Headlines that won’t help

This morning’s news brings the exciting headlines Education Technology Isn’t Helping, and Study: No benefit going high-tech for math and science, because of a new study released today by the US Department of Education.

Sigh – this is SUCH old news, there has been decades of research showing that drilling kids does nothing, even if you pretty up it up with fancy names and graphics.

But our language for this stuff is so limited. The headlines SHOULD read, “Bad Educational Practice Proved Ineffective, Again!” But no, it gets called “educational software” or “educational technology”, tars every use of computers in the classroom, and immediately gets tied to EETT funding. It’s an obvious conclusion, although the Washington Post gets it sort of right, Software’s Benefits on Tests In Doubt: Study Says Tools Don’t Raise Scores.

OK, if I thought test scores actually proved anything, I might care about that.

But here’s what I care about.

Now, every time we talk about kids doing interesting stuff that involves a computer, we’ll get hit with this. Making movies, programming, blogging, collaboration, projects, kids making games, exploring virtual worlds, GIS, Google Earth? What are you thinking, haven’t you heard? Educational Technology Doesn’t Work.

Here’s what’s worse:
1. These publishers are getting off scot-free. Why is the USDOE not publishing the actual evaluation of the individual software products. Isn’t this public information? This allows individual publishers to hide behind the report. Didn’t we as taxpayers pay $10 million for this information?

2. The apologists will shortly come out. “It’s just bad implementation.” “Teachers need more support.” C’mon people, let’s speak the truth and make meaningful distinctions between educational software that pretends to replace teachers and technology that gives students agency and supports a learning community.

I hope everyone out there who is doing great stuff with kids and computers speaks up in the face of these headlines and shows what “educational technology” really means.


Update – here’s the study. It’s called: Effectiveness of Reading and Mathematics Software Products: Findings from the First Student Cohort. And guess what, the first sentence of the summary already says it’s about “education technology.” That’s just plain sloppy.

6 Replies to “Headlines that won’t help”

  1. I think we need to be using common lenses to look at educational technology uses and differentiate how it is being used: especially whether it is being used to support traditional instruction or actually engage students in remixing their learning. I think your headline is better than mine I came up with yesterday, because rather than focusing on the tool you’re focusing on the pedagogy and the teaching practices. I’m not entirely sure how we can avoid these problems, but I agree that those in education have an important role to play. Those in the classroom and those doing the research both have responsibilities.

    I think the educational research side is just one part of the formula we need to be pursuing, however. The more powerful side is the student products part– the digital stories students create, the collaborative learning activities they participate in and let their own parents know about. I think students and parents have more tangible power to change educational behavior patterns in schools on local levels than research articles. When research articles like this come out, however, it is important for us to speak out as you have done.

    I wonder if as educators thinking critically about articles like these, we should be writing articles for mainstream press publications as well as blogging? My sense is that we should be. Even better yet, the students we work with should be. We still don’t have many people overall in the U.S. reading blogs, but lots of people are still reading print newspapers and magazines.

  2. Hi Wes,
    You are right about speaking outside of our comfort zones. The biggest plus with blogs and Web 2.0 is also the biggest hurdle — that we can use the technology to filter what we see. It tends to build self-selected communities that agree on major issues, which reinforces a sense that ‘everyone” is in agreement. That complacency may lead to the false conclusion that things are really changing in “the real world” and a missed opportunity to build bridges to other communities.

    And I agree that showing is better than telling. How many times have you had a parent come to you with tears in their eyes talking about what a child has accomplished by creating a project that is personally meaningful to them? Who thinks a parent will ever feel that way about a test score?

    However, showing AND telling are incredibly effective. One of the things we work with schools on is giving students a vocabulary for their own learning. That works on many levels– one of which is the ability for students to articulate to their parents and peers what good education looks like, why project-based learning works, and the personal impact it had on them.

    Of all the things we teach kids, we don’t teach them about learning. Strange, eh? Especially since the teachers they work with every day have graduate degrees in the subject. If teachers are experts in anything, it should be learning. We love to send kids on virtual field trips to meet “experts” – but we rarely make the expertise of teaching transparent to kids.

    Perhaps another way to bridge the gap is with the education-focused blogs run by local newspapers. I know the LA Times has one, and I’ve never responded to a post. I probably should.

  3. I’m not sure what a parent would think on reading the headline because most parents do think computing is important in some way. Perhaps many would be just puzzled and move on to the next article.

    The distinction b/w poorly skilled teachers using computers as assistants (eg. word processing) and that of unleashing a real computing revolution (everyone with laptops and full internet connection doing cutting edge stuff like programming in scratch or some such) seems to have faded into the background as the use of computers has become commonplace and they have been “integrated into the curriculum”

  4. Sylvia,
    The power of technology is that it changes the “locus of control” to the end user..think online banking, e-ticketing for airlines, music downloads, etc.

    As long as the k-12 culture continues to be a teacher centered system that takes all power from students…the real potential of technology (empowering the user) will never be realized and we will continue to have these disappointing headlines.

    It’s like having a beautiful Ferrari and using it to haul groceries back and forth from the market and then complaining that it doesn’t do a good job.

    great post!


  5. I find it ironic reading the official report that they talk about using 16 different ‘products’ but don’t really ever go what those ‘products’ are; that and in the report I found a grammar error or two and part of the study was to assess whether the software helped reading ability go up or not.

    They also mention they used only ‘low income schools.’ I found that even more amusing since it’s not a widely open thing and as a result since their variables do not include other types of schools it makes it inaccurate as there could be many things that would make the results that way based upon school type and ‘income.’

    I don’t even see the validity of the research, personally. I’m speaking from a student stand point. Many variables weren’t even considered. It disgusts me, because in the words of Sterling… “It’s not about the tool, anyone can use a tool. It’s about how you use it that matters.”

    So I must say, I agree with Sylvia on the matter.

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