Date posted: January 12, 2012
Wednesday, February 1st will be the inaugural Digital Learning Day. Conceived by the Alliance for Excellent Education, Digital Learning Day is the “culminating event of a year-round national awareness campaign to improve teaching and learning for all children” through the practical and effective use of digital technologies. Highlighting the many roles media and digital technology can play in improving learning comes at a particularly opportune time, given two recent negative articles about educational technology in the New York Times.
In a front-page story about providing additional classroom computers in Idaho schools, the Times focused on the conflict between a state government that was enthusiastically promoting online learning and the use of computers in classroom activities using money that could have gone towards salaries versus educators, parents, and students who were resisting these mandates. In an earlier story about the Kyrene district in Arizona, a coming bond election to continue making large investments in technology drew the Times to write about whether technology had raised test scores. In both cases, the Times’ stories reported that there was little or no evidence showing that technology had increased student achievement.
Too often, stories about educational technology are told as a conflict between the tech evangelists and the Luddites. The former have a blind faith in the ability of technology to transform education. The latter resist all changes.
It seems to me that asking whether or not educational technology increases test scores is really the wrong question. A piece of technology is a tool. A tool will not raise anyone’s test scores, but a tool can enable something else that will increase achievement. Think of it this way. A pencil is a piece of technology. Because I have a pencil doesn’t mean I’ll learn more or better. I can use it to take notes, and then study with my notes instead of relying on memory. The pencil enabled me to change and improve the way I studied, but it is the more effective studying that will raise my grades, not the pencil. I could as easily have used the pencil to doodle on my desk, daydreaming instead of paying attention. If I fail the test, would that mean that the pencil caused me to get a lower grade or was my failure caused by daydreaming? Do we ever ask if pencils and paper are worth the investment? Do we measure whether they increase test scores?
We invest in technology, in business or schools, because it allows us to do something more effectively than ever before, or because it enables us to something entirely new.
So what are we doing better? What are we doing differently? When I toured Kyrene, as part of a National School Boards Association Education Technology School Visit, we saw many examples, from Kindergarten classrooms to back office operations.
The great potential of Digital Learning Day is to show hundreds or even thousands of examples of technology being used in these ways, supporting learning, empowering students to create new products and knowledge, supporting administrative efficiencies.
So join us, and hundreds of schools in dozens of states, for Digital Learning Day on February 1st. And, if you miss it, or want to refresh your memory about any of the examples, come back any time. After all, one of the great advantages of digital learning is that the connectivity and devices make it available anytime, anywhere.