Six Challenges for Educational Technology

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Six Challenges for Educational Technology
Chris Dede George Mason University Many exciting applications of information technology in schools validate that new technology-based models of teaching and learning have the power to dramatically improve educational outcomes. As a result, many people are asking how to scale-up the scattered, successful “islands of innovation” instructional technology has empowered into universal improvements in schooling enabled by major shifts in standard educational practices. Undertaking “systemic reform” (sustained, large-scale, simultaneous innovation in curriculum; pedagogy; assessment; professional development; administration; incentives; and partnerships for learning among schools, businesses, homes, and community settings) requires policies and practices different than fostering pilot projects for small-scale educational improvement. Systemic reform involves moving from utilizing special, external resources to reconfiguring existing budgets in order to free up money for innovation. Without undercutting their power, change strategies effective when pioneered by leaders in educational innovation must be modified to be implemented by typical educators.

Technology-based innovations offer special challenges and opportunities in this scalingup process. I believe that systemic reform is not possible without utilizing the full power of high performance computing and communications to enhance the reshaping of schools. Yet the cost of technology, its rapid evolution, and the special knowledge and skills required of its users pose substantial barriers to effective utilization. One way to frame these issues is to pose six questions that school boards, taxpayers, educators, business groups, politicians, and parents are asking about implementing large-scale, technology-based educational innovations. After each question, I’ll respond to the issues it raises. Collectively, these answers outline a strategy for scaling-up, leveraging the power of technology while minimizing its intrinsic challenges. Question One: How can schools afford to purchase enough multimedia-capable, Internetconnected computers so that a classroom machine is always available for every two to three students? Giving all students continuous access to multimedia-capable, Internet-connected computers is currently quite fashionable. For politicians, the Internet in every classroom has become the modern equivalent of the promised “chicken in every pot.” Communities urge everyone to provide volunteer support for NetDays that wire the schools. Information technology vendors are offering special programs to encourage massive educational purchases. States are setting aside substantial amounts of money for building information infrastructures dedicated to instructional usage.

Yet, as an educational technologist, I am more dismayed than delighted. Some of my nervousness about this initiative comes from the “First Generation” thinking about information technology that underlies these visions. Multimedia-capable, Internet-connected computers are seen by many as magical devices, “silver bullets” to solve the problems of schools. Teachers and

2 administrators who use new media are assumed to be automatically more effective than those who do not. Classroom computers are envisioned as a technology comparable to fire: just by sitting near these devices, students get a benefit from them, as knowledge and skills radiate from the monitors into their minds.

Yet decades of experience with technological innovations based on First Generation thinking have demonstrated that this viewpoint is misguided. Classroom computers that are acquired as panaceas end up as doorstops. As discussed later, information technology is a costeffective investment only in the context of systemic reform. Unless other simultaneous innovations in pedagogy, curriculum, assessment, and school organization are coupled to the usage of instructional technology, the time and...
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