How Do We Know If Technology Is the Solution or the Problem?

Personalized Learning

How Do We Know If Technology Is the Solution or the Problem?

By Sam Peterson     Sep 4, 2018

How Do We Know If Technology Is the Solution or the Problem?
By ESB Professional/Shutterstock

Has a more hotly debated or wholly unanswerable question ever been posed? One can easily imagine an Epic Rap Battle of History between the Luddites and Futurists on this very topic. And nowhere is that seemingly innocuous question more likely to ruffle feathers than in the realm of education. At EdSurge Fusion in October, we hope to find some common ground between the tech-forward and tech-resistant education communities. Furthermore, we aim to hit upon research-backed and evidence-based solutions to the most intractable problems that students and educators face in the tech-infused classrooms of today... and tomorrow.

Through our direct interactions with educators and school leaders around the country working to implement effective personalized learning models in their schools and districts, we find that technology’s role in this arena is yet to be clearly defined on a broad scale. Many educators currently embarked upon a personalized learning journey with their students cannot say for sure whether personalized learning necessarily requires edtech, whereas others appear to make little distinction between personalized learning and tech-based instruction—all of which echoes the confusion seen across the community at large.

So, what role(s) should technology play in education? How is current research-based evidence validating tech integration? Is it? Answers to satisfy all sides of the debate may not readily present themselves, but let’s examine a few different views on the matter.

Make it (inter)personal

“Many educators associate personalized learning technology with a push to commercialize and dehumanize education—keeping students glued to screens with little human interaction.” This is exactly how Willie Maddux felt until quite recently. An 8th grade World History teacher at Prescott South Middle School in Cookeville, Tenn., Maddux worried that technology would disrupt the personal relationships built and maintained through live, in-class discussions. With some minor tweaks to his instructional approach and a substantial rearrangement of his mindstate, however, he’s now found that his use of technology not only allows for more direct, individualized instruction but also greater precision, accuracy, and personal accountability in regard to grading.

Rather than create dependencies and turn children into submissive robots, as many fear, technology may actually be leveraged to enable greater autonomy and develop real leadership skills among students. The TechXpert program at Roosevelt Elementary School in Park Ridge, Illinois targets student interest in emerging technology while making the most of young people’s natural inclination to transform into leaders when granted responsibility. The program has been an unexpected success, encouraging productive peer-to-peer interaction and allowing older students to take on the role of mentor to their younger schoolmates, all without placing more demands on the teachers themselves. And “the best part,” according to Taryn Handlon and Tiffany Costa, the school’s instructional technology coach and library information specialist, “is that when you enter the lab, the people who know the most about the tools are under 12 years old.”

The debate rages on

When it comes to conducting research and providing actionable evidence, many charter networks are doubling down on data, hoping that the online educational tools they’re using will inform decisions on matters ranging from classroom instruction to staff development and even operational efficacy. Yet, this approach isn’t without its share of detractors; nor is it a simple fix for ongoing education problems.

Setting aside the more common concerns of the tech-phobic for the moment, one must admit that there are significant logistical hurdles to technology integration within any school or district. Staff training procedures still leave much to be desired, for example. The same goes for many of the professional development opportunities currently available to teachers. And despite the edtech industry’s best efforts, addressing the needs of all learners is something that technology has yet to achieve with 100% success, especially when it comes to personalizing instruction across languages. Still, there may be some lessons that teachers can learn from the tech industry of today to prepare the leaders of tomorrow.

How do you know if technology is the solution or the problem?

Addressing the needs of the whole learner demands an in-depth analysis of all the data associated with the learning process, and may require some faith—and even a bit of skepticism—in the technology used to gather that information. Technology’s potential and limitations must be taken into consideration along with learning sciences, community development, and social-emotional research. At Fusion 2018, we’ll be examining personalized learning for the whole learner through three distinct lenses:

  • Vision
  • Implementation
  • Research & Evidence

The research and evidence track will explore how learning science informs the work of educators and how to gauge the progress of your plans. We’ll be hosting a series of spotlight talks, workshops, and collaborative lunches in an effort to answer a number of essential questions that may be helpful in guiding the work taking place across your school or district.

Join us at the EdSurge Fusion conference, October 2-4, 2018, to hear from an all-star cast of education thought leaders as we discuss incorporating research and evidence for the whole learner.

Learn more about EdSurge operations, ethics and policies here. Learn more about EdSurge supporters here.

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