There are two kinds of fools:
one says, “This is old, therefore it is good”;
the other says, “This is new, therefore it is better”.
– William R. Inge
– Author, Priest and Cambridge Professor (1860 – 1954)
This is one of my favourite quotes. I saw it on a professor’s door once, and it has always stuck with me. It speaks of two different types of thinking, neither of which is intelligent or wise (though both of which may have an appearance of such). The first speaks of doing things the way they have always been done. Phrases like “it worked for me, it will work for them”, and “don’t change what aint broken” come to mind. This concept hinges on the idea that just having done something a certain way in the past makes it a good way to do it, clearly a fallacy. The second type speaks of changing how things are done and being new and exciting, just for the sake of being new and exciting. Suggestions like “the old way is boring” and “this new technique will really get people excited!” can be thought of here. This concept hinges on the idea that just because we have a new way to do something, it must be better than what is currently done, clearly another fallacy.
This concept quote heavily to education. In education today, there are many people who just want to do it like it has always been done. Things may not be perfect, but along the way decisions have been made to do X, Y, and Z for very good reasons, and changing them would cause more harm than good. On the other hand, there are many who tote that the education system of today is deeply and seriously flawed, and we need to completely throw it out and start from scratch — brand new and shiny…with Technology! For this reason, technology can get put at the front of this movement of people going for change, both by those in favour of the change, and by those not in favour of the change. For instance, those wanting change will say things like “Today’s kids need to learn the technologies they will work on when they grow up!” and “Technology today can revolutionize the way we teach!”. On the other hand, those who don’t want change can also put Technology use at the forefront suggesting things such as “Trying to put Technology into education is like trying to put a square peg in a round hole: it just doesn’t work”, or “Just because it’s the fad today, don’t ruin our schools by changing the curriculum around it!”.
As a mathematician, I strive to see past such biases – to seek the truth beyond all else (not at all an easy task!). As a teacher, with regards to technology in education, I seek to know the truth of how useful it is; how much it motivates students; how much it helps students learn. The key is to be open minded enough to let in all good ideas, and closed minded enough to keep out all bad ones.
Today I came across an article of a researcher at the University of California, Berkeley, suggesting essentially that Technology in schools is more trouble than it’s worth. He makes essentially three major points:
- technology in education has a poor historical record; that computers in schools typically fail to have positive impact (with the rare exceptions occurring only in the context of competent, well-funded schools);
- that information technology is almost never worth its opportunity cost; and
- that quality education doesn’t require information technology.
Some interesting points! He goes on to provide some good evidence throughout the article. This brings to the forefront how important analyzing results are. Using Twitter in the classroom is only good if it is good. Using a forum for the class or using a blog is only good to do if it is helpful. Technology may increase motivation (and if it does, then DO IT!). But, could it ever decrease motivation? Any technology that decreases motivation should likely be immediately scrapped!
So how do we tell? How do we evaluate any given technology? The question is similar to the question of how should teachers be evaluated? By grades of their students? No, certainly not. Even if teachers could be held responsible for their students learning and understanding what is being taught, setting standards based on this would (and have) result in simply the lowering of the standard to increase perceived student comprehension. At this point in my life, I don’t know what a good evaluation method of a teacher is, and in the same way, I can’t really come up with a good evaluation of using technology for education.
Any and all comments would be appreciated!