Making Technology Valuable for Students and Teachers

by Jeremy Hodge on January 4, 2012

I read an interesting article in the New York Times today called Teachers Resist High-Tech Push in Idaho Schools. It talks about how some teachers in Iowa are pushing back against a law passed by the state legislature which requires all high school students to take some online classes to graduate, and that the students and their teachers be given laptops or tablets.

One of the teachers, Ann Rosenbaum, who is very much against the measure, feels that “technology is being thrown on us. It’s being thrown on parents and thrown on kids.” Even students at the high school where Ann teaches share these sentiments. Last fall, about half of the school staged a lunchtime walkout to protest the new rules.

Some might view Ann and those against the Idaho measure as being ignorant about the value of technology, but even Doug StanWiens, who could be described as an evangelist for using technology in the classroom, has concerns about the way Idaho is handling the law, seeing it as a “poorly thought-out, one-size-fits-all approach.”

I get why Doug is bothered. Every politician/administrator loves to check off the box that they use technology, or some swanky new device in their schools. Yet most of them don’t know how to measure success or implement the right type of program. They see the purchase of iPads and laptops as a major win that will automatically lead to student achievement, and any detractors as just being ignorant. In the article, the governor of Idaho, Butch Otter, dismissed the concerns from teachers like Ann Rosenbaum, saying “If she only has an abacus in her classroom, she’s missing the boat.”

While there are those in the teaching community who would probably never ever want to use a computer for learning purposes and want to stick to the old ways, I’m sure many teachers would love to find new ways to engage and teach their students (after all it’s their job), and that a lot of the apprehension comes from not knowing how to use it in a way that will make them better teachers and improve their students learning experience.

For too long, educators have been bombarded with pitches from companies, about why they should use their products for teaching purposes. The onus to teach teachers and students about the benefits of technology falls on those who create and regularly use it. Unfortunately, there are a lot of people in the tech community, from journalists to developers, who feel that they can easily solve a problem by throwing a piece of software, hardware, website or social media platform at it (look no further than the article “If I Were A Poor Black Kid.”)

Companies needs to look at the goals and needs of the teachers and student, and design programs and solutions that implement technology in a way that directly benefits them and doesn’t interfere with existing and successful learning or teaching methods.

One of the points I’ve made when trying to get sales people at IBM (my client) to adopt digital tools, like using social media, is that we’re trying to solve a real-world business problem by using technology, not adapting a problem to the technology or using it because it’s cool. We need to do the same with education.

Technology is a tool, the digital world should augment and enhance our physical world, not compete with it. We need to give students and teachers tools that will enhance the classroom experience.


{ 4 comments… read them below or add one }

Ethan January 5, 2012 at 9:50 am

Really good points, Jeremy. A question inevitably arises: how to determine the effectiveness of new tools and methods introduced into the classroom? It’s an ugly can of worms, that.
Another, somewhat unrelated observation, people who resist “technology” are usually hard pressed to define it. By that I mean they are probably more broadly resistant to change in general. If the change being introduced were a change in the schedule or the layout of the classroom or the color of the paint on the walls we’d probably find the same people resisting for the same “reasons.”


Jeremy Hodge January 5, 2012 at 11:40 am

Indeed, measuring success of the tools and methods is tricky. Do we look at grades and standardized tests? Or is there some qualitative data we can start to dig into? If using technology allows us to gather more valuable data on a student than what would have been possible before, is that in itself a small success? All questions I wish I could answer :)


Stephanie January 5, 2012 at 11:09 am

There are so many different uses of technology in education, but having students take two online courses in a high school curriculum wouldn’t make Idaho a “high tech vanguard.” They are just teaching with media, not using it as a tool for critical engagement. In this case it will be technology at its worse, further distancing the student from the subject. Having taken online courses, it is easy to teach one poorly and a student not be invested. At its best (such as with Harvard’s Youth and Media Project or The Video Lab in NYC) students learn through doing, which goes back to John Dewey’s theories that learning is a social and interactive process.


Jeremy Hodge January 5, 2012 at 12:11 pm

Agreed, the current Idaho plan seems like a poorly thought out bucket of bureaucratic junk. It’s using technology for technology’s sake. Hopefully someone can come in and actually design a program that helps teachers teach and students learn, otherwise, the program’s failure could create the impression that technology in education adds no value.


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