Source: http://ai2020.com/one-thing-at-a-time-singletasking-do-it/

“Education is failing technology.”  Dr. Mark Weston goes on to write, “The minimal effect that technology has had on teaching and learning is a failure of the field of education not a failure of technology.” These are pretty powerful ideas…and given my long-time advocacy of edtech, I am inclined to agree. But do these ideas hold up? I’m not sure.

Students, Computers, and Learning Making the Connection concludes that investments in classroom technology are yielding “no appreciable improvements in student achievement in reading, mathematics, or science.” What’s more, the study found technology to be of little help in “bridging the skills divide between advantaged and disadvantaged students.”
Source: Suzie Boss, Are We Getting Smarter about EdTech?

When I look at the powerful learning that is possible when teachers adopt instructional approaches like these below, I wonder if Mark isn’t right.

If we know that differentiated instruction is effective in improving student performance, while still meeting required performance standards, why aren’t more teachers using it? 

TPACK proposes that thoughtful technology integration occurs when teachers are attuned to the interplay of content (the subject matter), pedagogy (the methods of teaching, both general and content-specific), and technology (both electronic and “traditional”). Considering all three domains together results in a lesson in which all the component parts are aligned to support the learning goals and outcomes of the instructional plan…The power of technology lies in the teacher’s ability to use it for customizing instruction. It helps teachers to address those student variables by manipulating the complexity or level of difficulty of the content, the ways in which students receive and engage that content, their options demonstrating what they have learned, and the circumstances under which they do so.
Source: Inclusion in the 21st Century: Differentiating with Technology.

Why aren’t more of these approaches taken hold?

Source: 6 Components of DI
  • differentiated instructionDifferentiation takes place in the areas of content, process, and product. Consider this 2007 resourceDifferentiating Instruction with Technology in K–5 Classrooms, that makes very similar points:
    • “Technology improves student performance when the application directly supports the curriculum objectives being assessed.” In other words, technology is most effective when integrated with curriculum content.
    • Technology improves performance when the application providesopportunities for student collaboration.” Studies show that paired and collaborative learning in conjunction with technology enhances student performance.
    • “Technology improves performance when the application adjustsfor student ability and prior experience, and provides feedback to the student and teacher about student performance or progress with the application.” This finding supports the differentiated instruction practices of coaching and mentoring as well as sharing responsibility for learning.
    • “Technology improves performance when the application is integrated into the typical instructional day.” This finding supports classroom and content learning with technology as opposed to lab learning with technology.
    • “Technology improves performance when the application provides opportunities for students to design and implement projects that extend the curriculum content being assessed by a particular standardized test.” Student-created products, multimedia, and video streaming are examples of how technology can extend curriculum content.
    • “Technology improves performance when used in environmentswhere teachers, the school community, and school and district administrators support the use of technology.” In addition to performance improvements tied to administrative support for technology, findings show that integration of technology with instruction, professional development for teachers, and computer use at home and school with differentiated products and student entry points combine to improve performance.
  • problem-based learning (PBL): “uses real-life problems modeled after a contemporary or historical case to engage students as they pursue specified learning outcomes that are in line with academic standards or course objectives” (Stepien & Pyke, 1997)
  • cooperative learning: All students work inter-dependently, clearly focused on achieving joint expectations, taking the initiative to innovate on assignment.

One simple answer–“There’s no doubt that effectively differentiating instruction presents challenges to even the most experienced teacher” (Source)–is that it is too darn complicated! That may explain why Dr. Mark Weston, in  Quit Failing Technology, observes that Education’s failure to adopt research-based practices have resulted in the failure of technologists to be successful in transforming teaching and learning.

Successful and sustained edtech implementation requires that good pedagogy must first be in play within the classroom. . .Let’s master pedagogy first. Then leverage the technology.
Source: In Successful EdTech, pedagogy Comes First–Devices Second

In this entry, he makes these points:

  1. Education is failing technology.
  2. If certain instructional practices are used and specific conditions met then one teacher, instructing a group of students in a classroom, could help the students attain 2-sigma. The practices he identified that make 2-sigma possible include reinforcement, cues and explanations, corrective feedback, and cooperative learning. The conditions include student classroom-participation, student time on task, and classroom morale.
  3. The organizational and operational design of most schools exacerbates the teacher-load conundrum. In such schools, a teacher trying to take a classroom of 30 students to 2-sigma must make it happen alone. 
  4. Technology has exerted little overall effect on educational settings and the teaching and learning in them. Student achievement test scores remain flat, school completion rates have not declined, and instruction remains mostly teacher-led in classrooms with neat-rowed desks.
  5. Teachers…readily admit that in many instances the technology that they do have actually increases their load. Not surprisingly, data show teachers rarely using technology in their classroom instruction.

Technology can certainly be used…as a tool for the analysis, synthesis, and evaluation of information. Today, students use complex multimedia products and advanced networking technologies to learn interactively and work collaboratively on projects; to gather, organize, and analyze information; to solve problems; and to communicate information…Our experience has shown that most people prefer exploring the instructional strategies first and the technologies that support them second.

So, all that to say something pretty simple–Curriculum Departments, classroom teachers, school systems have failed to adopt instructional approaches that make a difference for student learning. And, until they do, we’re wasting our time trying to blend technology in. Even if you see technology as a way to short-circuit the time-intensive strategies of the past, there’s a real need for pedagogy+technology together, rather than ONE before another.

In fact, it reminds me of achieving higher order thinking skills (HOTS) research…imagine teachers making students march through low-order thinking skills before ever getting to HOTS…unfortunately, so much time is spent on LOTS that HOTS never happened for countless students, especially those who came from a low, socio-economic background.

I’m not sure I agree with these findings…we can’t continue to chant “Pedagogy first, technology second!” and expect to get results. This isn’t crawl before we can walk scenario. If you want someone to embrace technology to transform instruction, then you have to start from the get-go!

“A man convinced against his will, is of the same opinion still.”

Maybe we need some replacement thinking via Mike Fisher (Get a copy of Mike Fisher’s book, Digital Learning Strategies: How do I assign and assess 21st century work?):

The task of the contemporary teacher is to help students learn to take what is now ubiquitous (knowledge), learn to filter it for relevance and quality (critical thinking), and use it to learn, grow, and demonstrate 21st Century Skills (communication, collaboration, creative problem solving). 


Everything posted on Miguel Guhlin’s blogs/wikis are his personal opinion and do not necessarily represent the views of his employer(s) or its clients. Read Full Disclosure

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