The Economist’s on-line site launched a debate feature. First topic up in this Oxford-style debate: “Effectiveness of Technology – Does new technology add to the quality of education?”Discussions are open — you can play, too! — October 15th-23rd, 2007.In his opening statement defending the resolution, Sir John Daniel, president and CEO of The Commonwealth of Learning, provokes thought and discussion from the start:
Technology is replacing scarcity by abundance in other aspects of life: why not in education?It is not for lack of prophets. Ever since the invention of the blackboard each new communications medium has been hailed as an educational revolution. Rosy forecasts about the impact of radio, film, television, programmed learning, computers and the Internet succeeded each other through the 20th century although, revealingly, each prophet compared the revolutionary potential of the newest medium to the printing press, not to the previous technological white hope!Why hasn’t it worked? Why has the continuing introduction of new technologies and new media added little to the quality of most education? What can we learn from those few applications of communications media that are acknowledged successes?Technology is the application of scientific and other organized knowledge to practical tasks by organizations consisting of people and machines. In The Wealth of Nations Adam Smith described how applying knowledge to the practical task of making pins led to a factory that produced them with consistent quality in higher volume and at lower cost than artisans making each pin by hand. The technological bases of Adam Smith’s pin factory were the principles of specialisation, division of labour and economies of scale.Most applications of technology in education disappoint because they ignore these principles and so fail to use technology’s intrinsic strengths to tackle real problems.
SRI International’s Robert Kozma bases his case to reject the resolution on research that shows the effectiveness of computers in learning, especially a study by James Kulik at the University of Michigan:
As a group, these studies looked at several types of educational technology applications (such as tutorials, simulations, and word processors), in a variety of subjects (such as mathematics, natural science, social science, reading and writing), and a range of grade levels (from vary young to high school). His findings across studies can be summarized as follows:
• Students who used computer tutorials in mathematics, natural science, or social science scored significantly higher in these subjects compared to traditional approaches, equivalent to an increase from 50th to 72nd percentile in test scores. Students who used simulation software in science also scored higher, equivalent to a jump from 50th to 66th percentile.
• Very young students who used computers to write their own stories scored significantly higher on measures of reading skill, equivalent to a boost from 50th to 80th percentile for kindergarteners and from 50th to 66th percentile for first graders. However, the use of tutorials in reading did not make a difference.
• Students who used word processors or otherwise used the computer for writing scored higher on measures of writing skill, equivalent to a rise from 50th to 62nd percentile.
What do you think, Dear Reader? Technology working or not? Meander over to the Economist site and weigh in with your opinions.