Diane Ravitch and learning technologies: Here we go again

What if all students had EQUAL access to incredible learning tools?

I have previously expressed my concerns regarding Diane Ravitch’s denigration of the power of digital technologies for learning and teaching. Her blog gives her a very visible online platform and I think that she should be a little more careful with her wording and claims, particularly given her self-professed lack of computer fluency. Although she’s been relatively quiet on the technology front lately, I believe that a couple of her recent posts about digital learning tools are worth responding to…

Tablets are not real computers

Diane labels a post from Red Queen as ‘one of the best posts ever.’ She quotes Red Queen:

We all know this about tablet “computers”: they are not real “working” machines. When I proposed buying a tablet for my student the dude behind the counter told me: “Don’t do it. You’ll have to buy a keyboard, it has way less memory and no ports, a smaller screen and slower speed: it’s just not what a serious student needs. By the time you’re done adding on, you’ll have a machine almost as expensive as a real computer with far less functionality”.

Any parent will have received that advice from just about any computer salesman. And while there are a few serious students out there who no doubt feel otherwise, I think it’s a fairly safe bet that the word on the street is: tablets are no substitute for a computer; students need computers.

Red Queen goes on to say that tablet computers are ‘frivolous electronics‘ and Diane includes that quote too.

Of course this belies actual reality. Tablets and smartphones continue to become both more powerful and more popular with every iteration. It is projected that sometime this year total tablet shipments will begin to surpass total PC shipments. Schools and educators that are using tablets are finding that they are quite robust computing machines, often able to do things easier or better than is possible with the larger, heavier, and often clunkier form factor of a laptop or desktop. While many people still may prefer a more expensive and robust computing device, it is ludicrous to say in September 2014 that an iOS or Android tablet isn’t a ‘real computer’ or that ‘serious students’ only should use laptops or desktops.

Finland and South Korea and Poland don’t have digital technology in their classrooms

In another post, Diane cites excerpts from Amanda Ripley’s new book, The Smartest Kids in the World:

The anecdotal evidence suggests that Americans waste an extraordinary amount of tax money on high-tech toys for teachers and students, most of which have no proven learning value whatsoever. . . . In most of the highest-performing systems, technology is remarkably absent from classrooms.

Old-school can be good school. Eric’s high school in Busan, South Korea had austere classrooms with bare-bones computer labs. Out front, kids played soccer on a dirt field. From certain angles, the place looked like an American school from the 1950s. Most of Kim’s classrooms in Finland looked the same way: rows of desks in front of a simple chalkboard or an old-fashioned white board, the kind that was not connected to anything but the wall. . . . None of the classrooms in [Tom’s] Polish school had interactive white boards.

There are numerous issues with these types of quotes. For instance…

  • The unstated assumption that performance on standardized assessments of low-level thinking is how we should judge educational success. I agree that if our goal is better bubble test achievement, we can drill-and-kill kids all day without any technology whatsoever. We’ve had over a century to perfect the numbing of student minds in analog environments. But if we want to prepare students to be empowered learners and doers within current and future information, economic, and learning landscapes, it’s impossible to do that while shunning technology.
  • The disparagement of digital technologies as ‘toys.’ Digital tools and environments are transforming everything around us in substantive, transformative, and disruptive ways. They are not mere toys unless we choose to only use them in that way. It’s a sad indictment of us as educators and communities that it is taking us so long to awaken to the educational possibilities of learning technologies and the Internet.
  • The equation of interactive white boards (and, in a later quote, student response systems) as the sum and substance of educational technology. Those of us who decry such replicative technologies agree that those are insufficiently empowering of students and thus unlikely to make much of an impact. But putting powerful digital tools into the hands of students that let them create, make, connect, collaborate, and make an impact, both locally and globally? That’s a different story. We need a different vision, one in which we don’t merely use digital technologies – and rows of desks in tight formation – to broadcast to students while they sit passively and watch or listen. And we need to stop pointing at those lackluster wastes of learning power and saying, “See? Told you technology doesn’t make a difference.”
  • The nostalgic yearning for the simple classrooms and schools of yesteryear, uncomplicated by modern learning tools (or, apparently, grass in the schoolyard). Ah, yes, remember when life (supposedly) wasn’t so complicated? Does anyone really want to return to 1950s beliefs and worldviews about learning and society? And if they do, what disservice do we do our youth when we prepare them for 60 years ago rather than now and tomorrow?

Wrap-Up

So, to sum up, so far Diane appears to be against online learning and digital educational games and simulations, and she shares posts that are against tablet computers or paint all technologies as disruptive and distracting. And that’s dangerous because people listen to her. She and many of her fans seem to ignore the fact that it’s awfully difficult to prepare students for success in a digital, global world without giving them access to digital technologies and Internet access. Railing against computer expenditures and Internet connectivity for our children is irresponsible, especially when those funds come from different sources and thus can’t be spent on teachers, support staff, professional development, or educational programming.

Now, to give Diane some credit, there are a few concerns raised in these posts that are worth noting:

  1. It’s a reasonable question to ask whether school equipment and construction funds would be better spent on upgrading facilities or purchasing computers for students, particularly given the time horizons of both construction bonds and technology obsolescence. That’s a difficult decision and I’m glad that I don’t have to make it at the scale that the L.A. Unified school district does.
  2. I, too, have grave misgivings about the Amplify tablets that are being used in Guilford County, North Carolina, but not just because they’re tablets.
  3. When Andreas Schleicher from OECD is quoted as saying that ‘people always matter than props,’ of course that is dead on. The success or failure of learning technologies in schools always will depend more on us as educators than on the tools themselves.
  4. Diane quotes Carlo Rotella, who says that “if everyone agrees that good teachers make all the difference, wouldn’t it make more sense to devote our resources to strengthening the teaching profession with better recruitment, training, support and pay? It seems misguided to try to improve the process of learning by putting an expensive tool in the hands of teachers we otherwise treat like the poor relations of the high-tech whiz kids who design the tool. . . . Are our overwhelmed, besieged, haphazardly recruited, variably trained, underpaid, not-so-elite teachers, in fact, the potential weak link in Amplify’s bid to disrupt American schooling?” Leaving aside the false dichotomy of ‘we can strengthen the teaching profession or we can give students computers but not both,’ this is a pretty insightful statement. As I noted in an earlier post, we have an appalling lack of technology support and training for our educators. We have to stop pretending that if we insert computers into the learning-teaching process that magic will happen and start doing a much better job of helping educators empower students with potentially-transformative digital tools.

These concerns, however, are more specific and nuanced and aren’t painted with an extremely broad anti-technology brush. If Diane typically discussed learning technologies in thoughtful and careful ways like these, I’d have much less concern. Loyal readers here know that I myself often express misgivings about ineffective technology integration and implementation in schools. But to say that there’s no educational worth whatsoever in online learning, educational simulations, tablet computers, or whatever Diane rants against next is patently false.

Whether we like it or not, digital technologies in education are here to stay. As I said in my earlier post,

the issue is not – as [Diane] seems to believe – that [digital tools] never have any value. The issues are 1) Under what circumstances do these new learning tools and spaces have value?, and 2) How do we create learning and policy environments in which that value is most likely to be realized?

I’ll keep wishing that Diane one day recognizes this. I’ll also keep wishing that Diane one day recognizes the irony (hypocrisy?) of decrying students’ use of digital technologies while simultaneously employing those tools herself to great effect to further her goals and increase her visibility.

Your thoughts?

Image credit: What if…, Darren Kuropatwa

47 Responses to “Diane Ravitch and learning technologies: Here we go again”

  1. First Thought:

    Why are we comparing ourselves to other nations through a lens of a political, social and economic vacuum? All of those countries listed happen to have a more isolated geography, a huge social safety net and a political system that looks very different from ours (often missing the multiple municipalities we have).

    Second Thought:

    It’s a straw man theory. They build up technology as if those of us who are using technology don’t criticize it and don’t apply it to sound educational theory.

  2. I get so tired of the “tablets aren’t real computers” schtick. My kids use multiple devices, but when they need to choose one to take with them on learning trips or simply as which one they prefer, they choose their tablets.

    The keyboard recommendation ALWAYS comes from adults. Kids who did not grow up typing do not ask for keyboards. Occasionally, parents freak out that their kids will never learn to type properly. I usually respond that the kids probably will not need to learn “proper typing.”

    My kids are not going to grab a laptop on the go. Have you ever seen a kid take a photo with a laptop? Awkward. They grab their tablet, take a photo, and then add it to whatever project they’re creating, add anecdotal information via voice or text, and move on. Tell me how they’re not creating anything useful.

  3. Excellent points about over-simplifying the downsides of technology, and you’ve pointed out where Diane is dead-on.
    I’m opposed to these purchases at this point, and we’re getting ready to do a large number of them in California including in my own district. Why? Because if you are just buying these tools to test kids, they will NEVER learn to use them as digital tools, and indeed may become Luddites should that be their only exposure to them.
    Happily, I have had my own students record their first podcast this week. A much more engaging use of technology than Amplify.

    • I understand what you’re saying about the ‘buying for testing purposes’ issue, Alice. But we can’t create opportunities for students to learn to use ed tech in powerful ways if we don’t first have devices for them. So unless the technologies are locked away except during testing season, can’t we also repurpose them for other, better learning?

      • But if all they do is testing it will be worse because that will set the path for how these tools are used going forward.
        Will I be happy to have more iPad/MacBook carts at my site to use, and do I think they will be used pretty well at my site yes. I have NO confidence this will be the case elsewhere.If all the training is aligned to implementing Amplify, that’s all that will be used by and large.

      • There is a lot of money being poured into making testing suites for iPads.

        It already is a big selling point of the Amplify tablet.

        A lot of districts/schools are using tech primarily for testing, and calling that “technology integration.”

        If you look at some of the main selling/talking points around Amplify, they blur the line between formative and summative assessment, and call it personalized learning.

        Part of the issue is that the definition of what constitutes “tech integration” is fuzzy, and the marketing departments of test vendors are more than happy to attempt to provide clarity.

      • I disagree with the unstated assumption that somehow, because technology hasn’t been well or properly integrated into schools that some large number of kids are tech Luddites. The alacrity with which they hacked the tablets in LA is a fine example, and also supports what many say here about bad implementation based on faulty ideas about what tech can do. From what I’ve seen, the kids are often leading the way in being tech savvy.

  4. Thanks very much for this post – I read Diane Ravitch’s blog and welcome the wide range of items she shares, esp. items from local news that I would never find otherwise. Yet I have also stopped commenting there; since I teach online (I have taught online courses at Univ. of Oklahoma for over 10 years, and I love it), my comments have been treated dismissed (even rudely) by the regular commenters at that blog who consider online learning to be one of the forces of evil to be stopped at all costs. Yet surely there is no one-size-fits-all solution to any dimension of education, and whatever solutions we come up with are going to involve technology, including online resources and online courses. Teaching online is not for everybody, nor is learning online, but I am very frustrated when I see people who have never taught online dismissing it out of hand. And it happens a lot. Sigh. I also agree with your final observation that it is the height of irony for people to be disparaging online communication while using an online forum to do so! Ha! :-)

    • There have been so many examples of online learning snake oil that many have been biased against it for that reason and have been therefore isolated from the things it can do well. The best way forward is for the tech community to calmly show the difference between what is good and what is not. Guilt by association is best corrected by good and complete information. Defend your area of expertise from those who are misrepresenting it’s capabilities and exploiting it for profit to the detriment of both students and the tech community.

  5. You’ve really lost me here, Scott. For many years, I was a mini edtech leader and evangelist from the classroom. About 4 years ago I woke up and begin to get a peek at the bigger picture of what was really happening in education. The edtech movement was hijacked by the edreform movement, right under the noses of the leaders of edtech leaders.

    The much bigger picture is the length to which the edreform movement is willing to go ($$$) to put America’s schoolchildren online – not so they can learn in innovative ways – but so they can take high stakes tests. And of course be plopped down for hours in front of commercial software “guaranteed” to increase student test scores. It’s happening every day, for millions of American kids.

    There may well be pockets of innovative edtech educators and even schools or districts, but if the edreform movement has its way (enabled by computer driven high stakes tests and mind-numbing “personalized learning” commercial software programs) – in a very few years, there will be no public school system in this country in which educators can innovate.

    I remember attending a tech conference keynote (NCCE, Portland, 2011), where many were initially shocked that Yong Zhao was not speaking about technology, but about the much bigger picture of what is happening to education with high stakes testing. He got a rousing standing ovation, as I recall.

    I’m all for technology in education, but it is now being used primarily to further the high stakes testing agenda of those pushing the edreform movement (many of whom are drooling at the prospect of much more – a handy result of common core).

    Say what you want about Diane Ravitch and technology, but the fight she is waging encompasses much more than technology, and most folks know that. She is also one amazing blogger (from her iPad, btw).

    • Mark, I share the concerns about the corporate ed reformers’ takeover of the educational technology movement. But the answer is not to make wide-sweeping proclamations about the non-utility of digital learning tools but rather to paint a different picture about how those tools can and should be used instead. In other words, in a digital, global world – a world in which all knowledge work essentially is done with computers – we should not be fostering the view that we should be walking away from digital technologies in schools (which is what I think she and many of her fans do).

      I know that Diane’s fight is bigger than simply ed tech, and I greatly appreciate her role in that fight and her blogging proclivity (which is why I still read and pass along her material daily). But she needs to do better than her current walk away, knee jerk reactions to thinking and writing about ed tech.

      • Ok Scott. I encourage you to do two things:

        Engage in the discussion – on her blog and many others – explaining how the tools should be used (not for testing and test prep) and their potential. I think you overestimate the number of Diane’s followers who are digital phobic.

        Then go and call out Pearson, Macmillan, and the producers of an ever growing heap of software rubbish for what it is, explaining of course what new technologies should be used for. Call out districts and states for spending m/billions on test prep software. Call out Duncan for encouraging it. And pass the word on to guys like Richardson, Warlick, Utecht, etc. to make their voices heard on this outside of edtech circles.

        Thanks – Mark

        • Thanks, Mark. These are great suggestions and I do try and do these things as often as I can on my blog, on hers, and elsewhere. I’ll try to step it up a notch and also encourage others to do the same.

          • Hi Scott – I understand Mark’s (and others) concerns here, but I agree, Diane doesn’t get the positive role tech can take in learning and she tends to dismiss it in general. I doubt that is her intent, but it sure comes across that way. I find myself wincing at comments she makes and only wish I had the time to respond more often than I do.

            I just had a similar discussion with her here: http://dianeravitch.net/2013/09/14/sharon-higgins-what-stem-crisis/comment-page-1/#comment-306724

            So Mark’s point about engaging her there is well taken, however her STEM position was an overlook on her part, this is more deep seated and will require more engagement I suspect.

    • Well said, and an important addition that places this discussion in it’s correct context.

  6. This bit of mansplaining is reflective of the dominance of a small group of white, male, edtech whose collective insights amount to little more than pissing contest for social media status. This is a really petty critique of one of the most important and relevant voices in education. It’s clear that her voice is incredibly inconvenient to the opportunistic tech determinism that continues to marginalize all those who attempt any challenge. Shame on you.

    • Wow, that’s pretty harsh, Judy. Instead of personally insulting me, could you maybe engage around the substantive issues that I raised? I’d love to hear your thinking about how my pleas for a vision of students as empowered users of digital technologies who are prepared for a technology-suffused world – rather than a nostalgic view of analog schooling – somehow become ‘mansplaining’ and ‘a really petty critique’ and a ‘pissing contest for social media status.’

    • Judy,

      I would welcome a civil discourse with you here, rather than the personal insults you just heaved at Scott. I am a woman, a teacher, and someone who uses technology in teaching. I share and present about the learning in my classroom multiple times a year. I don’t think Scott did any “mansplaining” in this post, and trust me… I’ve suffered from mansplaining often. I recognize it when I see it.

      I love Diane’s work and what she tries to do for education every day. However, I agree with Scott in that she is short-sighted when it comes to technology. I don’t think that replacing teachers with technology is ever the answer; but blending high tech use, low tech use, and no tech at all is an environment that kids must be able to access.

      Because Diane has such a visible profile, it is even more important that her words be available for analysis. Her voice carries a lot of weight, and I feel that she is under-informed in this area of education.

    • I don’t think it’s mansplaining, because Scott points out, Diane herself is a pretty proficient user of technology and more importantly social media tools, so she knows about this.

  7. Judy, I read Scott’s post closely and nowhere do I see any unprofessionalism or that it would have been written differently if Diane was man or woman. In fact, you’re the one that brings up that she’s a woman. As a woman in edtech, I believe you’ve mischaracterized this thorough article. There are plenty of places you can look for such behavior but not in this post at this time. I also think that Diane is taking a dangerous turn by not educating herself on the facts about technology. People are vital. Many are misusing technology – absolutely. However, just because people are doing poorly at using technology effectively doesn’t dismiss the importance of having the effective use of technology happen in every school. The statistics on the digital divide are startling and many poorer children are being dished out a grave disservice by not having access to good uses of technology. It is not good to have a thought leader – male or female- dismiss the importance of making sure every student has access and making the digital divide a thing of the past. I’m glad Scott wrote the article, but I think you should rethink your comment – perhaps it was written in haste but it doesn’t display the type of digital discussions we should hope to encourage in the future generations we’re teaching. Thanks for the opportunity to converse.

  8. Excellent and thoughtful post Scott. If you are looking for substantive arguments, then Ravitch will continuously disappoint. She has found a popular and profitable existence in pandering to the masses and capitalizing on and furthering selective and sometimes flat out misinformation. She has no problem profiting handsomely from education, while decrying others for the same. In light of your post I find it particularly interesting that she was fine speaking at a large Ed Tech conference here in California and taking their money and sharing none of these views. Not surprisingly, when asked about the content of her message and the accuracy of her claims, her only response was to laud herself for receiving a standing ovation…not unlike allowing high stakes test scores to serve as a simplistic analysis of an entire school.

    • The Ravitch you describe does not exist, you have put forth a poorly constructed straw man. All of her arguments are completely substantive. Applied to the likes of Michelle Rhee and other so called reformers, your diatribe would be dead on.

  9. Scott, I applaud you for your attempt at intelligent discourse, and rising above immature comments. You bring up valid points and a perspective I think many (including me) share. Technology integration is way more than testing (Totally agree with MB abt the keyboard statement) but will never be the magic bullet. I love my techno savvy PLN who never acts as if it is!
    Please keep blogging and calling it like you see it!

  10. Scott! What a great post. I too am a big proponent of using technology in the classroom especially tablets. But we use tablets to CREATE and share with the world, not to take tests or play on apps. Thanks for writing such a great post and for sharing your insight! You are someone I highly look up to and admire. Keep fighting the good fight, there’s many of us who fight in the trenches daily!

  11. I agree with Judy. It’s a sad world we live in where a typical white male who is only concerned with elevating his social media status can so blatantly attack one of the great thinking women of our generation. Diane Ravitch is our great Oracle of Education and how dare you belittle her thoughts and insights for your own gain. You sir should be ashamed of yourself. Just because your “technology” does not fit into her master plan, don’t feel obligated to insult her. Just take the time to realize that maybe you aren’t able to truly understand how forward thinking her ideas for education are. As I read through the rest of these comments, I can’t believe how brainwashed you all are. Wake up! Recognize the true brilliance of Diane while you can.

    • Like I said in my comment to Judy, I wish you would engage us on the merits of our ideas rather than resorting to personal attacks. I get that you and Judy are both fans of Diane. That’s great. I am too. That doesn’t mean that I agree with her perspectives on digital technologies and their lack of place in P-12 classrooms. As I said in my post above, it’s awfully difficult to prepare students for success in a digital, global world without giving them access to digital technologies and Internet access. It would be nice if Diane (and you) – like myself and many of the folks who have commented here – talked about how we can get powerful learning technologies into the hands of children in ways that work rather than why we shouldn’t get technologies into the hands of children at all. The former recognizes the urgency and the challenge. The latter simply denies the need and reality.

      More discussion around ideas and solution-building rather than personal insults, please. It also would be nice if you didn’t hide behind anonymity. The rest of us are willing to put our names and reputations behind our comments…

  12. Well said, Scott. I think before we proclaim Ms. Ravitch an oracle, we should remember that she was a big proponent of the programs she now mocks and fights. She has since gone on to profit from a stark change in belief and I often wonder if her guilt has fueled such one-sided views, which have increasingly become populist ones lacking nuance or acknowledgement that education is extremely complex. Most importantly though, it seems that her power comes from the very technology she glibly dismisses. I appreciate her thoughts and fight for teachers, but I am often left with a sense that she’d simply like to turn the clock back.

    • The reason she has done a 180 on her beliefs is that she took a dispassionate look at the results of those policies, found them not only lacking but harmful and made the appropriate change in her thinking. Are you saying she is not entitled to be paid for her efforts and work? As with other false criticisms yours are way off. She is a bona fide expert and your ad homonym attack is simply boring for those of us who are used to seeing and debunking them.

  13. Good thoughts and I hope you share them with Diane. I am disappointed by some of the comments but don’t despair.iPads are not magic billets and Edutech will amplify both good an bad practice. A senior educator lamented to me the lost art of note taking, privately I could lament the lost art of butter churning.

  14. I only wish you’d woven your more nuanced critique throughout the post or started with your last paragraph. As a newbie to Dangerously Irrelevant , it took me until the end to determine that you were not as knee-jerk in opposition to Ravitch’s ideas as your lead would suggest. Your post reads like an edtech sloganeer until the end.

    @apeswithbooks

    • Thanks, Rachel, for both the comment and the friendly pushback. I tried to critically reflect on Diane’s posts rather than simply saying “tech is good (or bad)!” Sorry if that didn’t come across to you as well as I would have liked.

  15. I can’t imagine how anyone familiar with the technology lifecycle would be unable to make the ‘difficult decision’ of whether it is appropriate to use 25 year construction bonds to pay for them. This seems incredibly shortsighted from multiple perspectives.

    Another poster referred to Ravitch’s calling out the STEM hysteria. The constant droning on about how unqualified our graduates are is bunk. We have no shortage of highly qualified engineers and scientist. This is purely a play for visas by corporate america. Your larger point about the need for everyone needing to integrate technology into their life at some level is solid, I think. But, to defend the sky is falling rhetoric of the tech giants is just wrong.

    • That is some incredibly bad writing that I just posted. Oh, to have the edit button for comments.

    • Thanks for the comment, Wilbert. It reads okay to me!

      I think districts have to find some way to pay for computers for kids. I’m not familiar with California school financing options, nor am I a school finance expert in any way whatsoever, but I do know that general funds are hard to come by and other levies typically must be spent in other directions. Other than one-time monies (e.g., grants) which come with sustainability concerns, physical plant and equipment levies often are one of the few options available to schools to get technologies in the hands of students. We have numerous districts here in Iowa paying for 1:1 initiatives through these levies and it seems to be working?

      I’m familiar with the STEM worker hysteria as well and have collected some debunking resources on that front. That said, I didn’t think my post above defended the ‘sky is falling’ rhetoric of the tech giants. Clue me in so I can see where you’re coming from? Thanks!

  16. What worries me is the negative turn the opposition immediately takes when they don’t agree with someone’s opinions. I am a female online doctoral student and educator. There are a multitude of people in the ed tech community having these same discussions, and we are not a small group of white males.

    I find no issue with Dr. McLeod’s post nor do I think he is writing, or ever writes, to promote his online social status. Perhaps this can be most clearly seen in his recent TED Talk from Des Moines Iowa: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GyIl4y_MRbU&feature=share&list=PLsRNoUx8w3rMbC7NKi-cC_Y_rHmv_43FB where he clearly discusses the need to empower students to use technology to follow their passions and the need for schools to give students the freedom to utilize this passion to learn.

    These are the discussions we need to be having when it comes to technology and education. Until we change the conversation from fear to empowerment, nothing is going to change and this endless debate will continue.

  17. While I certainly don’t agree that all tech is bad, I have issues with the move to tablets by many schools. I teach computer science. I can’t teach programming on a tablet. I can teach programming *for* a tablet, but I need a laptop or desktop to do that. We have iPads and laptops in our school, and I’ve seen teachers do some great things with both kinds of devices. My concern with tablets is that its default mode is passive consumption. It takes some work to get past that. I think most teachers I’ve seen do get past that, but as some commenters point out, it’s possible to exploit the consumption model of tablets for things like testing and the worst kind of “learning”.

    Too many people assume that technology is neutral, and that the uses of it are what skew it in a particular direction; however, the creators of technology are not neutral in their decisions. They think about how they want you to use their hardware and software. They might want you tied into consuming just their products, etc. Think about kindles and nooks and ebooks in general.

    Personally, I talk about all these things with my students because who knows what technology is coming next, and we should always get past the shininess of new tech, and examine the ways that tech both enhances and perhaps restrains our work. That doesn’t mean we don’t use it. It means we don’t use it thoughtlessly.

  18. I think you, along with every other technophile invited to the conversation about how to improve schools, could reflect on this statement:
    “I think that she should be a little more careful with her wording and claims, particularly given her self-professed lack of computer fluency.”

    Frustrating as some of her points may be, I know I am equally frustrated by schools that implement technology initiatives with poor planning or little planning, burgeoning the arguments of those who would steer clear of digital tools.

    Because planning, professional learning and collaboration are so often absent when schools adopt digital tools and expect teachers and students to leverage them, Ravich’s skepticism is understandable. Most importantly, her lack “computer fluency” shouldn’t factor into her contributions to this important conversation at all. On the contrary, she might be situated in exactly the right position to raise important cautions about investments in tablets. Hopefully those cautions serve to strengthen the planning, professional learning, and collaboration around every new initiative.

    I, for one, hope Ravich continues to raise red flags and issue cautions. Your post is evidence that her misgivings about technology spur critical thinking about ed tech. Who wants the Internet to be an echo chamber? The diverse viewpoints represented in your comment thread are indicative of the power of the Internet and networks to deepen people’s thinking. After all, the Internet and networks are the real transformative tools at the heart of societal and hopefully school transformation. We have to value the ideological friction in networks. We have to value the exchange and welcome dissent if schools are ever going to change. If Ravich undergoes the change of heart you hope for, educators would be deprived of a rich opportunity for critical thinking, the chance to consider your claims alongside hers and think more deeply about the role of digital tools in schools.

    Thanks for your post and the opportunity to comment.

    • Thank you for chiming in, Joe. A few thoughts, if I may…

      1. You said, “I know I am equally frustrated by schools that implement technology initiatives with poor planning or little planning, burgeoning the arguments of those who would steer clear of digital tools. Because planning, professional learning and collaboration are so often absent when schools adopt digital tools and expect teachers and students to leverage them, Ravitch’s skepticism is understandable.”

      Fair enough. I’m frustrated by poor tech planning and lack of effective PD too. It’s a reflection of how poor most of our administrators are at effective technology leadership. That’s why I spend most of my efforts focusing on principals and superintendents. If they don’t get it, it’s not going to happen well. BUT… it’s a long leap from ‘do tech better (and here’s how)’ to ‘tech has no place in schools.’ And, as I think her own words show, it’s the latter where Diane seems to live more often than not.

      2. You said, “Most importantly, her lack of ‘computer fluency’ shouldn’t factor into her contributions to this important conversation at all.” I’m going to disagree with you there. I don’t know anything about particle physics or Spanish literature or child nutrition but I don’t go around opining on things in those important fields that I know little about. In fact, my lack of knowledge and understanding and fluency is exactly why I should keep my mouth shut. A position of ignorance is not a strong position from which to argue one’s point. Nor is a position of hypocrisy.

      3. Red flags… cautions… both fine. We don’t want echo chambers. Nuanced questions and concerns… fantastic. We need all of those we can get. But “Technology has little to no worth for schoolchildren in a digital world?” I’m troubled by that. As I said before, I think that’s irresponsible given the suffusion of technology in essentially every aspect of our lives. It’s like denying the worth of writing. Or gravity.

      4. My final thought… Debate is good. Ideological friction is good. Intelligent exchange and dissent are good. But can I make a plea for intelligent, informed discourse? If I start an ideological rant that vaccines have no worth, despite a wealth of medical and scientific evidence to the contrary, I should expect healthy and scornful pushback from vaccine scientists and others. If Diane rants against the very worth of educational technology for schoolchildren with little evidence behind her arguments (just lots of ideology), shouldn’t she expect the same?

  19. Scott, I think the issue for Diane has moved well beyond what should happen in education. This is a political battle for her and she has a personal ax to grind. In my opinion, she is not interested in reasonable discourse with those who disagree with her; rather, she uses her pundit status as a bully pulpit (emphasis on the bully). Like other commenters here, I have tried to engage with her in several media, only to find her dismissive when the conversation even approaches nuance. Her agenda reads better in black and white. So I’ve decided not to waste any more time responding to anything she publishes, but I appreciate your still fighting the good fight!

    • One must first look at the reasons behind any disagreement before defaulting to the “he said she said” meme as you have done here. Ravitch’s objections are not ideological or political, they are a fact based response to ill conceived policies that have made claims which remain unfulfilled after decades of the policies being in place. She is no pundit and no bully, she has a lifetime of experience behind her. She remains focused on what should and more important these days, what shouldn’t happen in education. Anyone who reads her book or other writing will find this out for themselves as others here have done(get it from the library if you don’t want to buy it). People familiar with the issues know this. As one of the people who seek to profit via reformy products designed to be sold to school systems, I suspect that you do too. Your comments are typical of those who see a threat to their market share of the new education marketplace. Ed reform is the new status quo these days.

  20. I commented on this early and have watched an interesting conversation. Scott, I thank you for getting it rolling. I have a few things to add:

    Personal attacks (see above) eliminate any reasonable attempt to talk about the issues, and diminish the point of view, as well as the credibility, of the attacker. Please stop.

    Scott, you closed with Diane’s “irony (hypocrisy?) of decrying students’ use of digital technologies”. Time to catch up on your reading, my man.

    I recommend everyone commenting here read Diane’s new book, “Reign of Error”. I’m only 85 pages in and have come across several positive references to student use of digital technologies – as examples of the creative, innovative education we should be offering kids. I’m not even close to the solutions sections of the book.

    Is she a fan of online virtual charter schools? Of course not. If you think they might be a great idea, read chapter 17, “Trouble in E-land” (I’ve skimmed it, and I’ve read plenty elsewhere). If you think they’ll never happen, all the more reason to read it….

    If you care about public education in the US, you must read this book. You’ll do something about it after you read it. It is simply amazing.

    And then maybe some who have written Diane Ravitch off as an old technology fuddy-duddy will begin change their minds. I sure hope so. Because if they choose to ignore the big picture of what’s happening in education, pick away at the reform debate for overlooking technology, continue to talk edtech in a very small echo chamber, they will find themselves without public schools in which to teach – real soon.

  21. Here are a some links for those who wish to see how the very serious problems in the online learning sector are creating a tremendous amount of guilt by association for technology in general. Those who believe in the potential of online learning and tech in schools need to clean their own house, in this case by evicting the snake oil salesmen. You all need to be aware of what is being done in the name of tech. Far too much of it is pretty awful. http://www.politico.com/story/2013/09/cyber-schools-flunk-but-tax-money-keeps-flowing-97375.html?hp=f3

    http://1rsh.wordpress.com/2013/03/17/cyber-schools-are-much-worse-than-you-think/

    http://louisville.edu/journal/workplace/issue5p1/werry.html

  22. Sorry, last time (I almost promise), but here’s a review of her book that’s as good as the best posts above at getting to the gist of the issue. http://mizmercer.edublogs.org/2013/09/23/diane-ravitch-reign-of-error-review/
    In closing I’d like to thank all those here who have provided me with knowledge and details I didn’t have before.

  23. I’m no Luddite – I’ve used a computer in my teaching since the pre-gui days when there were no mice and a floppy disk measured 5 1/4 inches. But I’m not convinced that screens in the classroom are the way to go. This iteration of Amplify-iPads in particular, reminds me of the Chris Whittle Channel One adventure, in which schools hoping to get a television (!) in each classroom (a miserly 16 inch set) in exchange signed on to have kids watch commercials. Resource poor school systems are especially vulnerable to these schemes.

    A few years back, my school system handed out Mac Books to teachers. They were buggy – had dual (warring) Microsoft / Apple operating systems – and came with no training for teachers. We were actually told that if we had questions about how to use them, we could go to the Apple Store! Software available throughout the system was for PC’s and often not compatible. A couple of years later, support for our classroom PC’s was discontinued and desktops were not replaced because teachers had laptops. So if a kid needed to print out a paper, the only resource I had available was my laptop.

    I think there’s a case to be made that schools can be a safe haven from the larger society. Especially at the elementary and middle school level, the teacher’s first task is to create a community of learners. The emphasis on digital gizmos, I am afraid, can undermine that essential activity and result in what looks more like the parallel play of toddlers, where they sit side by side, engaged in similar endeavors, but really are in their own worlds.

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