My first computer was a Commodore. No, not the 64, the Vic 20. It hooked up to a regular TV monitor and recorded data on audio cassettes. It was the state of the art in home computing when I got it, but thanks to Moore's Law it quickly became a paperweight.
And unfortunately, despite rapid advances in technology, that's how computers are being used in the classroom- as paperweights. Technology is treated as some great panacea, much like accountability and school choice, as though its mere presence will instantly raise grades and improve education. It would be like buying your child a brand new set of titanium golf clubs and expecting him to beat Tiger Woods. Tools, whether they are tangible like a computer or systemic like testing, are only useful to those trained to use them well. Most teachers see computers as word-processors or mailboxes or calculators. They scoff at the notion that a computer could teach a child.
A new study purports to demonstrate that they are right, but all it does is show lack of understanding of the issue. Classrooms were introduced to a variety of computerized lessons and tools, and then then their performances were compared to the previous year without technology. Surprise, no appreciable difference was found. A second study is planned to see if teacher familiarity with the programs makes a difference. Seriously, do we need a study to answer these questions? Don't things always get worse before they get better during a regime change? Isn't it fairly obvious that a teacher must be familiar with the ins and outs of a lesson plan before they can effectively teach?
Many of today's young people are building online social networks that rival those in the real world. They gather information with search engines and they have never heard of a card catalog. Computers are here to stay. The help doctors diagnose disease and help navigate the family vacation. They will never and should never replace the human instructor, but it is time to start letting them do what they can do. They allow students to move at their own pace. No more forcing kids to keep up with the rest of the class. They do not discriminate. They will never play favorites, singling out boys over girls or whites over blacks. They provide students with what schools otherwise can't do- a 1:1 student/teacher ratio.
Sure a human being must be there to manage the class, but in a time when many teachers face 40-50 kids at a time, I don't see any way to move forward that doesn't involve embracing technology. Studies be damned.