learning.now: at the crossroads of Internet culture & education with host Andy Carvin

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Learning.now is a weblog that explores how new technology and Internet culture affect how educators teach and children learn. It will offer a continuing look at how new technology such as wikis, blogs, vlogs, RSS, podcasts, social networking sites, and the always-on culture of the Internet are impacting teacher and students' lives both inside and out of the classroom.
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Education Technology: A Matter of Debate

Next week, The Economist will hold an online version of a debate series they’ve been conducting for more than 160 years, and they’re kicking it off by focusing on the educational value of technology in the classroom. I’m hoping it’ll be a fascinating exercise, but I also wonder if they might be emphasizing the wrong questions.

Way back in 1843, The Economist magazine challenged readers to participate in a “severe contest” of debate; a contest “between intelligence, which presses forward, and an unworthy, timid ignorance obstructing our progress.” These debates would take place in real-world gatherings, with coverage of them published in the magazine. Now, they’re taking the idea to the Internet.

Earlier this month, they invited the public to select which topics would be up for consideration. Five topics were presented, all of which were related to education, technology, the digital divide and the knowledge economy. After a period of voting, the three topics with the highest number of votes would be selected. For the first debate, beginning on Monday, arguments will center on this proposition: “This house believes that the continuing introduction of new technologies and new media adds little to the quality of most education.”

The debate website expands upon the question:

Over the last several decades, large investments have been made to equip primary and secondary schools with computers and teacher training (to use technology). Now it is time to examine whether there has been a sufficient return on this investment. Does technology really offer substantive advantages to students? Does technology accelerate or impede real progress in education? Similarly, does technology serve as a teaching crutch or does it offer the ability to promote sustainable change in the worlds classrooms? And if so, is the technology deployed today being used to best possible advantage? What conditions need to exist in schools for technology to have an impact?

The debate itself will take place between two primary respondents. In support of the proposition will be Sir John Daniels, president and CEO of the Commonwealth of Learning. In opposition will be Dr. Robert Kozma, emeritus director and principal scientist at SRI International. During the first week of debate, the two of them will go back and forth, each of them supported by guest experts. The public will also be able to offer their own comments and vote on what they think are the best responses. On October 26th, after all the votes have been tabulated, The Economist will announce the winner.

I fully expect that this will be a lively exercise. Having said that, I’m a bit troubled by the way the value of education technology writ large will be debated in a somewhat black-and-white fashion. By framing the primary question as “the continuing introduction of new technologies and new media adds little to the quality of most education,” it seems to suggest that there’s a simple yes or no answer to it, when I think a lot of us would reply by saying well, it depends. The continuing introduction of technology can indeed add little to the quality of education when it’s not done in a strategic or thoughtful way. Frankly, that result may happen more often than we’d like to admit. Even if this is true, it still doesn’t mean that embracing these tools is inherently a waste of time and resources. Instead, it just proves that the problems with integrating technology successfully are cultural, pedagogical and political, rather than simply technological.

For me, I wish they would focus the entire debate on the very last two sentences in their long-form description, which I’ll repeat again:

[Is] the technology deployed today being used to best possible advantage? What conditions need to exist in schools for technology to have an impact?

These two questions are the real heart and soul of the matter. I hope the debaters focus much of their energies on them. And if they don’t, we observers of the debate can use our commenting and voting powers to raise the level of discussion in such a way that it can serve as something more than just an academic argument. -andy

Filed under : Events, Policy, Websites


I wonder what the response would be if the organizers viewed this:

Of course technology is a powerful tool that could have significant impact to the good and productive in education and of course the money spent and the “material” deployed are offering minimal returns on the investment, primarily because it is a case of the cart before the horse, the horse being teachers who are proficient in using the technology, and alive to the many possibilites of its application to learning. Currently many are scared and threatened - others can not see much beyond students creating a slide show on a computer. Not that it’s their fault. If there is a solution, it lies in investing in teachers, not technology per se. Attracting passionate intellects with areas of expertise in math, science and technolgogy by offering salaries and incentives that compete with the market place will inactuality be cost effective rather than the joke of empty rhetoric and financial waste currently embraced by those seeking to embrace technology in the classrooms.

Technology has been one of the biggest blessings to mankind. It is well known how technology has made life simpler and comfortable in every sphere of life. The complexity of life, clubbed with a 24×7 lifestyle, has left every one with little time to focus on things which do not fall into the day-to-day routine. Everyone wants their space and anytime anywhere access. The very thought of anytime anywhere access, especially in the field of education, gives us an opportunity to leverage technology for the advantage to teachers, students and parents.

Education in schools has also undergone a sea change compared to what it was few years ago. The educators are far more willing to experiment with newer methods of teaching and are willing to go the extra mile to help students understand the concepts through the use of technology. As we are progressing and growing, the life around us keeps changing and this requires constant change to the curriculum in order to keep up with the changes. The changing curriculum puts extra pressure on educators to ensure that the content is delivered in the right way to the students.

With ever increasing competition among schools to perform well in the assessment tests, there is growing pressure on educators to perform which ultimately impacts the students. Some schools still focus on learning by rote, which can never be a long term solution. The only way to help students perform well in standardized assessment tests and give them a long lasting education, is to help them understand the concepts at an early stage in life A live and interactive platform would have opened their vent for intuitive thinking.

Technology can act as a boon, only if it is used to its advantage. At school level, integrating technology to deliver instruction can be a good idea. Once deployed, one should try to use technology gradually. There are categories of adopters. Proper categorization will help schools to identify the various sets of traits and accordingly frame a plan for implementation.



I think technology today is being used for a child’s best possible advantage. I work in the school system and Kindergartener’s are learning to use a computer. They play matching, memory and math games. When a child learns to use a computer this early in life they will only exceed and get better. I think it is imperative that children learn to use a computer. Our society revolves around using technology and if children are not taught how to use technology in school, where will they learn? I much rather children learn to use a computer in school where they are being monitored, rather than somewhere they can surf the internet without any adult supervision.

I think if a strategic plan is set for what programs a child will learn in each grade level with technology it will be to the child’s advantage. This will not only pace a child’s learning with technology, but they will learn to respect the computer. I believe that technology promotes sustainable change in the classroom and it is worth the investment.

I think technology gives an opportunity to reach students in ways that we were never able to before. At least in regards to the different styles of learning that our students bring with them into the classroom. By involving technology in our teaching, we not only are accommodating the manner in which students are “wired”, but also giving students the opportunity to take more initiative in and responsibility for their learning.

I truely believe that technology has come a long way. With this generation of kids using cell phones, ipod, and video games that it is crucial to have education technology in the schools to help children learn. It is another way to reach out and help children experience and learn by using technology in the classroom.

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