Pontfications on the field of Educational Technology and Instructional Design.

Bare with me as I ponder the meaning of education in the 21st century from the perspecitive of an instructional designer.

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Failure to Connect ...In the Beginning

I've been reading a book recently called "Failure to Connect: How Computers Affect Our Children's Minds--For Better or Worse", written by Jane M. Healy, PH.D. It is an thought provoking look at the "often" thoughtless rush towards technology in education.

As an educator trained in instructional design and educational technology, this really caught my attention because NOTHING should be implemented in schools without thoughtful analysis of the product, and evaluation of the results. According to the author, however, analyzing and evaluating the results of technology initiatives is the rare exception in P-12 education. Some of the initial concerns of the author, which I happen to share, are:

Accountability and common sense are needed. Too often, technology initiatives are launched with little accountability, and a sheer lack of common sense. A good example of this is pointed out by the author as the US initiative to wire all schools for telecommunications (ie. Internet access) by the year 2000. All schools were wired, at enormous expense, based on the assumption that (Healy, 1998) "connecting kids to information will somehow make them more able to read and use it intellegently"(p. 19). This whole technology craze in education brings to mind the days of "irrational exuberance" in the technology stock market.

An example of technology implentation done better can be found in a case study by David F. Treagust & Leonie J. Rennie printed in The Journal of Technology Education, where six schools receiving technology money were allowed freedom to meet their own technology needs, and evaluated on success at the end of the grant period. In their study, three of the six schools met their own goals, but none of them recorded any statistically significant educational gains.

Techies, not educators, are gaining control. Another interesting point of the author suggests that educators and parents are losing control of the education of their own children. Rather, Technology companies, IT professionals, and mindless software itself are creating the agenda for what children are learning with technology. First, technology companies have a vested interest in pushing their product, and the software is usually created by non-educators. "Most is programmed by "techies"...who have little if any knowledge--or interest--in child development or educational philosophy"(p. 34). The concern is that software companies, mostly driven by profit, are having more influence on our children than we are.

Second, IT professionals in school districts are increasingly in control of what is being done with technology, rather than educators. In many districts, teachers are not allowed to install gradebooks, curriculum software (from textbook publishers!), or educational software without approval and help from IT technichians. Furthermore, they are severely limited in what websites they can utilize and must submit their choices to IT (non-educators) for approval.

Third, the software (or the students) itself is controlling what is learned, rather than the teacher. Healy shares many anticdotes where students were cleverly underchallenging themselves so they could quickly get to, or remain on, the fun games. In one instance, a boy was choosing simple math problems so he could play games. In that instance, the student learned that choosing the easiest path was the most rewarding.

Analyze and Evaluate, two key aspects of the ADDIE instructional design process, are the keys to make sure technology initiatives are properly implemented in schools and homes. If these are done carefully by instructional designers, rather than IT salesmen or technicians, our schools and children will be better off.

Note: This blog post is written to satisfy the requirements for Blog Entry #4, reviewing the first 1/3 of the above book. It should also be noted that I tried valiantly to keep the blog post under 500 words (but failed) while still making funny and relevant points. It is a tall order.

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