Friday, May 30, 2014

This time it's different

Adriene Hill had a strangely schizophrenic story yesterday (CLASSROOM TECH: A HISTORY OF HYPE AND DISAPPOINTMENT). It came with the ominous title Classroom Tech: a History of Hype and Disappointment and the first half lived up to the claim:

That’s been the story of technology in the classroom, pretty much from the start. Great hope, ambition, and expense. Followed by disappointment.

Back in 1922, for instance, Thomas Edison thought he'd figured out the future of education.

“I believe that the motion picture is destined to revolutionize our education system,” he said, according to Larry Cuban's  Teachers and Machines: The Classroom Use of Technology Since 1920, “and that in a few years it will supplant largely, if not entirely, the use of textbooks.”

“Edison was a better inventor than prognosticator,” said Robert Reiser, Associate Dean for Research in the College of Education at Florida State University.

Films fizzled out. They were expensive. Projectors were unreliable. It was hard to find the right film for the right class.

Enter radio.

School boards and universities, even commercial networks like CBS and NBC, poured money into creating classroom broadcasts,  or  “textbooks of the air.” Then, said Reiser, “the enthusiasm died out.”

Next up were “teaching machines” with names like Cyclo Teacher, Instructocard, and the Edumator.

One of the best known was created by psychologist BF Skinner, in 1954. Here he is explaining the devices.

According to the 1962 book Teaching Machines and Programmed Learning, there were dozens of companies that made these devices in the early 60s.

Turns out buttons and levers weren’t a great way to learn.

Which brings us to television.

TV combined sight and sound, and could bring live events — like space missions — right into the classroom. It was also seen as one answer to the teacher shortage. The money poured in. The Ford Foundation invested millions into programming, according to Cuban's book. The federal government also pitched in cash. By 1971 more than $100 million had been poured into educational TV.

Again, the same story. “We see one medium after another coming along, a lot of enthusiasm for that medium, followed by disappointment in the extent to which that medium changed the nature of the instruction taking place in classrooms,” said Reiser.

So, when computers exploded into classrooms  in the early 80s, with basic video games like Oregon Trail.

And when, as Todd Oppenheimer writes in The Flickering Mind, the numbers of computers tripled between 1980 and 1982, and tripled again by 1984.

And when Time magazine ran a cover story called “Here Come the Microkids,” in 1982. Educators were skeptical.
At this point, for no apparent reason, the tone shifts radically.
But now, some are reconsidering. Maybe this time is different.
“We’re on the cusp now of that big revolution,” said Themistocles Sparangis, chief technology director at Los Angeles Unified School District. LA Unified has bet big on tech--a billion dollars big-- to give every student an iPad.
It turns out that Los Angeles schools Supt. John Deasy, who has a rather cozy relationship with Apple, paid more than he had to for those iPads and way more than he would have if other tablet makers had been allowed to bid. Furthermore, they didn't work as promised (particularly not the firewall) and -- here's the part that jumps out for me -- the team that put together the proposal didn't check the specs closely enough and later discovered the district had to come up with an additional $38 million for keyboards.

In past, I've used the term ddulites to describe people who are irrationally enamored with technology but who don't get the subtleties of thinking in terms of functionality. The LAUSD's iPad misadventure is a perfect example of the damage this approach can cause.

I firmly believe that educational technology can do great things, but the first step in achieving that potential requires keeping people like Deasy and Sparangis out of the process.

No comments:

Post a Comment