8 Ways Technology Is Improving Education –My Critique

8 Ways Technology Is Improving Education


[When I say technology I mean computers, software and networks. I do not mean overhead projectors, TV sets, DVDs, etc.]

The Education Tech Series is supported by Dell The Power To Do More, where you’ll find perspectives, trends and stories that inspire Dell to create technology solutions that work harder for its customers so they can do and achieve more.

child_learnerDon Knezek, the CEO of the International Society for Technology in Education, compares education without technology to the medical profession without technology. [Should we compare the two? Costs for healthcare have gone way up. We have had maybe 10 years of more longevity. Nothing to say that the increase was because of technology, though.]

“If in 1970 you had knee surgery, you got a huge scar,” he says. “Now, if you have knee surgery you have two little dots.” [Just because technology can be useful in the real world does not mean it can be useful in education. A gun is useful in a war but not in education. You know what muscle is?  – Scar tissue. Learning can be done with scar tissue, too. An Electronics Technician, a few years ago, asked my opinion about a problem he had and I immediately suggested the answer. I had learned it at work, 25 years before or so, because I had spent a number of hours troubleshooting the same problem. It was emotionally painful for me so I remembered it. Scar tissue as it were.]

Technology is helping teachers to expand beyond linear, text-based learning and to engage students who learn best in other ways. Its role in schools has evolved from a contained “computer class” into a versatile learning tool that could change how we demonstrate concepts, assign projects and assess progress. [Why? What is the need to demonstrate concepts? Why are they doing projects? We already assess progress. It is called a Report Card.]

Despite these opportunities, adoption of technology by schools is still anything but ubiquitous. Knezek says that U.S. schools are still asking if they should incorporate more technology, while other countries are asking how. But in the following eight areas, technology has shown its potential for improving education. [Schools worldwide ought to be asking if technology in education is worth it?]

1. Better Simulations and Models

While a tuning fork is a perfectly acceptable way to demonstrate how vibrations make sound, it’s harder to show students what evolution is, how molecules behave in different situations, or exactly why mixing two particular chemicals is dangerous. [Showing them in a simulation is not good. Even trying to simulate electron flow in electricity is not good. Since no one can actually see it, it is just a best guess. All simulations take away from the kids using their own imaginations, using their own inner eye. It is like trying to use art to teach science. It is one person’s representation of some scientific concept.]

Digital simulations and models can help teachers explain concepts that are too big or too small, or processes that happen too quickly or too slowly to demonstrate in a physical classroom. [It is pseudo science at best. Showing them a ‘best guesstimate’ of things, that they are likely to forget anyway, it is a big waste to time, that could be spent teaching other concepts. Teachers do not have to demonstrate it.]

The Concord Consortium, a non-profit organization that develops technologies for math, science and engineering education, has been a leader in developing free, open source software that teachers can use to model concepts. One of their most extensive projects is the Molecular Workbench, which provides science teachers with simulations on topics like gas laws, fluid mechanics and chemical bonding. Teachers who are trained in the system can create activities with text, models and interactive controls. One participant referred to the project as “[Microsoft] Word for molecules.” [So what? Just because you can does not mean that you should. It proves nothing. It does not prove that this is better than textbooks. I am not sure that high school students need to ‘see’ chemical bonding. This should not be entertainment. Again, this pseudo science. Again, there can be pictures showing a before and after states. The motion is not necessary and is only a guess anyway. When you talk about engineering it sounds like college. Why are you trying to teach engineering in grade school?]

Other simulations the organization is developing include a software that allows students to experiment with virtual greenhouses in order to understand evolution, a software that helps students understand the physics of energy efficiency by designing a model house, and simulations of how electrons interact with matter. [Again these are pseudo science. Why not get a real greenhouse? All of these can be done on DVD and shown on a tv. What is the need to have this on a server and everyone have their own laptop?]

2. Global Learning

At sites like Glovico.org, students can set up language lessons with a native speaker who lives in another country and attend the lessons via videoconferencing. [Why?] Learning from a native speaker, learning through social interaction, and being exposed to another culture’s perspective are all incredible educational advantages that were once only available to those who could foot a travel bill. [You cannot truly learn about a culture unless you are there, at least not as well as a textbook. If you are talking in English, then you are not truly experiencing the culture. You are impressed with technology and that is about it. You will be dealing with people in your neighborhoods and workplace far more often than somebody in Indonesia or France, for example.] Now, setting up a language exchange is as easy as making a videoconferencing call.

3. Virtual Manipulatives

Let’s say you’re learning about the relationship between fractions, percents and decimals. Your teacher could have you draw graphs or do a series of problems that changes just one variable in the same equation. Or he could give you a “virtual manipulative” like the one above and let you experiment with equations to reach an understanding of the relationship. The National Library of Virtual Manipulatives, run by a team at Utah State University, has been building its database of these tools since 1999. [Again, pseudo math. Math is NOT a spectator sport. You need to get in and do the math, not push something on a computer screen. Why even draw graphs except maybe a few just to get the idea?]

“You used to count blocks or beads,” says Lynne Schrum, who has written three books on the topic of schools and technology. “Manipulating those are a little bit more difficult. Now there are virtual manipulative sites where students can play with the idea of numbers and what numbers mean, and if I change values and I move things around, what happens.” [That is what a pencil and paper are for, and homework.]

4. Probes and Sensors

About 15 years ago, the founders of the Concord Consortium took the auto focus sensor from a Polaroid camera and hooked it up to a computer graph program, thereby creating the ability to graph motion in real time. Today there are classrooms all over the world that use ultrasonic motion detectors to demonstrate concepts. [Again so what? An impressive display of technology but nothing to show that it is any better than traditional teaching.]

“I’ve taught physics before, and you spend a lot of time getting these ideas of position, and what is velocity, and what does motion really mean and how do you define it,” says Chad Dorsey, the president and CEO of the Concord Consortium. “And you end up spending a lot of time doing these things and trying to translate them into graphs. You could spend a whole period creating a graph for an experiment that you did, and it loses a lot of meaning in that process. By hooking up this ultrasonic motion detector to a graph right away…it gives you a specific real-time feel for what it means to move at faster rates or slower rates or increasing in speed or decreasing in speed and a much more foundational understanding of the topic than you could ever get by just drawing the graph by hand.” [Yes, and when you rely on technology, you not truly understand it. Unless you can imagine it you cannot make it happen nor truly understand. How do you know if that is graph is accurate? You are taking it on faith that it is. Creating a graph via computer is not as important as doing it manually, if at all. One time a high level manager accepted what technology told him and it was way off. He lost his job over it. Why are creating a bunch of graphs. It is NOT necessary.]

Collecting real-time data through probes and sensors has a wide range of educational applications. Students can compute dew point with a temperature sensor, test pH with a pH probe, observe the effect of pH on an MnO3 reduction with a light probe, or note the chemical changes in photosynthesis using pH and nitrate sensors. [It teaches them to use things they will never use their adult lives, but does it help them understand how to calculate it manually. I’d doubt it. You spend time learning to use the technology and not learning the actual subject matter. Which is more important? They can compute dew-points using pencil and paper.]

5. More Efficient Assessment

Models and simulations, beyond being a powerful tool for teaching concepts, can also give teachers a much richer picture of how students understand them.

“You can ask students questions, and multiple choice questions do a good job of assessing how well students have picked up vocabulary,” Dorsey explains. “But the fact that you can describe the definition [of] a chromosome … doesn’t mean that you understand genetics any better … it might mean that you know how to learn a definition. But how do we understand how well you know a concept?” [Again, why are we teaching teenagers genetics? They will not remember this anyway. Beyond that, according to Socrates, wisdom begins with definition. Seeing it in a simulation also does not mean you understand it any better either. It is still possible to miss a step or two (or more), especially when you do not have a hardcopy for future reference.]

In Geniverse, a program the Concord Consortium developed to help students understand genetics by “breeding” dragons, teachers can give students a problem that is much more like a performance assessment. The students are asked to create a specific dragon. Teachers can see what each student did to reach his or her end result and thereby understand whether trial-and-error or actual knowledge of genetics leads to a correct answer. [A straight forward question and show your answer would have done just as well. And you are playing games?]

The organization is also developing a program that will help teachers collect real-time assessment data from their students. When the teacher gives out an assignment, she can watch how far along students are, how much time each a spends on each question, and whether their answers are correct. With this information, she can decide what concepts students are struggling with and can pull up examples of students’ work on a projector for discussion. [Christ. You are micro managing education. You are trying to turn an art into a science—education/teaching. Not only do the kids have to learn this but they are timed in the process. Putting added unnecessary stress on education is actually counterproductive.]

“What they would have done in the past is students would make a lab report, they’d turn it in, the teacher would take a couple of days to grade it, they’d get it back a couple of days later, and two to three days later they’d talk about it,” Dorsey says. “But they’ve probably done a couple of lessons in between then, [and] they haven’t had time to guide the students immediately as they learned it.” [This process has worked for hundreds of years. Oft times it is helpful to have more class-time and that might actually help in understanding. The extra time might help learn the older information. You sometimes pick up on concepts after you’ve had more time for it to sink in and had other material later in the text.]

6. Storytelling and Multimedia

Knezek recently saw a video that was produced by a group of elementary students about Bernoulli’s Principle. In the video, the students demonstrated the principle that makes flight possible by taking two candles and putting them close together, showing that blowing between them brings the flames closer together. For another example, they hung ping pong balls from the ceiling and they pulled together. [This sounds like they did it without technology—computer simulation. If not, it surely could have. So they made a video. How much time was wasted there? How many more concepts could they have been exposed to instead of the time it took to create and then show the video?]

“With a simple assignment and access to technology, researching and also producing a product that would communicate, they were able to do deep learning on a concept that wasn’t even addressed in their textbook, and allow other people to view it and learn from it,” Knezek says. [You know that in the 60s, when I was in elementary school, a classmate and I made and demonstrated an electromagnet, using a battery and some wire and a nail. We turned a regular nail into a magnet. We did not need a computer to do it. Something that simple showed a few very complex concepts.]

Asking children to learn through multimedia projects is not only an excellent form of project-based learning that teaches teamwork, [Teamwork need not be taught. It will be done automatically when working for a company. Team learning yields very little learning. Usually one person does most of the work and the rest do minor things or just watch. It means that most of the kids do get to use their own minds very much.] but it’s also a good way to motivate students who are excited to create something that their peers will see. [And what if you do not want your peers to see it? You are there to learn and not to teach, nor show off.] In addition, it makes sense to incorporate a component of technology that has become so integral to the world outside of the classroom. [Boy is this last statement so wrong. Circa 1900, radio was supposed to revolutionize education, and circa 1950 it was TV. Neither materialized although videotapes and movies were shown on rare occasion it was not expected nor did it make you remember longer and they were generally for one class. For some time now, computers were supposed to revolutionize education. They are still not that prevalent but Bill Gates and Michael Dell and their ilk are sure pushing it. I wonder why?]

“It’s no longer the verbal logic or the spoken or written word that causes people to make decisions,” Knezek says. “Where you go on vacations, who you vote for, what kind of car you buy, all of those things are done now with multimedia that engage all of the senses and cause responses.” [For some people yes. But that does not mean we need to teach that way. Again, I grew up watching TV, but I did not expect to see it at school and I learned well without it. I already know where I want to go on vacation. I do not need a computer to tell me. It does not engage the sense of touch.]  

7. E-books

Despite students’ apparent preference for paper textbooks, proponents like Daytona College and California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger [An Appeal to Authority logical fallacy in both cases. Daytona College– We offer a range of Diploma and Associate of Science Degree programs in healthcare, business, massage therapy, skincare and cosmetology. Yeah, they sure know about K-12 education. Arnold is a bodybuilder. What does he know about education or technology? You’d think that a body builder would want kids to lift weights. Christ they are expensive and with what is required to run them a lot less cost effective than regular ole textbooks. And a school district in Silicon Valley opted not to use technology in their classrooms, recently.] are ready to switch to digital. And electronic textbook vendors like CourseSmart are launching to help them. [A cursory examination of their website shows e-textbooks for subjects like accounting, microeconomics, and psychology—college level material. What good are these books in K-12?]

E-books hold an unimaginable potential for innovating education, though as some schools have already discovered, not all of that potential has been realized yet. [Again, what is the need to innovate/change education? Change for the sake of change?]

“A digital textbook that is merely a PDF on a tablet that students can carry around might be missing out on huge possibilities like models and simulations or visualizations,” Dorsey says. [Again, simulations are not that important nor does it aid learning and it means that the kids will NOT use their own imaginations.] “It takes time and it really takes some real thought to develop those things, and so it would be easy for us as a society to miss out on those kinds of opportunities by saying, ‘Hey look, we’re not carrying around five textbooks anymore. It’s all on your iPad, isn’t that great?’” [Yes and our kids are more out of shape than ever before. Maybe if they did they would learn some respect for knowledge and actually take the time to try to learn it. Question: why not have kids stay in one room and have the teachers move around, if you do not want the kids carrying heavy textbooks or at least allow them time to go their lockers between classes?]

8. Epistemic Games

Epistemic games put students in roles like city planner, journalist, or engineer and ask them to solve real-world problems. [Christ real life city planners are not any good and you want our kids to emulate them? I mean what city does not have problems that good planning would have avoided? Why are children trying to solve ‘real world’ problems? How does one play engineer? Is this anything like playing doctor? Neither one of which a simulator will be like a real engineer.] The Epistemic Games Group has provided several examples of how immersing students in the adult world through commercial game-like simulations can help students learn important concepts. [How? What important concepts?]

In one game, students are cast as high-powered negotiators who need to decide the fate of a real medical controversy. In another, they must become graphical artists in order to create an exhibit of mathematical art in the style of M.C. Escher. Urban Science, the game featured in the above video, assigns students the task of redesigning Madison, Wisconsin. [This might actually lead them to think they have the answers, even more so than they already do. They are pretending to be adults, which they are not. Teach them the basics and when they mature some more maybe then they can try to solve problems. Is this anything like SimCity? Mathematical art? I am sure that it is important that grade-schoolers need to know about mathematical art. If this software is all that good then maybe they should try to peddle it to the adults that might need it.]

“Creative professionals [Maybe, but kids are not professionals and have no need to be creative.] learn innovative thinking through training that is very different from traditional academic classrooms because innovative thinking means more than just knowing the right answers on a test,” explains The Epistemic Games Group’s website. “It also means having real-world skills, high standards and professional values, and a particular way of thinking about problems and justifying solutions. Epistemic games are about learning these fundamental ways of thinking for the digital age.” [Whose ethics are you using? Grade school needs to stay out of the ethics business. Also, at the grade school level knowing the right answer is all that should be needed. Thinking for the digital age? Is it different from any other age? Should it be different? Thinking is thinking no matter what the age. We have never needed ‘real-world’ skills before, why now?]

These eight technologies are redefining education. [Unfortunately. Technology is NOT needed in education at all. It is just a distraction and overall more expensive than traditional education.]

Most people confuse new (or different) with improved. Marketers are always saying so and so is new and improved. Saying it is so, many times, makes it so, but should not. How many of you stand in line waiting for store to open to get the newest piece of hardware, that does not work very well? I got a new computer with Microsoft 7 operating system and hooked it up to the Internet. It required two updates immediately and many more since. You rely too much on technology for everything. Using software in education has been around since the 1980s, if not before,  just not very much of it. But it has never been proven to better than traditional educational methods. And most assuredly not more cost effective.

None of these ‘benefits’ are even needed. Again, just because something might work for adults does not mean that kids need it or should use it. They are not adults.

I have spent a lot of time using computers, going to college, and in technology, over 30 years. I have been ‘On the Internet’, since the early  1990s (1992 or so), for 20 years now.

What you have done here is to take some the things that computers can do and say we need these, to justify the immense expenditures for computers and software, etc.

What nobody has done is define the problem(s) with education as it is and propose a solutions. You have a so-called solution and now you are trying to say what problem(s) technology solves. This analogous to putting the cart before the horse.



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