Sunday, September 16, 2007

Here is a post I made today for my class on learning technologies:

All of the authors (Engelbart, Schank and Cleary, and Valdez) made a distinction between the role that technology currently plays in teaching and learning and the potential role that technology can play. What seems to be of most interest to the bloggers so far is why the potential usefulness of technology in the classroom has not been reached.

Most would agree that teacher competence/comfort with the technology is a primary requirement for the technology to be useful in the classroom, and as Laura added there are other factors, like administrative and tech support that are important too. I want to add one more requirement to the list before moving on: the software has to be well designed.

Something that resonated with me from Schank and Cleary is that the authors admitted to the shamefully poor design of most educational software out there. Granted they were writing in the 90's, but I think that is still the case today. A lot of software is still written from top to bottom with only a vague idea of who the user is going to be. If a teacher (or any user) can't sit down and immediately figure out how to use the software, then the developer has failed. This is my opinion as a software developer, but it is not an uncommon one. My point is that as much as educators (and all users) need to familiarize themselves with new technologies and approach them with a workable attitude, the technologies have to lend themselves to being easily understood. Unless the creators of educational technologies are working together with educators, no progress can be made towards reaching the potential of technology's use in the classroom.

So what is the potential role of technology in the classroom?

Like textbooks, technology can be a source of information. Like pencil and paper technology can be used for creative purposes. To quote form Valdez, "A reasonable conclusion is that classroom computers and other technology can play many instructional roles, from personal tutor and information source to data organizer and communication tool" (from the overview). I think technology is already being used as an information source (web-based research) and a communication tool (email), and maybe as a data organizer (blackboard, excel), but I don't think classroom technologies have yet to reach their potential as personal tutors.

Each student has unique abilities and interests, but it is exceedingly difficult for one person to attend to the varied needs and interests of 30 young minds in the typical classroom. Technology can help, although it will mean changing the way we think about schooling. Something that I think is the most important point that I took from my reading of Engines for Everybody is the need for more student-directed learning, what Schank and Cleary also called natural learning. To summarize Schank and Cleary about natural learning, students learn best when they are the ones choosing what to learn and when. This doesn't mean that kids should be turned loose in the streets, this can happen in a regular classroom with a regular teacher (check out this biology class example).

I would like to further discuss the ways in which technology is or can be used to personalize each student's education.