthusiasm!), and it seems to me that most of what I'm learning in my education classes boils down to certain key mindsets. In terms of technology integration, I agree that technology use in the classroom should be driven by the goals of the class. Tech directors can best support teachers by getting to know teachers' goals.

March 4, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterJessica

Hi Joel,

As a tech director, I find myself working on the administrative uses of technology now to exclusion of the teaching uses. Partially due to the importance of the admin stuff, but also because much of what is deemed important in education today does not seem particularly suited to technology enhancement.

All the best,

Doug

Thanks, Seth. I will check out your blog.

All the best,

Doug

Hi Michael,

Ken Kay is a new one to me. I’ll check him out.

I call this approach the “silver bullet du jour.” Leads to heavy skepticism about any educational reform efforts, I’m afraid.

Doug

Hi Jacquie,

Kim Cofino is a gem (and rising star.) I am also a fan of her blog.

Thanks for passing this along,

Doug

Hi Deborah,

Excellent point!

Doug

Hi Jessica,

No great outpouring of sympathy for tech directors???

Good luck with your student teaching. I have the feeling you will make a wonderful teacher.

Doug

March 5, 2009 | Registered CommenterDoug Johnson

Technology gets kids excited. It is something that most kids excel at and find "cool." Not to mention it provides the world at their fingertips. However you have to have teachers who are willingly to learn about technology and redefine the way they teach. A lot of educators are not willing to do this. They are stuck in their old ways.

March 14, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterDebbie Dawson

Hi Debbie,

Thanks for leaving the comment. Any suggestions for the "teachers unwilling to change" problem?

Doug

March 15, 2011 | Registered CommenterDoug Johnson

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