Another dot in the blogosphere?

New means, old demands

Posted on: June 30, 2012

Old and New by Mrs Logic, on Flickr
Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic License  by  Mrs Logic 

If this Slate article, Why Johnny Can’t Add Without a Calculator, was written to provoke response, it certainly has judging by the comments at the end of the article.

The gist of the article is summed up in the blurb after the headline: Technology is doing to math education what industrial agriculture did to food: making it efficient, monotonous, and low-quality.

I agree with that line if the technology in education only addresses efficiency and fulfills the industrial need to mass produce. So I agree with @EDTECHHULK when he said:

The argument is like the time-tried argument that technology use does not lead to significantly improved test scores. If you use an old system (e.g., traditional teaching, rote learning, and testing) to measure the effectiveness of newer system (e.g., PBL, visualization software, and project work), you should expect the latter to flunk.

If you change the means but not the demands, then people are going to question the new means if the old means already meet the old demands.

The Slate writer gives an example of a very good Math teacher who preferred his blackboard over an interactive white board (IWB). But I think the issue was not so much the teacher being anti-technology (even though he might have been).

I think that teacher had excellent pedagogical content knowledge. He knew his subject matter, he knew his learners and what they struggled with, and he knew the strategies to engage and teach them. The IWB might have taken some of those things away.

The writer blamed high school use of calculators for university students not being able to do abstraction. That is not just the fault of calculators. It is also the fault of the strategies, the skill of the teacher, the readiness of the learner, and a whole host of other factors.

When there is a road accident, we do not just blame the car. We look into the state of the drivers, the environmental conditions, the car production and maintenance, and many other factors.

All the other examples the writer cited about IWB use (showing a video and an animation of an electric circuit) are examples of newer technology substituting conventional tools and/or strategies. There is very little value add. The teacher is still standing in front of the classroom and the learners are not necessarily engaging with problems or content.

Technology integration is a sociotechnical process. There are human factors, not just technological ones. Before finding fault with the technology, one should also look for human oversight or error.

And before subjecting new means to old demands, we should find out what the new demands are.

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