Thursday, 6 February 2014

Administration and testing drive technology in education

FECODE, the teachers’ union in Colombia, sponsored six seminars in different cities in Colombia in November 2013, where they asked me to talk about technology, education and critical pedagogy.  Participants in the seminar wrote out questions for discussion following my presentations.  When question time ran out, I agreed to respond to the other questions in writing.  I have combined questions into some specific themes, with this being the second of three.

Will the introduction of new technologies replace and reduce the number of teachers?

It is the dream of some policy-makers to replace teachers with computers.  They may think that pre-programmed computers can replace teachers.  Or they may think that online learning will allow a teacher to teach many more students than in a face-to-face classroom. 

While programmed learning may be effective for some skills, a rich educational experience for children and youth still requires human interaction, even if it is communication through ICT.  Even for adults, the experience of mass education through MOOCs, a current form of applying technology to education for adults.  MOOCs are Massive Online Open Courses that can have tens of thousands of people signed up, but few who finish the course.  For many students as well as adults, the promise of cheaper mass education has not been fulfilled. 

Little comparative research has been done on the efficacy of online learning using the most current technologies--and the technology and programs change so fast that it is difficult to do this kind of research beyond anecdotes of how students and teachers feel about specific experiences.

The reality of computer use in education is that the "essential" uses are turning out to be administrative and for student testing, not for the learning process.  The new core curriculum in the United States is designed to have students taking tests online, so computers have to be provided to the students.  One school district alone, that of Los Angeles in California, is spending $1 billion to provide a tablet for every student.  These large expenditures are being  duplicated in many other places, as well. 

Education is seen by venture capital as having the potential for future profits.  Finding ways of privatizing education and making profits is a major motive for much of the investment in the creation of new education technology uses.

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