Ravitch: Technology is a tool, not a panacea
- As schools adopt digital tools and technology solutions, educators should pay careful attention to the risks these innovations bring to students, writes Diane Ravitch in EdSurge. Entering information anywhere online — whether a child’s name or age — means that data can be accessed by others, and even sold. Keeping students’ information protected — and private — is a very real concern.
- The current trend to personalize or tailor curriculum to a child’s specific learning needs through online classes brings additional concerns. Studies are inconclusive as to the effectiveness of online education as compared to classes taught face-to-face, says Ravitch.
- Schools, worried that their students are falling behind, may also be eager to invest in technology designed for the educational space. Yet those budget lines are courted by so-called ed tech companies, eager for the funds. Technology is then brought into schools, without any planning on how they’ll be adopted in classrooms. The danger, then, is the tools growing obsolete, and never used, she writes.
Grant a school district with technology funding, and an interactive white board is almost certainly going to appear on its shopping list. But before districts and states spend a penny on technology, some thought should be invested. Technology is crucial in schools today. Teachers need Wi-Fi to post grades online. Students access the internet for research materials in their libraries, and administrators connect with parents through email. But students in particular not only need access to online materials, they also need familiarity with digital tools, whether that’s a PC or an online app. Not all children will grow up to be programmers, but even writers need to work a computer.
Tools that are not thoughtfully woven into curriculum, however, have a danger of never being adopted. Tossing money at technology does nothing to bridge the digital divide. Does a school need a whiteboard? Perhaps. But do they have computers that will integrate with these digital chalkboards? And more importantly — does that technology actually fit students’ needs?
To ensure technology is used to its widest advantage, curriculum leaders need to ask what’s needed. Do all students need a computer or is sharing the best model? If a school wants to start a programming class, is there enough bandwidth to get all students online at the same time? Should a district think about investing in better connectivity before they start to buy new devices? Are teachers interested — and capable — of using these tools with their students? Professional development is as crucial to adopting new technology as the shiny devices that schools often covet. A 2017 Learning Policy Institute study says that not only is professional support important, it must also be sustained to be helpful— just like a computer needs updating, so too does teacher training.
A computer and digital chalkboard can be powerful learning tools, expanding the way students and teachers share information with each other. To bring these objects into classrooms effectively, however, administrators need to invest more than just the funds needed to buy them — and perhaps consider if, in some cases, low-tech options can work just as well.