Technology and Education

Interesting article in Wired, surveying integration of technology into public schools:

As school districts scout ways to engage students already accustomed to instant messaging and interactive video games, they're buying up the kind of tech tools once reserved for jet-setting corporate executives.

Educational sales of personal digital assistants, laptop computers and handheld remote controls called “clickers” are ballooning nationwide. Last year, a survey by Quality Education Data found that 28 percent of U.S. school districts offered handhelds for student and teacher use. One of every four computers purchased by schools was a laptop.

The public school system, due to institutional inertia, politics, funding, and myths that pervade throughout parents and faculties alike, seem perpetually stuck in the 1960's. The model of one teacher with a chalkboard and twenty students, alternately lecturing, soliciting feedback, and reviewing work assignments just doesn't work that well for a many (maybe even most) students. This has been known since at least the 60's, yet it persists to this day as the near-universal model that gets employed in schools.

I think the article covers a very small percentage of schools, but I think it's a promising sign that they might finally be entering the digital age. Technology offers a number of very practical benefits that ought to be employed in schools that would help students across the board, although it's often chided by the “back to the basics” crowd. In bullet point form:

  • In any increasingly technological world, being comfortable with digital equipment and knowing how to use it is a vital life skill in of itself
  • Technology has a way of engaging students in a subject area that textbooks will never match (interactivity vs passive reading)
  • Technology can enable anonymous questions – thus alleviating social pressures that might prevent a student from raising his or her hand
  • Technology can produce an individualized profile of a student: Not just if they did their homework, but how long each question took and which ones they got wrong. Individualization in education is vital.
  • A five pound laptop is better than several twenty pound textbooks. One of the leading reasons I wouldn't do a homework assignment was an unwillingness to carry a backpack home that could weigh in excess of fifty pounds.

There's dozens more that could be listed, those are just off the top of my head.

So in short, I do hope that educators will look at what's available technologically and start to deploy them in school districts more universally. The students deserve it.

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