Education and Technology

Hey guys. My post today is going to center on education – a topic which I’ve written about before, and which is near and dear to my heart. My focus today will be on the interplay between education and technology, and how it is used effectively (and ineffectively) to improve student learning.

Now, using technology in the place of teachers has been heavily criticized, even by me (sometimes especially by me), but I’ve come to the realization that maybe it’s not such a bad thing. Sure, I’ve had some experience with horrible online classes – think two full years of online Spanish and then starting at the lowest level at Amherst. Yeah. However, in my anger I often forget the times in which technology has been good to me in the classroom.

For example, in my calculus class in senior year of high school, we got a SMART (Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic, Time-bound) board. It was pretty sweet. Not only that, but I actually felt that it served a worthwhile purpose in the classroom. It helped to display diagrams much better than my teacher could have drawn them – solids of revolution are tricky for everyone. It also made learning interactive and fun, which is a trait that I believe is far too easily dismissed. People argue that school is for learning, not for fun, but my view has always been that for school to be effectual, children shouldn’t hate every minute of it. I know. Quite the profound realization.

Also, Mavis Beacon. Love.

This is not to mention the benefits of technology in educating the children born in poorer countries. This is a topic which Abhijit V. Banerjee and Esther Duflo – names you may be familiar with it you’re at all interested in the world of economics – discuss in Poor Economics, an accessible and excellent book which I highly recommend. They say:

“The current view of the use of technology in teaching in the education community is, however, not particularly positive. But this is based mainly on experience from the rich countries, where the alternative to being taught by the computer is, to a large extent, being taught by a well-trained and motivated teacher. As we have seen, this is not always the case in poor countries. And in fact, the evidence from the developing world, though sparse, is quite positive.”

They go on to detail a study in which it was found that students in India who played a game which involved solving progressively difficult math problems improved their math scores substantially, despite only getting to play the game for two hours a week. As we can see from this example, if a school does not have the staffing to spend adequate time educating each student, the use of technology could be a quick and relatively cheap (when compared with the cost of hiring another teacher) investment.

In order for education to be improved world-wide, we must look into a variety of possible solutions and not immediately dismiss options without conclusive proof that they do not work. Education policy, in this country as well as others, is entirely based on the thoughts and feelings of teachers. This does have upsides, seeing as they have experience with what works and what does not; however, they often refuse to change their opinions despite being presented with empirical data about actual student gains and losses in achievement. Technology in the classroom is one such issue. Let us all hope that they come to their senses.