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Tuesday
Nov302010

Being a "tech" advocate is meaningless

In his recent post, How One Science Teacher Integrates Technology into Lessons, Stanford education professor Larry Cuban* writes:

Veteran Carol Donnelly works hard in her five daily classes but knows how to pace herself. By her admission and my observations, I see that laptops have energized her. She sees the benefits from using the web to enrich her teaching through other teachers’ lessons, videos, and websites that permit students to dig deeper into content than their text. She sees that students become engaged with the animation, lectures, videos as she skillfully integrates content from the text, websites, and new software activities. Yet her teaching, while remaining within the tradition of teacher-centered instruction has incorporated elements of student-centered instruction–she is creating a mix of instructional approaches.

Nothing new here, of course. Most subject matter teachers in secondary schools, whether affluent districts or ones with largely low-income students, teach within that tradition, one with variations to be sure–what I call “hybrids.”

But for “pedagogical dogmatists“–think of those at Edutopia– there is only one way to integrate technology into lessons:  “Learning through projects while equipped with technology tools allows students to be intellectually challenged while providing them with a realistic snapshot of what the modern office looks like. Through projects, students acquire and refine their analysis and problem-solving skills as they work individually and in teams to find, process, and synthesize information they’ve found online.”

Donnelly’s classes remind me that thoughtful teaching and smooth weekly integration of laptops into biology lessons –within a five period workload and three preparations across different levels of students–can be done with finesse, humor, excitement, and-yes- within a blend of teacher- and student-centered pedagogy. Like many teachers, she hugs the middle of the spectrum.

Cuban is among the more articulate and vocal critics of the use of technology in education (see Oversold and Underused: Computers in the Classroom). And while I have disagreed with him in the past, I also have to admit he is uncomfortably clear-headed about seeing beyond all the hyperbole that often accompanies educational technology.

I really enjoyed Cuban's blog post from which the quote above is extracted. Pundits too often confuse the general promotion of technology in education with particular ways of using technology in education.

There is a critical distinction.

Aristotle (if I remember the right Greek) observed that all technology is an amplification of human abilities. Educational technology can "amplify" either a teacher or student-centered approach to classroom instruction - or as Cuban observes - a blended use of both.

To be a "technology" advocate is meaningless.

* I was lucky to have Prof. Cuban as teacher when a member of the 1996-98 Bush Educational Leadership program. His grasp and use of educational history to illuminate current educational practices and reforms is always worth considering. Add his blog, Larry Cuban of School Reform and Classroom Practices to your reader.

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