Friday, March 20, 2015

Technology in education

A colleague shared an article with me, from the Huffington Post, about Better Learning Through Expensive Software. In probing education reform, writer Michael Beyer mentions Mayor of Chicago Rahm Emanuel's appointed school board member, Deborah Quazzo. The resulting political storm highlighted several possible conflicts of interest, although Meyer agrees "with the Sun Times editorial board in regards to Quazzo being innocent of any maleficence."

At the heart of this issue is the preference of some schools to change by "throwing out printed text and purchasing software." From the article:

It's confusing when Common Core is advocating that we return to students reading grade-level texts, but these companies are hocking software that differentiates the text to students' levels. Many teachers I know require students to read independent books at their reading level to ensure differentiation.

Then again, some of these companies aren't interested in what teachers prefer. One such company representative, during a presentation to my faculty, stated twice that teachers have "so much to do" and "not enough time to teach", which is why they should put our students on their digital platform, where they can get assistance from a live teacher online.

Later, the article shares this revelation:

The real problem with all of these companies is that they claim they are revolutionizing education. They're not. Many sell nothing more than test-prep software. Their products show "gains" on the ACT and NWEA MAP because their product mimics the test format. The learning gains don't necessarily transfer to the real world, or last much longer than the end of the school year. Parents might wonder why teachers agree to use the test-prep software, but the fact so much is riding on high-stakes tests, even the most ethical and dedicated educator will make compromises.

There's more to the article, but the gist is that technology seems to be mis-applied in the article's example. Schools blindly invest in new software and new technology without consulting faculty or students, and without a plan for how the technology will be leveraged in the classroom to benefit teaching and learning.

In all education markets, faculty and IT departments need to strike a balance when introducing new technology into the classroom. For example, on my campus, I work with faculty on e-learning and other technology. This collaboration is an important feature in educational technology. Information Technology needs to be a partnership with educators.

That's why at Morris, we regularly connect with faculty and students to probe how technology can advance the teaching and learning mission. We typically do this twice a year: once in the fall, and again in the spring. We are now launching our spring sessions, and in late April we will host a visit from the Office of Information Technology to meet with several campus governance groups.

This partnership reaps real rewards in the classroom. For example, several years ago we helped one of our faculty to build a new Active Learning Classroom in our Science center. More recently, we introduced a media collaboration table in our library, as part of a pilot project to apply technology for group learning. This semester, I have been working alongside one of our faculty in her classroom, teaching students the DICTION software package to help them analyze rhetorical texts. And we're partnering with one of our librarians to assist another rhetoric professor with new ConTeXt software to map social media interaction.

These projects help our faculty to be more effective in the classroom, and in turn prepare our students. I'm glad to have this close relationship with our campus! This interaction and partnership makes me proud to work in higher education and technology.

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