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September 5, 2011

"In Classroom of Future, Stagnant Scores"

Because of my enduring interest in the relationship between technology and education, I found notable this recent article from the New York Times (with the same headline as this post).  Here is a snippet that follows a discussion of a tech-heavy seventh-grade classroom experience:

[S]chools are spending billions on technology, even as they cut budgets and lay off teachers, with little proof that this approach is improving basic learning.  This conundrum calls into question one of the most significant contemporary educational movements. Advocates for giving schools a major technological upgrade — which include powerful educators, Silicon Valley titans and White House appointees — say digital devices let students learn at their own pace, teach skills needed in a modern economy and hold the attention of a generation weaned on gadgets.

Some backers of this idea say standardized tests, the most widely used measure of student performance, don’t capture the breadth of skills that computers can help develop. But they also concede that for now there is no better way to gauge the educational value of expensive technology investments.

“The data is pretty weak. It’s very difficult when we’re pressed to come up with convincing data,” said Tom Vander Ark, the former executive director for education at the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and an investor in educational technology companies. When it comes to showing results, he said, “We better put up or shut up.”

And yet, in virtually the same breath, he said change of a historic magnitude is inevitably coming to classrooms this decade: “It’s one of the three or four biggest things happening in the world today.”

Critics counter that, absent clear proof, schools are being motivated by a blind faith in technology and an overemphasis on digital skills — like using PowerPoint and multimedia tools — at the expense of math, reading and writing fundamentals.  They say the technology advocates have it backward when they press to upgrade first and ask questions later.

Regular readers know I have been asserting for some time that greater use of technology in law school instruction is inevitable; I have also been troubled by what I see as the "Luddite instincts" of some professors who are quick and eager to ban laptops in the classroom.  Perhaps usefully, this article reminds me that nearly every time I see something new about technology and education, I become less sure of their proper relationship.  

Posted by DAB

September 5, 2011 in Technology -- in general, Technology -- in the classroom | Permalink

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