Is The Fascination with Technology Misguided?

Technology has not proven to be the panacea for the malaise hanging over schools.  For over a decade, there has been great fanfare surrounding the introduction of computers, tablets and iPads into schools.  In an article by Jay Mathews in the Washington Post entitled “Technology Isn’t the Solution for Public Education Problems,” he cites a huge $1.3 billion program initiated by John Deasy to provide every student in Prince George (MD) with an iPad. The result? According to Jay Mathews, “So far, that has been a mess.”

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Columbus middle school in Union City, NJ partnered with Bell Atlantic to fill classrooms with computers and software.  Despite politicians’ and reporters’ rave reviews, over a period of years test scores did not improved.  There just is no data to support the belief that technology transforms schools. Larry Cuban, a Stanford University researcher who once was superintendent of Arlington County (VA) schools, has authored several books challenging the notion that technology is helping schools. In one of his books, “Inside the Black Box of Classroom Practice,” he cites many examples.  According to Cuban, nowhere can school district test score gains be attributed to technology.

The fascination with computers and iPads is just that, a fascination.  The old saying about the difference in the toys of men and boys is an apt one here. Perhaps it is the messianic longing of the human heart to hope that a savior for the schools will emerge from this technology or that one, or from this program or that one.  Despite the never ending optimism, test scores continue to decline.

This brings me to the downside of this euphoria.  Anything that diverts our attention away from what we know works – higher expectations from better teachers – hinders our students making the progress that they could be making.  We know based upon tons of empirical data that there is a positive return on dollars invested in teacher training.  Schools really wanting to raise test scores would be well advised to focus more on a better educated faculty than on technology.

This does not mean that we should ignore technology.  It can be a great time-saving and useful tool.  However, we have to be realistic about what it can and cannot do.  The internet of course gives us access to rich, multimedia content.  Online courses allows schools to offer both remedial and AP level courses and an endless array of electives which they otherwise would never be able to offer.   This can solve scheduling problems and allows schools to offer classes such as foreign languages when they do not have qualified faculty.  Even here, students need teacher involvement. Blended learning, a classroom with a teacher utilizing technology, has been shown to be the best use of technology.

Technology is here to stay and advancing so rapidly that it is virtually impossible for a school to keep up. Nevertheless, schools must teach their students to use computers and not just desktops, but portable devices as well.  Without doing so we leave our students at a significant disadvantage when they reach college and enter the workforce.

Another downside to the euphoric fascination with technology, and this is just my opinion, it diverts attention away from the main purpose of education – character development.  Educating the will (self-denial and delayed gratification) must always be the teacher’s number one priority.  To faith we first add virtue and only then do we add knowledge. This will be the theme of a future post.

How has technology improved your teaching?  

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Dr. Huey Mills is pastor/administrator of Fellowship Bible Church and Carolina Christian Academy in Lancaster, SC. He has worked in Christian education for four decades; currently he serves as president of SC Association of Christian Schools.