wasting bandwidth since 1999

A Cure For Technolust

Last September, a district just up the road from here opened a new $98 million high school with all kinds of high tech features including laptops for all the students, projectors in every room and more.

You might think the staff would be happy but that’s not the case according to Patrick Welsh, an English teacher at the school, writing in yesterday’s Post.

So, what’s the problem?

What a former Alexandria school superintendent calls “technolust” — a disorder affecting publicity-obsessed school administrators nationwide that manifests itself in an insatiable need to acquire the latest, fastest, most exotic computer gadgets, whether teachers and students need them or want them. Technolust is in its advanced stages at T.C., where our administrators have made such a fetish of technology that some of my colleagues are referring to us as “Gizmo High.”

He notes that even the young teachers complain about “technology for the sake of technology — not what works or helps kids learn, but what makes administrators look good, what the public will think is cutting edge”.

Welsh makes some good points, especially when he questions whether all the new technology is really helping to improve student learning.

What’s missing from his story, however, is any indication that the curriculum and teaching process is being changing to make full use of all the new tools.

He discusses a day-long training for English teachers at which they would “examine methods for integrating technology to deepen student understanding by increasing rigor, creating relevance and building relationships with students and among students”.

Notice that WE will be “building relationships” and “creating relevance” for students, not helping them do it themselves. In fact, I doubt anyone actually bothered to include students in any of the planning, for this inservice or the design for technology use.

Much of the rest of his complaints are pretty familiar – loss of face-to-face contact, over reliance on email for communication, devices that don’t fit my teaching style.

However, nothing in Welsh’s essay is really about technology. And I doubt that all problems with the way technology is used in his school belong solely to his district administration.

More than likely, this is yet another case of educators and politicians trying to graft technology onto the traditional classroom structure where the teacher is completely in charge of all learning.

Until that structure is radically altered in ways that take full advantage of the power of these communication and creative tools, schools will be wasting their money.

And teachers will complain about the disconnect between technology and teaching.

technolust, education, technology

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4 Comments

  1. Techno-gadgets aren’t magical. They’re tools. People don’t seem to get this.

  2. Patrick Ledesma

    Tim,

    Welsh’s article reminded me of Larry Cuban’s book Teachers and Machines: The Classroom Use of Technology Since 1920 where he analyzes the introduction of technology in classrooms, and at each major introduction of new technology, whether it be film, radio, or television, to computers, the same patterns emerge:

    “Reformers had an itch and they got teachers to scratch it for them. This pattern of bringing teachers in at the tail end of the hoopla surrounding an innovation was common in school organizations. “ (p. 36)

    So teacher voice is rarely listened to when technology is brought into schools, rather decisions are made at a different level… So, if the teacher voice is ignored, why should the “experts” listen to students? :-)

    And:

    “Few scholars, policy makers, or practitioners ever questioned the claims of boosters or even asked whether the technology should be introduced.” (p. 5)

    Interestingly enough, Larry Cuban was the superintendent of a nearby small county next to an “overly large one”, and he said these things in 1986.

    Mr. Welsh may not like the Interwrite Pad, but I was surprised that he would not find blogging a good instructional application of technology.

  3. Our ITRT shared this with me earlier this week. I have been thinking about it ever since.

    a) Mr. Welsh appears to be a disgruntled employee who agreed to step forward and make noise. My guess is he’s retiring this year. Bias noted.
    b) He makes a very valid point: we don’t need all the latest gadgets and gizmos to help kids pass the SOLs. An effective teacher is not something you can replicate or replace with software and hardware.
    c) Technology needn’t be un-human. The use of technology can be both high tech and high touch.
    d) The article ultimately raises questions about how the training, roll-out, and implementation was handled. If, as Welsh would have us believe, all the teachers were upset, then… technology alone won’t upset people. Unreasonable expectations will.

    We don’t have 1:1 laptops, which I know would be a challenge to introduce. But we do have a 1:1 ratio of Promethean boards in classrooms in our new middle school.

    It is tough to make that investment, and not see every teacher using this cool tool when you walk by. But it also takes reasonably-minded, supportive administrators and technology staff to realize that one tool isn’t great for all seasons, and for all teachers.

    I couldn’t decide from the article alone if Mr. Welsh was a disgruntled teacher who didn’t like the technology because he wasn’t up to the challenge of teaching with new tools, or he simply didn’t like the way money and energy were being spent at his school.

    What the article did not address were some positive reasons FOR using technology, even the cutting edge stuff. The article was a good one–for it got many of us, no doubt, thinking!

  4. Chico minus the Man

    I met up with a different TC Williams teacher today at a non-work related event and he indicated that Mr. Welsh’s remarks are representative of a majority of teachers at TC. From my friends remarks, it would seem that the emphasis has been placed on the tools themselves, not so much on the leverage they can create educationally.

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