Is there a learning advantage to using information and communication technologies in school? Quite often we hear the refrain that more computer technology is necessary for schools. The costs of the equipment alone can be a staggering portion of the educational budget. On top of those costs are the software licensing and the personnel required to sustain the system. Much as I believe that schools need to be providing the skills and access to information technologies, I wonder about the cost to the system and whether the question of gains in student learning are addressed or even considered when the technological aquisitions are deliberated.
Boris Berenfeld‘s article, “Telecommunications in Our Classroom” provides a clear discussion of the issues as they played out in the 60’s and 80’s with television and early computer technologies and now as the web 2.0 comes into play. The primary question of whether teachers adopt the technologies and if the technologies lead to improvement in student learning takes center stage. He outlines a new learning paradigm based on solid pedagogy. Good pedagogy regardless of its relationship to technology. He believes that a technogically enhanced education will: be bring more real world relevance into the classroom, involve students in constructing their own knowledge, provide a life-long learning model, imporve social, communication and critical-thinking skills, be project or inquiry-based, be more authentic, improve the connections between the school and expert-mentors and be more equitable in the distribution of resources. This model is a powerful one but it seems to me, it’s power is unrelated to the technology. I supposed that is not surprising as schools are not about technology but about learning.
Schools and learning are about relationship and story. Take a look at Christopher Long’s Future of Learning Manifesto #9. It’s not about technology. In the research that I have completed this last year speaking with a young computer literate teen, it was clearly about relationships and writing and not about computers, even though she was a self-confessed cyber-nerd. We need to get over the technology and simply use it. The same way we just use a pencil when it suits the purpose or a calculator when it suits the purpose. The ‘Digital Natives’ know this intuitively. My informant knew little about the capacities of her computer – its speed, its connection, its software, but she could game, chat and do homework simultaneously. It’s not about the technology but the technology is there much as books and pencils are a part of the school landscape, technology needs to be a part of the landscape.
It is about the technology when teachers don’t know how to use it, don’t want to use it and don’t think it is important. It is about the technology when the costs of installing it and keeping it working are weighed against the costs of paying the teachers, buying the books and paying the utilities. It is about the technology when the facility in use of the technology can be extremely varied, when a child in an affluent neighbourhood can use the computer to find information, analyse it for usefulness and compose a multi-media response and a child in a less affluent neighbourhood can use it to play an online video game; then the technology ceases to be a part of the landscape but a stepping stone for some and a stumbling block for others.
Public schools need to provide educational opportunities to students from all backgrounds and teach students about the power of these tools in providing information, maitaining social connections, developing personal portfolios. In this sense it is about more than if the learning environment is enhanced but also a question of whether the social capital of students is enhanced. Technology is a part of the landscape of our society and as it becomes a part of the landscape of school, we need to make sure we use it in pedagogically sound ways and societally-just ways.