TECHNOLOGY AND EDUCATION: PART 2

Imagine going to school, and not having to lug a lot of books home with you.
Sure, we want students to be more physical, but carrying books, backpacks laden with “stuff” for school, is probably not the best way to be active.
Cheryl Atkinson, superintendent of schools for DeKalb County, Ga., recently announced that by August 2014, every middle school and high school student in DeKalb will have HIS own device, with all his textbooks on it. Every teacher will have a laptop. Every school will be wireless.
Maureen Downey, education columnist for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, discussed this in her Dec. 10,2012, column. Atkinson spoke at a DeKalb Chamber of Commerce luncheon about this topic. “The fact is … (students) can’t wait for us to catch up to their style of learning, nor should they have to,” Downey quoted Atkinson.
Technology is eventually going to change education in more ways than one. School districts are scrounging for resources. Their governmental benefactors want to give them as few resources as possible. Many see public education as a costly burden, that wastes much of what is given to it.
Technology can solve a good bit of that problem. Technology is making books – one of education’s biggest costs – obsolete. One day, we could see many classes taught by interactive videos. Imagine having one teacher who teaches a certain subject well, simultaneously broadcast to multiple schools. How many fewer teachers might we need in the future? How many students might get the best education the school district can offer, vs. multiple teachers of various experience and abilities making learning in one school better than learning in another school in the same district?
EVERYTHING A STUDENT NEEDS IS IN HIS POCKET?
Imagine a student carrying everything he needs to learn with in a device. As innovations progress, devices shrink. Someday, everything students need will be in their pockets. Just think: no books, no pencils, no pads of paper. All those supplies that cost money will be totally unnecessary. If you buy each student a device, it will seem like a bargain, compared to all those other supplies.
Education will be like other industries, using technology to do more, and better, with less. These advances may not go over well with teachers and other employees, who will see job opportunities decrease. On the other hand, technology can help the really good teachers get in front of more students. That can only improve education.
Because of the Internet, information is readily available to students. Teachers can spend less and less time imparting information, and more and more time teaching students the best way to use information. Teachers can be more creative with student interaction, and less structured in the classroom.
Education is slow to use technology to increase productivity and improve quality. The education systems have to overcome old barriers to innovation, so that students can learn in their own style, as Atkinson put it.
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We’ve seen many young people so immersed in their gadgets doing insignificant things for hours on end. We’ve seen gadgets keep kids stationary, when they should be moving more. We’ve seen students lugging backpacks full of books and supplies to and from school.
When the school requires them to use their gadgets for educational purposes, they’ll still spend hours with their gadgets, but doing more fruitful tasks. They won’t be lugging books and supplies to and from school, so maybe they’ll want to get out and move more.
Technology may be a curse as well as a blessing, but it is reality. Let’s hope our educational system catches up with reality sooner rather than later.
Peter

EDUCATION VS. FAITH

Most think of education as learning something new. That idea was turned on its head in Texas.
The Texas Republican Party has the following plank in its 2012 platform: “We oppose the teaching of Higher Order Thinking Skills (HOTS) [values clarification], critical thinking skills and similar programs that are simply a relabeling of Outcome-Based Education (OBE) [mastery learning], which focus on behavior modification and have the purpose of challenging the student’s fixed beliefs and undermining parental authority.”
The quoted plank comes from The Miami Herald’s Leonard Pitts, in a July 2012 column. Naturally, Pitts is outraged at the thought of this, but let’s take it line by line, shall we?
Higher Order Thinking: Do Texans not want children thinking too much? When students do something wrong, and a parent asks, “What were you thinking,” should the student respond: “I didn’t want to upset you by violating the Higher Order Thinking ban.”
No critical thinking allowed: Despite numerous reports from employers that they are looking for more people who are good critical thinkers, no matter what job they apply for, the students in Texas should NOT be good at this, the plank seems to state.
Outcome-Based Education: Do Texans want their students to have no outcomes from their education, other than, perhaps, the acquisition of a piece of paper that says they graduated? Do they want them to learn NOTHING in school that might encourage them to learn more, perhaps outside of school, the home, or church?
Now, we are getting to the heart of the matter. Some folks out there believe that whatever your mother, father or preacher tells you is the absolute truth. Anything you see or hear that contradicts that is false. We hear people talk about the need for higher education, and at the same time call the institutions of higher education indoctrination centers, whose goal is to poke a million holes in a student’s core beliefs – or, as Texas calls them, “fixed beliefs.”
IRON-CLAD FIXED BELIEFS
There are all kinds of ways to go with this concept. Should all “fixed beliefs” be iron-clad? Do we want our students to respond, “we can’t do it that way, because we were always taught to do it this way,” when their employer shows them a new way to do something that may be more efficient, improve quality or make their lives easier? Or, God forbid, they discover FOR THEMSELVES a new way of doing things? It may be safe to presume that the platform plank is Christian oriented. How would the proponents of this feel if, say, Muslim students could not learn new ways of thinking, so as not to challenge their fixed beliefs and undermine their parents’ authority?
Some private schools are operated by religious establishments. Some allow students who are not practitioners of that religion. In some schools, those students can opt out of religion classes, and still get a good education in practical, secular disciplines.
The public schools, to which the platform plank refers, should contain no religious orthodoxy in any class. They should teach the students of all religions, or no religion, exactly the same way. Decades ago, students had no problem reconciling what they learned in church, at home or at school, regardless of how the material may have seemed contradictory. If they are having that problem today, it may be because of disputes among parents and various institutions.
The definition of faith is to believe something is true without necessarily having proof. The definition of science is to suspect something may be true, then seek to prove it right or wrong. We may never have proof that things in our faith are true. That’s not to diminish faith. Faith can be a powerful, positive motivator and a good foundation for one’s character. But everyone, students or otherwise, must understand the difference between faith and science. Everyone should have some of both in their lives. Beliefs should not be so powerful that they cannot change under any circumstances. Faith should never be so powerful as to inhibit real learning.
Peter

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