Can I ask you for a favor?
Would you PLEASE drop everything and read Why Technology Alone Won’t Fix Schools — a fantastic bit in the Atlantic written by Kentaro Toyama, associate professor at the University of Michigan School of Information –and then forward it along to everyone you know with buckets of cash that they are looking to spend on digital tools for schools?
Toyama’s argument is a simple one: Technology doesn’t change human behaviors. Instead, it simply amplifies existing tendencies. That means investing in technology without investing in people — a mistake made by schools who are chasing change one gadget at a time — is essentially pointless. Our time and energy would be better spent investing in the “pedagogical capacity” of our buildings.
How’s that for a real punch in the mouth?! For Toyama, it’s a punch in the mouth that most schools desperatley need. He writes:
Amplification seems like an obvious idea—all it says is that technology is a tool that augments human power. But, if it’s obvious, it nevertheless has profound consequences that are routinely overlooked. For example, amplification explains why large-scale roll-outs of educational technology rarely result in positive outcomes. In any representative set of schools, some are doing well and others poorly. Introducing computers may result in benefit for some (the ones highlighted in pilot studies), but it distracts the weaker schools from their core mission. On average, the outcome is a wash.
And better yet:
If a private company is failing to make a profit, no one expects that state-of-the-art data centers, better productivity software, and new laptops for all of the employees will turn things around. Yet, that is exactly the logic of so many attempts to fix education with technology.
Toyama goes on to argue that the notion of amplification also translates to the ways that students use technology.
When left without guidance with tools and services that facilitate both learning and entertainment, students overwhelmingly use those tools and services for entertainment — and that shouldn’t come as a surprise, given that kids will almost ALWAYS choose entertainment over learning if given a choice. Technology simply facilitates the tendencies that define who we are as people.
This all makes sense, doesn’t it? It’s another take on the all-too-familiar Radical rant that technology is just a tool, not a learning outcome.
The question becomes when will we get to the point where EVERYONE is ready to realize that good teaching matters WAY more than good technology?
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