Using technology to reinforce 19th century teaching practice

Graham Brown-Martin says:

why [has] technology, to date, had very little impact on improved learning outcomes? This could be because we continue to use technology to reinforce 19th century teaching practice to meet out-dated assessment models. Most of the world’s curriculum and assessment systems are based around fact recall rather than actually demonstrating that you have learned something and can deploy it within a problem-solving situation.


8 Responses to “Using technology to reinforce 19th century teaching practice”

  1. Once we give up these archaic teaching and assessment practices technology in the sense of data gathering and evaluation and selection of treatments etc. (what Ivan Illich called manipulative technology) becomes entirely irrelevant.

    Meanwhile the sorts of technologies Illich called convivial technologies – those which support our free action and free connection with others to live, exchange, learn and grow, are used everyday in education. The best example is the Internet itself, while others are smart phones, tablets, word-processing programs, and video cameras.

    So long as education means schooling – including the near compulsory college experience, technology will have primarily a manipulative role.

  2. I agree with leonard waks. Technology is being pushed as a way to get students engaged and excited about school, but once the novelty wears off, what then? At the end of the day, many kids are forced into a public education system that does not inspire or motivate them, and eventually technology will just become another tool of the system.

  3. A few thoughts…

    1 – “This could be because we continue to use technology to reinforce 19th century teaching practice to meet out-dated assessment models.”. I think that’s part of it. Tech is in one sense just a tool. A really powerful tool, but still a tool. Are we using that tool predominantly to engage students in higher-level thinking, content creation, collaboration, problem solving, and real world learning? Or is the SmartBoard just a really expensive whiteboard and the computer just a really expensive typewriter? It’s not whether or not we are using tech, it’s how we are using it (the learning). And yes, you can do higher order tasks without tech too (though I would argue that tech can make this easier and perhaps better). But having lots of fancy gadgets does not suddenly transform an educational system any more than having lots of expensive tools would suddenly make me a master carpenter… yet some people think that 21st century school = has lots of tech. It’s all about how the tools are used.

    2 – Regardless of whether tech improves outcomes for students (which we all want!), incorporating tech into students’ education is important from other perspectives… relevance of school to the world of today’s young person, employability skills, skills needed to be an engaged citizen in today’s society, safety and well-being… these are all reasons why school can’t ignore tech. But I agree, improved outcomes for students ought to be happening too.

  4. Initially I agree with pretty much every comment. Where technology is being used, how it is limited in its use, and ultimately the importance of tech exposure for competency as adults. However I would like to challenge the idea that technology today allows us to end the concept of memorization. I challenge this because I imagine the reality of memorization is not part of education because of a traditional sense of need. I was recently at a conference where the idea of conducting an internet search to find the state capitals demonstrated the arbitrary need to memorize them. However since the development of public education the information of state capitals has always been obtainable. The reason for memorization had to do with concept of creating a knowledge base we want our next generation to have as a measure of competency for adulthood. I would argue that the power of memorization is still necessary and that, though the internet and technology has greatly reduced our everyday use of it, diminishing its training in school might have grave effects on our ability as adults.

    But regardless of this specific example I think the bigger question is why we teach what we teach. If the rational for certain elements of our curricula are out of date then we do in fact need to remove them. And in that respect I believe technology, and the modern condition of the 21st century, has created a need for a reevaluation. Similarly technology or rather the age of digital communication needs to become part of the lexicon, not as a tool but as a subject.

    Those are some of my thoughts I’d love to get feedback.

    • And in the 1950s, 60s, and into the 70s how to use a Slide Rule was an important skill, people learned “shorthand”, we learned how to use the Card Catalogue. Times change and new skills are needed. 20 years ago there was no World Wide Web, and GPS was for Military use. The pace of technological change is why I personally think that the best skills to teach are how to acquire new skills!

      I am in complete agreement that students need a knowledge base to know how to use tools, what to search for and upon which to build new ideas. What is troubling is who is attempting to determine that knowledge base (Common Core, Next Generation Science Standards) and how they are attempting to do so (High stakes standardized testing)

  5. Bill I completely agree with your last thought. I think we need to reevaluate how we determine what that base is. In college my focus was on 20th century literature and I am always troubled by the lack of appearance the 20th century has in our curricula. It is as if 100 years ago we established a set of facts that worked for the time and spent little to reevaluate it. Or worse we focused it in the years to come to limit the possibility. I remember a colleague of mine once describing how the current math curriculum is based on training good math students to pursue astrophysics because… well in the 50s and 60s when it was developed that was the perceived need. But on the other hand I don’t like eliminating skills because of technology. We still teach computation regardless of the access to a calculator and I feel the same way about certain memorization skills. Or rather I feel that because something is based in memorization is not necessarily grounds to remove it from our lexicon. But on the other hand we do need to reevaluate our methods and goals. I’m not suggesting that anyone here as suggested blindly removing elements but rather I just want to emphasis the importance of doing this work critically. There is value to the practice and assessment of memorization as there is in computation.

    • The trick (or at least my trick), is to use technology to acquire the knowledge. I teach Physics and Astronomy, so I am able to have the students make the discoveries that they should have as knowledge. The ability to rapidly collect data (both probes attached to the computers, and inexpensive high speed video cameras), analyze the data (remember the days of graphing by hand, having to bust out the log-log and semi-log graph paper? Gone!), collaborate (I use Google Docs for all of my lab and writing assignments) which lets be easily provide detailed feedback and expect them to correct it .
      Of course exactly none of this will be reflect on a multiple choice question on a standardized test.

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