Pricking a Small Hole in the Technology Education Bubble

When people begin hyping how a particular technology will change education, beware and be careful because a bubble is building. The gas emitted from the technology's proponent expands until expectations cause the technology and its promise to float off to the land of gumdrops, unicorns, and rainbows. Michael Hiltizik rips what should be a fatal hole into the technology bubble. The money argument:

'Books will soon be obsolete in the schools.... Our school system will be completely changed in 10 years.'

The revolutionary technology being heralded in that statement wasn't the Internet or the laptop, but the motion picture. The year was 1913, and the speaker, Thomas Edison, was referring to the prospect of replacing book learning with instruction via the moving image.

Hiltizik recounts how technological advances such as the radio, television, the internet, and now ebooks was going to revolutionize, alter, and reshape education before offering this summation by way of Richard E. Clark, director of the Center for Cognitive Technology at the University of Southern California:

The media you use make no difference at all to learning. Not one dang bit. And the evidence has been around for more than 50 years.

Edison flogged films because he made his money, in part, from the film projector. Similarly, Bill Gates makes his money, along with his former employer and his current foundation, by way of software sales. Steve Jobs made his money by way of hardware and content sales. Not surprisingly, each man thought his technology would forever alter positively education. Fortunately, motion pictures, radio, television and the mail did not disrupt education or change learning. It remains very likely that software, hardware, and content will meet a similar fate.

My research and, separately, Theresa Clarke's reinforce Clark's summation. In my research, students used various forms of technology including:

  • online quizzes
  • blogs
  • bulletin boards
  • personal response systems (i.e., clickers)

Students did not perceive that their level of learning increased from using the technology. Indeed, consistently, this link between technology use and perceptions related to how much was learned appeared as a negative relationship. That is, as the amount of technology use increased, the perceptions related to learning decreased. Clarke came to similar conclusion with Twitter serving as the form of technology.

Unfortunately, the focus on technology makes it impossible to discuss two very real solutions to the United States' educational morass. One, the school day needs to be extended by about two hours everyday. Two, the school year needs to be extended by about 20 to 40 days each year. Until we makes those two fundamental and structural changes, no amount of technology will change teaching or learning.