A student asked me the following question:
I am curious about the seeming one dimensional focus we are embarking upon in reference to technology as our "next saviour for public education". I have not seen much research in terms of support for any bandwagon tool or program that is outweighed by small class sizes, regular contact time, communicative teachers and parents in a school setting that is safe and secure….so my question would be what are the socio-educational ramifications of attempting to integrate technology in a more intensive manner and what research has Mark seen that supports technology having a greater impact on learning than teacher time and reduced class sizes?
The notion behind this is that digital technology is a fad, and an expensive one at that, that is either being thrust down on schools by overeager administrators or technology salespeople, or simply being naively adopted instead of other more promising and cost-efficient reforms. Larry Cuban more or less makes this argument, putting digital technology in the same category as radio, television, and film, all of which he viewed as sold into schools with a lot of false promises and none of which he felt had much impact.
Well, the bottom line is, I don’t buy it. I don’t see computers and the Internet like radio, film, and television in this regard. I see them more like paper, pens, books, and libraries. In other words, yes, radio, film, and TV have a huge presence and impact in society, but people really don’t use them much for knowledge production. But paper, pens, books, and libraries, are used intensively as tools for knowledge production. These things entered the school system naturally, because they were the tools that people used to read, write, and study — and nobody ever did any studies to see whether books were more cost-effective for learning than codexes were.
As computers and Internet access become cheaper, it is thus inevitable that they will gain more presence in schools, as witnessed by the steadily falling student-computer ratio in the U.S. — which has now fallen by some accounts down to 3.8:1. And this ratio will continue to fall, as sure as night follows day, though it is unclear what form the computers will talk (desk-tops, laptops, palmtops, or something else not yet invented).
So yes, are some schools or districts investing foolishly in computers? Yes, very likely. Does a focus on technology sometimes take away from other more cost-effective innovations? Yes, undoubtedly. But will more computers and faster Internet access continue to penetrate schools? Yes, undoubtedly too, because costs are falling and more societal forms of literacy, knowledge-production, and knowledge-sharing are moving to digital relams and this will be reflected in school purchases of technology.
So I prefer not to ask the question whether the presence of computers is better than the absence of computers, due, for example, to high costs. Because, we are still at the relative beginning of the digital era, and whatever seems expensive today might seem very different in five or ten years. Rather, I see the penetration of computers in schools as inevitable, and try to learn about how we can make this penetration as beneficial as possible for improving education among diverse students.