Everybody loves to beat up on school teachers, even though it’s the parents that are mostly to blame for our poorly performing schools in the US. But what if we could get the same or better instruction for our kids by replacing some or most of their classroom interaction with technology? Sound like a pipe-dream? That’s probably because it is.
Education: Technology’s Final Frontier
Steve Jobs had a dream of transforming education before he died. Apple’s self-publishing textbooks through iAuthor are definitely a genius way to cut out the middle-men in the publishing industry; especially if school boards can manage to push themselves out of the paper book addiction (cheap textbooks and shrinking education budgets might just do it). But I don’t think Jobs had any illusions that simply putting an iPad in every kid’s hands would solve the real root of our education problem: the poorly formed instructional styles we continue to use to help kids learn.
To illustrate, let’s talk about the ways that technology has made it into classrooms. Computers have been making slow inroads into schools for years, especially as the price of a laptop has plummeted. It’s finally feasible for most students to have access to the Web in class. Teachers have actually been the ones using tech in the classroom more than anybody, using online resources for in-class teaching and forming their curricula.
But a lot of the technology that’s made it into the classroom has largely just been a waste of time. (Interactive whiteboards anyone?) Even computers in that classroom have limited use as they relate to classroom time. That’s because we still largely rely on an ineffective, boring, lecture-style model of teaching, and a lecture with fancy technology is still a lecture.
Changing the Way We Educate
Any really transformative education technology is going to have to enable students to engage with the learning material instead of memorizing facts from a lecture. Does that mean interactive textbooks? Maybe. How about online tutorials? Probably. A technologically glorified version of a chalkboard? I doubt it. I’m more thinking about just ditching lectures, and getting kids to do stuff instead of try to digest books and classroom lectures. How about some videogames in the classroom? Don’t cringe! I’ve learned everything I know about computers and technology because I was fascinated with computer games that turned me onto science, math and even writing!
Then there’s the fact that most of what kids are really learning isn’t coming from the classroom. For certain types of learning, computers already have replaced teachers, and most of kids’ computer time happens after school. And very little of the content they encounter comes from teachers. Most of what they consume isn’t even designed specifically to teach anything.
The people creating the videos, tutorials and articles that we’re using online have become the new teachers. It’s just that the interaction between teacher and student is automated and extremely limited. But since you have Google at arm’s length to ask questions of the all-knowing Internet when you need to, you’re much better able to fill in the blanks of your knowledge and bridge the gap between machine and human.
Maybe the real problem we’re facing here is that we’ve lost sight of the fact that teaching is a means to an end, rather than an end in and of itself. We teach children math, not so they can rattle off times tables or recite the formula for the area of a circle on command. We teach them these things because they may, at some point, need that knowledge to do something interesting — to build, to program, to design. If we geared most of our learning toward some concrete end, we could build some engagement back into our education system, and stop spinning our wheels with useless technology. Whether we need a teacher in the room at the time is a moot point.
image via The Daily Mail