In a recent post titled "Zombie Ideas and Online Instruction," prolific edtech blogger Larry Cuban points to what he calls a zombie idea in education--namely, a bad idea that keeps coming back. Cuban's zombie: that "new technologies can cure K-12 and higher education problems of teaching and learning." The newest face of Cuban's zombie is online instruction in K-12 schools.
Cuban identifies four age-old challenges in education:
He's dead right in saying these issues are at the center of what fans of education technology hope to address. Cuban doesn't hold out much hope, however. He cites enthusiasm for television (1950s), distance education (1960s), computers in schools (1980s) and laptops in schools (1990s) as instances in which technology has fallen short. He concludes:
I'd agree with Cuban that we need to ask some tough questions about the effectiveness of pure online instruction, where students are left on their own to navigate through tutorials presented online. More broadly, no one should believe claims that serious problems, especially those rooted in deep social ills such as poverty, can be "cured" with a dollop of silicon chips and touch screens.
But thoughtful criticism of badly designed programs doesn't mean we should chuck technology out of school altogether. The monster lurking under the zombie disguise isn't technology--but the gaping disconnect between technology development and what we know about teaching and learning.
English teacher, technology specialist and blogger, Krista Moroder nails the problem precisely in her recent post. Stop talking about technology, she says:
In other words, giving a laptop to a teacher doesn't make him or her a great teacher. A great teacher with the right tools can be remarkable powerful.
Moroder describes two scenarios of how a teacher could deliver an English lesson. The more effective teacher, she notes:
When anyone--educators, parents, or reformers themselves--expect technology to "solve" a problem, they're asking the wrong question. As the recently issued "Decoding Learning" report from Britain's Nesta notes:
But here's the most haunting point:
We've got to bring the technology and pedagogy together.
There are scores of reasons why, all too often, educators and developers have been at odds: Educators need to be given more credit for understanding how students learn--but they also need to be open to learning themselves. Developers need to be humble about what they do--and tireless in their efforts to build tools that work not just once but again and again and again.
Forget the mythical beasts. It's time to figure out how educators and developers can work together to address life's really monstrous challenges.