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August 2019
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Keep technology limited in classrooms

School administrators, teachers and parents anxious to see more technology in classrooms may want to re-think their desires.

Over the past couple of years, a barrage of studies found that increasing technology in classrooms at both K-12 and college levels had either little impact or, in some cases, negative impacts on student performance.

Among the more clear-cut and compelling studies, the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development compared the amount of use and effects of school technology in 70 countries. They found "no noticeable improvement" in countries which were the most active in adding technology to their curriculum.

And, possibly more telling, a couple of countries famous for academic rigor, have done little to add new technologies. Surprisingly, countries that used the least technology on campuses include academic powerhouses Japan, Hong Kong,  and South Korea.

Several experts said the idea that young people will learn about digital devices and online offerings from older teachers is as laughable as the idea that parents need to show their teenagers how to access an iPhone.

In the U.S., research generally concluded that new technology is only effective in aiding classroom environments if a teacher was very conscious of its potential and integrated it as a limited complementary approach, not a replacement for direct face-to-face instruction between students and teachers.

In a paper on the Stanford Graduate School of Education website, Bob Wise, president of the Alliance for Excellent Education and former governor of West Virginia, stated, “It also underscores that replacing teachers with technology is not a successful formula. Instead, strong gains in achievement occur by pairing technology with classroom teachers who provide real-time support and encouragement to underserved students.”

While new technology can engage students and give them access to resources they otherwise may miss, the digital/online learning is not without drawbacks, according to the Stanford findings.

Among the hazards are, not surprisingly, that students can easily cut and paste answers without taking time to even cursorily examine what they are copying. The technology may help students find needed facts, but does not necessarily equip them to interpret or apply what they find.

Concerns were also expressed that tech savvy students will easily outsmart teachers and find all sorts of diversions with the technology that distract them from the assigned lessons.

   Other critics worried that teachers can be so “dazzled” by the computers and software they may miss that students are not actually learning the material – just enjoying the show. On a nationwide scale, educators expressed particular fears that schools with scant resources will try to shift classroom lessons from real teachers to online curriculum.

A story on NPR reported that a study in July of 2016 “looked at high-achieving eighth-graders across North Carolina who had the opportunity to take Algebra I online. The study found that they did much worse than students who took the course face-to-face — about a third of a letter grade worse, in fact.” The NPR report noted that any time high achieving students’ performance declines, you know there is a fundamental problem in the class itself.

A 2011 New York Times story was a surprising account of how many tech-leaders in Silicon Valley send their kids to non-tech schools created to serve these super-rich internet millionaires. The story said that these titans of  the tech industry wanted their kids in classrooms with blackboards and not computers.

The thinking at these Waldorf schools are that teachers help students discover critical thinking skills in a setting that promotes deeper-understanding, not a cursory reading or the brief snippets in online skimming.

An expert quoted in that article, Paul Thomas, author of numerous papers on public education, said, “Teaching is a human experience. Technology is a distraction when we need literacy, numeracy and critical thinking.”