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Huffington Post: Students Call Me the "Technosaurus"

Technosaurus: A technosaurus is a technical dinosaur skeptical about the value of technology in the classroom.

A rich guy from a venture capital firm decides that every public school student in New York City should learn to be a computer coder. Sounds like a bid for the worst tech movie list competing with Swordfish, The Net, Johnny Mnemonic, and Tron.

Unfortunately this bad movie scenario turns out to be all too real. The New York Times gobbled it up. New York City Mayor Bill di Blasio, desperate to announce any education hopeful plan as he battles with the Governor Andrew Cuomo for control over New York City schools, quickly jumped on the bandwagon. Di Blasio announced that in ten years, long after he leaves often and bills must be paid, every school in the city would teach computer science.

Nearly everyone hailed the plan as a brilliant solution to what ails inner-city public schools. No critics were mentioned in New York Times news coverage, although online commentators like Janis of Ridgewood, NJ wanted to know "How will New York City get the money for this ambitious initiative?" and Frank of South Orange NJ declared "Without mastery of the fundamentals, this will be a waste of money at best, and a waste of a child's education at worst."

As a technosaurus, I agree with Janis and Frank. Apparently, so do many social scientists who studied the supposed benefits of investing heavily on technology in the classroom. They found ed tech is not the miracle solution it is purported to be. One study declared, "Cyclic amnesia best characterizes the history of technology in education." We are now discovering that high-tech toys for young children actually slow language development.

Although I am a technosaurus, I do use computers. I wrote this blog on a computer. I wish every child had access to a computer both at home and in school. But a 2012 report by the OECD reached a very interesting conclusion. "All students first need to be equipped with basic literacy and numeracy skills so that they can participate fully in the hyper-connected, digitised societies of the 21st century." In other words, di Blasio, The New York Times, and the rich guy have it backwards.

OECD found that "only 42% of students in Korea and 38% of students in Shanghai-China reported that they use computers at school - and Korea and Shanghai-China were among the top performers in the digital reading and computer-based mathematics tests in the OECD Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) in 2012." But the story gets even more surprising and disturbing for the tech miracle people. "In countries where it is more common for students to use the Internet at school for schoolwork, students' performance in reading declined between 2000 and 2012, on average." Maybe we need to get students off the computers, especially the video games, and into antiquated technologies like newspapers and books.

The OECD study concluded, "an analysis of PISA data, tell us that, despite the pervasiveness of information and communication technologies (ICT) in our daily lives, these technologies have not yet been as widely adopted in formal education. But where they are used in the classroom, their impact on student performance is mixed, at best. In fact, PISA results show no appreciable improvements in student achievement in reading, mathematics or science in the countries that had invested heavily in ICT for education."

If only we knew this before. It turns out we did but did not want to know!

The United States Department of Education supported a multi-year study to explore the tech miracle. Bush era No Child Left Behind legislation mandated "a national study of the effectiveness of educational technology." The first year report found "Test Scores Were Not Significantly Higher in Classrooms Using Selected Reading and Mathematics Software Products" and in lower grades, test scores actually correlated with student-teacher ratios, which meant investment in smaller classes was more effective than investment in the latest technology.

The study continued into a second year. This time it reported "For reading, there were no statistically significant differences between the effects that products had on standardized student test scores in the first year and the second year. For sixth grade math, product effects on student test scores were statistically significantly lower (more negative) in the second year than in the first year." But instead of suspending the tech miracle, the U.S. Department of Education appears to have suspended the annual studies.

A recent book highlighted in Washington Post is about doing technology right. But what if there is no right and the tech school miracle is really only a miracle for the companies selling their products to schools?

Note: The technosaurus was actually a real dinosaur. It was about three feet long, weighed in at twenty pounds, and lived over 200 million years ago. Its remains were discovered near Texas Tech University, hence its name. The university is lobbying to have the technosaurus declared the official dinosaur of the State of Texas.

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Alan Singer

Alan Singer is a professor of Teaching, Literacy and Leadership and the program director of graduate programs in Social Studies Education. Dr. Singer is a former ...