Catalyst for Change: Some Schools and Researchers Find That Technology Doesn't Drive Educational Transformation; Technology Follows Transformation

By Pascopella, Angela | District Administration, October 2005 | Go to article overview

Catalyst for Change: Some Schools and Researchers Find That Technology Doesn't Drive Educational Transformation; Technology Follows Transformation


Pascopella, Angela, District Administration


Quick, what's the one, hot topic that Seymour Papert, Susan Patrick and a host of others agree on? Surprise, it's not technology, at least technically. Of course, both the MIT professor and the former head of the DOE's Office of Educational Technology favor creative uses of today's technology. But before schools get there, they say, a radical redesign is needed. Instead of leading with an idea of how to use technology, both agree that schools have to decide what they want children to learn and then integrate technology into these new models. This agreement however isn't all good news; part of the reason this is a hot topic is precisely because so few schools are following this model.

At a recent conference, Papert, professor emeritus at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology Media Lab, explained that school administrators who claim they are using technology as part of an educational transformative model, are not telling the whole truth. It's "pure verbal inflation," he says.

"What our schools are learning to do with this technology is not to use it for radical change in teaching but to use it to support what has already been done in 20th century learning," Papert said in a speech at Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development Educational Ministerial.

"The idea of integrating technology into the curriculum is what is wrong. The real long-term goal is to change our ideas of what they will learn," says Papert.

Susan Patrick, former head of the U.S. Department of Education's Office of Educational Technology, echoed Papert's sentiments last June in a separate interview. "We've been talking about inundating technology into classrooms," says Patrick, now president and CEO of North American Council for Online Learning. "And I don't think that's the right term because that means you assume the way the classroom is set up today is the right model and then you stick computers on top of that. So we have to rethink how we want to transform the classroom model and then use technology to accelerate that. And that's asking for systemic transformation and that's not about the technology but about the system itself."

Papert was joined by others at this year's Consortium for School Networking conference who agree technology is merely a tool that could foster advanced learning if schools could only rethink their priorities. During the late 1990s, technology was deemed to be able to transform everything, but very few schools have been so altered.

"I don't think technology creates transformation," says Ken Kay, president of the Partnership for 21st Century Skills. "I think we need to define the change we're looking for and then see how it happens."

Melinda George, executive director of State Educational Technology Directors Association, agrees that "the transformation of what is going on is about the education, not just the technology."

But she points to the 2005 National Trends Report, saying there are some shining examples of transformation where technology is playing a key role. In one Texas district, for example, the Write in the Middle Project targets improving writing across the curriculum through professional development strategies and integrating technology in grades 3 through 8. Mobile laptop labs and videoconferencing technologies are used to increase collaboration with a partnering district. "It's not so much what the technology is but it's making our core subjects and our core fundamental priorities stronger," she says.

Examining Priorities

With NCLB requirements, many districts are more focused on test results than transforming education, experts say. Districts today are buying technology that will collect data to make sure schools are on target or at least making strides to improve, says Chris Dede, professor of Learning Technologies at Harvard University's Graduate School of Education.

"Technology is a catalyst for educational transformation," says Dede. …

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