Sunday, June 26, 2011

One of the problems we face in education

I picked this up from Emergent Learner:
"I was recently emailed by a pre-K educator, Angela Yeaman, who will hopefully be using iPods in her pre-K classroom this coming school year. Below is Angela’s email to me and my response.
I recently submitted a proposal to my school division to purchase some IPods for use in my classroom. Although my proposal as been approved in principle I am now be questioned as to how developmentally appropriate IPods are in a 3-5 yr old classroom. My superintendent is wondering how a digital device like an IPod can be used to support play, exploration, learning, language, social interaction, etc.
Do you have any suggestions for information I can pass along to support the appropriateness of integrating these devices into my classroom. I guess I am facing bigger implementation obstacles than I anticipated."
The difference between education and the "Real World" ?

The real world requires that a problem exist before it feels the need to go buy technology to solve it.  The RW needs to know what to do with the new tech and be convinced that the new tech is an improvement, that it will provide better, cheaper, faster, more efficient output. Testing is done by the tech seller in order to create the glossy brochures and advertising. All this happens BEFORE purchase.  Tech is an answer to a problem in the Real World.

After purchase, and throughout the implementation phase, notes are kept as to the changes, difficulties and challenges. In-house data is recorded as to best use and procedures are setup for everyone so that the ideas of the best are understood and the best procedures are developed so that the least capable workers can effectively use the new toy.

Education, on the other hand, operates differently. Here, Shiny and New is purchased because it's Shiny and New and then teachers go try to justify the purchase and attempt to find a problem that this Shiny and New solution will hopefully solve.

Someone gets a "Great Idea" from a blog or an online PLC and implements it without considering the whats, whys, and wherefores. "Someone I know has a SmartBoard, so I need SmartBoard in my classroom." "That guy has iPods for each kid, so I need iPods for all my kids."  I don't exactly know how it'll all be used, I don't really know what problem I'm solving by implementing or whether this really will solve the problem, and I'm not sure if we'll get better, stronger, faster, cheaper, more effective output.

Money is spent and the teacher attempts to make use of the Great Idea, muddling through the implementation and adapting, reworking, to ultimately finish the year with something but no one is quite sure what. Was it worth it? Was the Shiny New Toy better or worse than the Trusty Old One? Did the students learn more, better, easier, faster, more efficiently or effectively? Will the next person (because teachers all eventually leave and the early-adopters most quickly) use the Shiny New Toy or will it be relegated to the corner to collect dust while the next teacher tries to institute the Next Big Idea using lots of money to buy the Next Shiny New Thing?

To paraphrase Reagan: Are those 4 year-olds going to be better off than last year's 4 year-olds?

Nobody knows. She may be screwing up those kids mightily or she may be on to something, but she has no idea. She's not even that invested in the iPods idea because she's getting a SmartBoard and she'll spend some time thinking about how to use that over the summer.  Isn't that cute?

Nobody has done any kind of testing; this classroom could be a source of data, but no one will record it. Nobody will set up controls to see if this works; a single class without them is unheard of because that's discrimination, don't you know?

That's American education for you.  Buy shit without knowing what, if anything, it will do.  Throw out what's working to focus on the Shiny New Toy and completely forget about the real purpose of education: education.  This is the only chance at an education this group of kids will ever get and we have no compunctions about testing new theories on them ... and we don't even give a damn about the results.


  1. Teachers (and the whole educational system) have a tendency to like ideas because they sound plausible. Whole Language as a basis for learning to read sounds plausible. It even works if you can assume that the children will pick up letter-sound correspondence on the fly. But actual research indicates that many do not.

  2. In my corporation, the problem isn't with new tech requested by the teachers. (There's almost no money for that.) On the contrary, the problem is with the tech that gets handed to us by the higher-ups. I'm never consulted about what I might want or need. Never. Not even once in four years. Instead I come in to my classroom and just find something new there. It's happened about a half-dozen times.

    Lots of that new tech is only occasionally used. Just once I'd like to be asked what I think would be good to have before the administration runs off and spends hundreds of thousands of dollars.

    I came to education late, and one of the things that never ceases to amaze me is just how top-down it is. Orders, initiatives, equipment, etc. come down from on high, and the good little soldiers are expected to just fall in line. Sigh.

    Love the blog, by the way. Education needs more voices like yours. Keep it up.

  3. Ironic. Yesterday, the Mrs. received notice that her principal had spent some money buying an intervention program. We got online and looked at it -- every single project, lesson or practice was accompanied by this woman's voice, speaking as if the users were stupid 1st graders. You know, the cutesy little sing-song? Terrible.

    The principal had ignored the recommendations made earlier for a different program and went with this one.


  4. Nah, I don't think so. It seems that other people use it in the district at the elementary school level, so naturally they buy it for the middle and high school kids without asking those teachers.