The Atlantic ran an article earlier this week congratulating students in LA and Indiana for “hacking” the I-pads issued to them in the school. After making it clear that “hacking” was an inappropriate description of what the students did, it launched into it’s major theme: “…the limitations imposed on these devices (by the school districts) inhibit students’ natural curiosity”, but it also raised several broader issues regarding the use of technology in schools, access to the web, and constructivist vs. traditional educational approaches.
These three paragraphs lay out these issues:
(The districts’ limitations) should prompt us to ask why we want students to have access—or not—to computers. Whose goals do computers meet? Apple’s? Pearson’s? The Department of Education’s? Or students’?
In his 1980 book, Mindstorms: Children, Computers, and Powerful Ideas, education technology pioneer Seymour Papert predicted that computers would eventually “enter the private world of children everywhere.” As such they would be “carriers of powerful ideas and of the seeds of cultural change, … help[ing] people form new relationships with knowledge that cut across the traditional lines separating humanities from science and knowledge of the self from both of these.” Computers would “challenge current beliefs about who can understand what and at what age.”
But Papert’s arguments about “powerful devices” and “powerful ideas” and their capacity to transform teaching and learning run counter to the ways in which many schools view computers, even 35 years after the publication of his influential book. Computers are often viewed as a more efficient tool for testing, as an electronic and lighter-weight textbook, and so on.
Computer technology as envisioned by the schools serve as a platform for paper work controlled by teachers (and private test companies) instead of an opportunity for students to explore subjects that interest them intensely. As an unapologetic constructivist who supports technology as a means of increasing self-paced instruction (e.g. a tool that would “challenge current beliefs about who can understand what and at what age”) I am frustrated that the so-called technology driven reformers are advocating the use of computers as a more efficient tool for testing, as an electronic and lighter-weight textbook, and so on.
Worse, to meet the federal government’s funding requirements, schools are over-aggressive in limiting access to the internet, reinforcing the message that the flow of information should be controlled and restricted by anonymous officials.
Information wants to be free so that students of all ages (even 66-year olds like me) can learn what they want when they want. While children need to be shielded from some information that is on the internet as they should be shielded from some mass media the people making the decision about what is appropriate should be parents and not the school or the government.
South Korea outscores the US in all kinds of international comparisons and a recent Wall Street Journal article explains why:
In 2012, their parents spent more than $17 billion on (hagwons). That is more than the $15 billion spent by Americans on videogames that year, according to the NPD Group, a research firm.
What are hagwons? They are privately operated after-school tutoring services offered in strip malls or on-line, tutoring services that supplement the instruction offered in public schools… tutoring services that prey on parents’ fears that their children will fall behind unless they enroll… and they pay huge salaries to superstar teachers and huge profits to shareholders who invest in the corporations that operate them.
The article naively suggests that this trend might be embraced by our country. In fact, it already HAS been embraced by our country: many tutoring centers operate in upscale suburban areas and SAT-prep centers have sprung up in strip malls. To an extent this is nothing new: I supplemented my income as an undergraduate teaching speed reading to affluent suburban students in Philadelphia in the late 1960s and some of my teaching colleagues in Philadelphia in the early 1970s offered tutoring services for a fee in the summer. As this article illustrates, the internet makes these private tutoring services more widely available… and because internet instruction is disproportionately available to high income parents and students it exacerbates the economic divide in place.
On-line learning can close the gap, but only if it is readily available to parents and students at all economic levels. That may be the case in Korea, but isn’t the case yet in our country.