Something Short of Revolutionary

What happened to the revolution that was supposed to occur when we flooded classrooms with computers?

If ICT [information/communication technology] means the use of computers in schools and classrooms and if learning means what academic content, skills, and behaviors students can perform in and out of school, then the massive investment over the past 30 years in wiring schools, buying computers and the latest hand-held device has fallen far short of being a “revolution” in students’ learning and teachers’ teaching. While not a fool’s errand—the idea that ICT would revolutionize schooling was, at worst, sloppy thinking and, at best, ardent wishfulness.

That’s the opening paragraph to a recent post by Larry Cuban, part of a larger debate under the title “Are ICT investments in schools an education revolution or fool’s errand?“, and it basically summarizes some of the thoughts on the subject I’ve had increasingly over the past few years.

Our use of technology in schools has not only fallen far short of a revolution, much of the billions we’ve spent has been wasted.

Here in our overly-large school district we’ve devoted a large chunk of change to purchasing technology over the past two decades and, although some of our administrative processes have been altered as a result, the fundamentals of instruction have not.

Walk through almost any of our schools on an average non-testing day and you’ll need to look very closely to see any evidence that technology has made an impact (or that ICT is being used at all).

Indeed, what few traces you do find are in the halls and corners where students are using their hand-held devices to connect with friends, update their Facebook pages, and do research… on whatever currently interests them, not necessarily topics assigned by their teachers.

Classrooms, especially in middle and high school, are still largely arranged in the same manner they were fifty years ago with the teacher, largely in lecture/demo mode, in complete control of the instructional process.

I said “non-testing day” above because that’s when the computers are most evident, and possibly the only time in most schools when we have a true 1-1 program.

We have a major push for computer-based testing in our schools, driven by the fact that the state wants to gather all test results electronically (cheaper and faster to report scores), and the sparkling new electronic assessment system (re: online test prep) our district is building.

The only reason why some schools are buying netbooks is because their dollars will buy more devices on which to administer “common” assessments and other standardized tests.

It’s all rather sad. We have inexpensive machines and networks that offer access to the world for our kids, and instead use them for a mundane process that does little to foster learning, and nothing to encourage curiosity, creativity, and understanding.

Instead of a revolution, we get a Leave it to Beaver classroom with electronic bubble sheets.