On “Why Ed Tech Is Not Transforming How Teachers Teach”

Teachers are not harnessing technology the way they should and this is hurting students. There are several reasons for it, but this is the trend throughout the United States. These are the main points in a recently published Education Week article called “Why Ed Tech Is Not Transforming How Teachers Teach.” While I agree with the claims for the most part and am intrigued by the examples author Benjamin Herold provides, I do have a few comments that help us think about the trend discussed in the article, mainly that we should be careful not to promote technology just for technology’s sake.

The author’s main claim comes in the second paragraph:

“…a mountain of evidence indicates that teachers have been painfully slow to transform the ways they teach, despite that massive influx of new technology into their classrooms. The student-centered, hands-on, personalized instruction envisioned by ed-tech proponents remains the exception to the rule.”

Herold then cites reputable sources and notable studies, mainly Professor Larry Cuban from Stanford who has built a career on researching and writing about the history of education, education policy, and about how schools have hardly used technology to change teaching. The Ed Week article cites several examples and basically says that teachers have not used technology because they are not trained properly and the process of changing is simply too hard for them to do:

“Researchers have identified numerous culprits, including teachers’ beliefs about what constitutes effective instruction, their lack of technology expertise, erratic training and support from administrators, and federal, state, and local policies that offer teachers neither the time nor the incentive to explore and experiment.”

I liked this article, it was interesting, and I agree with it for the most part. Yes, teachers have not used technology in the classroom to change their teaching going back to the days of the radio and the film projector.

However, one issue I had with this article is that I am not a fan of arguments that suggest that it is fruitful to use technology for technology’s sake. This article leaned in that direction. My point is that just because a shiny iPad is in a classroom, it does not mean the iPad always provides the best solution to considerations of pedagogy. An iPad very well could be used as a great resource, but we have to remember that technology is only a tool, it is not a teaching strategy. Take the example Mr. Herold provides in the article:

“On a warm May morning, 26 Mount Pleasant 11th graders were scattered around Ms. Howton’s room, sitting in groups of three or four. They were midway through a project-based unit on social-justice movements. Their goal: Produce independent research papers on topics of their choice, then collaboratively develop a multimedia presentation of their findings with classmates researching the same issue.

“After a brief welcome and introduction, the teens were on their own. The 15 iPads on a cart in the back of the room were quickly gobbled up.

“Nicole Collins, Courtney Norris, and Quincy Vaughn, all 17, went to work at a small table. Using iPads and a cloud-based tool called Google Slides, they collaborated in real time on their group presentation about injustices in the U.S. criminal-justice system.”

Great social studies teachers have had their students complete projects like this without laptops or iPads for decades. Group work and the preparation of an essay or presentation is not an assignment that inherently lends itself to only iPads. In fact, in the example provided, perhaps genuine learning is even hindered by the tech because students often end up staring at screens and plugging away. This happened many times in my classroom when I gave students assignments to complete using technology. Furthermore – and this should drive the point home – in the context of a topic like social justice (which is what the class in the example is about), using technology may impede the type of learning we hope to promote because the goals of a class like this are to understand issues of social justice and community — goals best achieved by dialogue, empathy, and actively engaging with each other face to face through conversation.

Again, I agree with Mr. Herold’s main point and think it is important that teachers know how and when to use technology appropriately. But we need to define our goals for the technology and not just think of tech as an end; rather as a means. So, for example, if our goal in a math course is to personalize learning, help catch up students, and scaffold skills, then by all means yes, use a program like Khan Academy to teach a practice these skills. But we shouldn’t be too quick to call teacher behavior “painfully slow” and underperforming simply because they aren’t using technology. They are underperforming if they aren’t achieving their learning objectives and pedagogical goals. The article does dance around this point at times, but not enough attention is drawn to it throughout.

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