When New York passed a technology funding resolution a few years back, people were delighted. Hardware for everyone! More than half a dozen years later our state still has schools that do not have adequate bandwidth to use online assessments. Those computers that were purchased are not just obsolete but in use and in disrepair. The challenge of technology is that it requires a constant on going expense to re-license, repair and secure it.
My daughter was a firm proponent of the smart boards we installed. They were fun to play on during activity period and they showed movies- mostly without permission from the studios. I have worked at private schools that cannot afford to pay their teachers much beyond minimum wage install smart boards in each room. I have always considered our love affair with technology an ill thought out crush. It is not that technology is not ever useful or desirable, but for the expense, we need to ensure we get bang for our buck.
We have research that says kids do not learn as much from reading electronically as they do from print see here or here or here. Smart board use has mixed results on achievement. One study I read years ago said it improved scores for 1/3 of students, had no impact on 1/3 of students and reduced scores for 1/3. A study of college students says that they improve student satisfaction and perception of learning, but had no impact on actual achievement. A report of school age use suggests nominal change in performance in spite of increased engagement. A study reported that notes on a laptop were by far inferior for student support of recall than handwritten notes. Students do less well in online classes than in face to face classes (or here).
Amanda Ripley, an author who has worked for Time magazine wrote The Smartest Kids in the World. She looked at differences between education in the United States and that in the high performing countries in the world, especially in the area of math, which tends to predict adult income, divorce rates and employment. One compelling difference she identified is that international schools do not spend on technology the way we Americans do. We look at gadgets and get all excited. It is the wave of the future... Or is it the way to distraction?
If we really want to focus on emulating what successful schools in other nations are doing, perhaps we should junk the high tech and focus closer to home- teacher quality, motivation of students to work hard, and supporting a cultural change to truly value education over sports, entertainment or free time. It is not that tech has no value and well done tech can improve performance- if it is used to increase response rate and feedback. There is no discernable value in playing Jeopardy on the interactive white board over playing in with the clues written on pieces of paper taped to the wall. There is no advantage to taking notes from powerpoint over from an overhead projector or chalk board. There is no virtue in taking attendance by having student pop "balloons" on the whiteboard as they enter the classroom versus the teacher doing it on a sheet of paper.
Instead of focusing on pretty, as we Americans are so fond of doing, we need to focus on what actually makes the trinkets valuable- teachers and how they use them. Articles here, here and here discuss this idea. Ripley would certainly concur about the technology being a tool, not an end in and of itself. We spend more money than anyone on education, in part because we are not wise spenders. I remember a principal who would not allow any teacher to use the copier without prior approval. The idea was to not print drills but things that would support higher level thinking. Yes, he was a micromanager I would not like to work under. We can, however, apply this test to our technology choices. Is my intended use of the technology going to improve learning in such a way as to justify the cost? After all, we were incensed when the $10,000 hammer the government bought, but what about the $4500 tv or overhead projector? We need to become more selective in our spending. It starts with us, the teachers who will use it.