Behind the 8-ball in education technology

An article I read today sheds new light on the usership of Facebook by teens. It indicates a waning of interest by teens in using Facebook to post, interact, and access information in ways that are staples of the social media site. Instead, it indicated that many teens only use the instant messaging feature, and have lost interest in most of the other uses available, preferring Twitter and Tumblr instead.

This lead me again to a familiar feeling that education technology is simply not nimble enough to meet student needs. After all, it is only right now that Facebook is being timidly embraced by schools for use as information sharing and communication. By the time educators truly get savvy enough in creating and effectively using Facebook pages and groups to safely convey information and learning, our core audience will have again moved on.

This is in now way a new phenomenon. Consider these squandered opportunities:

  • As the personal computer became popular, schools were slow to leverage their real power, instead treating them as a fancy toy for playing simulation games and doing simple programming. By the time schools filled rooms with computers and designed authentic learning tasks students could do on them, most students had much more powerful, faster computers at home, making the in-school experience feel artificial and archaic.
  • The wide usership and development of the internet in the mid-1990’s offered yet another opportunity for educators to get ahead of the curve and transform learning. Computer labs did indeed get wired at an efficient pace, yet few educators used class websites or really anything of value on the internet for years. Some still do not. Meanwhile, our students have embraced and grown up with the internet as a way of life, learning almost everything they know of how to use it effectively on their own. Now, as educators seek to truly leverage the power of the internet for learning, most students are way ahead of the teachers in understanding where good information exists, and how to find and validate it. Schools are only now starting to effectively teach these skills to students, and only a few are doing a good job of it.
  • Email, while a corporate standard among adults, did not really see any use in public school settings until a few years ago. The power of email in schools should have been in offering direct connection between teachers and learners, allowing for exchange of project work, crucial information, and setting up the basis for a paperless classroom. Great idea, except by the time schools build the policies and infrastructure necessary to use email effectively, the students no longer needed it. Without using email for tasks unrelated to school, the tasks again became menial and artificial. Students have instead moved on to other forms of communication such as texting, Facebook, and Twitter.
  • The promise of Web 2.0 tools was the mobility and collaborative nature. Authentic, project-based learning should have naturally followed. However, as schools debated bandwidth, cyber-bullying, and laptop carts, students again moved on. In this case, the concept didn’t really change, just the medium. As teachers blocked out more and more computer lab time in order to allow students to use Web 2.0 tools, students took to their smart phones and other mobile devices to access Web 2.0 tools on their own, with little interest in integrating their use into the educational realm. Most educators are still not in any way trained well enough to integrate authentic Web 2.0 learning in ways students can embrace through mobile devices.

In any of these examples, many educators were willing and able to be on the cutting edge, and had it not been for them, the results would have been even more troubling. The problem is in the system. The educational system is simply not nimble enough to embrace effectively the current trends in how students interact with technology. This is not an idealistic fantasy. Private institutions prove daily that to be successful, they need to adapt to the market. Education, much like advertising, aims to grab interest, interaction, and understanding by meeting the audience where the audience wants to be, not where the initiator would like them to be.

Image: Behind the 8 Ball Photograph – Behind the 8 Ball, Fine Art Print – Samuel Kessler


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