I find it very interesting that many of the technological initiatives in education have largely failed, or at least failed to live up to the hype. When looking at the cost benefit analysis of many IT projects, most simply do not make sense. A number of studies discuss the use of computers by overworked instructors a little more than very expensive e-readers-if they are used at all. And ultimately, as educators (administrators as well as teachers) we have to ask the most fundamental question: does it improve teaching and does it engage the student, and is there a better, cheaper way to get the same results?
Over the past 20 or more years, the educational establishment has been a sometimes willing and sometimes reluctant participant in experimenting with how technology can be made to help students learn. But looking back, many of these experiments didn't make very much sense. A lot of money was spent with very little return (in comparison to other investments that a school might have made).
But what I find interesting about technology, is that it may not be that the schools end up having much to say about how technology will shape education. After years of spending untold millions of dollars on an aging infrastructure, educational software that in many cases is only a step up from malware, and budgets that are breaking under the strain of recession, education is finally at a tipping point where it might be changed in a fundamental way by technology. But it very likely may not be from within.
In the book Disrupting Class: How Disruptive Innovation Will Change the Way the World Learns
the authors discuss how technology has fundamentally changed society, which in turn is exerting a force on education. Mass communication, social networking, and a myriad of other technologies are changing the way we interact with our institutions, and it has affected the way we see ourselves and how we see our relationship with knowledge. What cheap, ubiquitous technology has done is it has raised the bar on what we know is possible, and then society passes on that expectation to our institutions.
My nine year old son has discovered YouTube. On it, he has found like-minded individuals who have a similar passion for legos, ballon animals, and the video game Spore. He began by watching videos uploaded by other adults and kids showing how they made their creations. Some videos are how-tos, others are stories; some near professional, others not so much. But they engaged him. He began by mimicking what he saw, creating lego creations very much like the ones he saw. He learned some basics of level creation and game theory and made several Spore levels, each one more interesting and complex than the preceding. Then one day he disappears with my iPhone and suddenly I had 20 or so how-to videos
that he created and wanted me to upload to YouTube so that he could both show off his own creations and help other kids learn to make little lego creations. He sees, he learns, he creates, he fails, he teaches others. The secret here is that this is not a passive activity.
This last weekend, he asked if it was possible to connect several scenes together in one video. I told him that it was possible and showed him our video editing software. He got very excited and asked for my phone and came back with a movie called Scrab Battle
, his first movie. Aside from fatherly pride, I know my son is not unique. Millions of kids are out there doing the same thing. And it is these generations, benefactors of nearly free social media and inexpensive technology, that have created these ad hoc
learning communities, and will hold educators to account. What they are looking for is engagement. The question is, will enough of them find it in school?