Baby with the bathwater?

A new study from the U.S. Dept. of Ed relating to technology is going to stir up some conversation.

The findings, as described in the Washington Post, were that after studying standardized math and reading scores:

 Educational software, a $2 billion-a-year industry that has become the darling of school systems across the country, has no significant impact on student performance, according to a study by the U.S. Department of Education.

However, if you read to the very end of the article, it lists the software that was studied–which was LeapFrog SchoolHouse, PLATO Learning, Scholastic Inc. and Pearson.     

Though I would be the first to agree that sometimes this software is marketed as a panacea,  my real fear is that this study will be used to bash all use of technology in schools.  In fact, much of what these companies market are skill builders or course recovery software, not the kind of creative or productivity suites that most high schools are using to teach students to communicate–like Powerpoint, Movie Maker, Publisher, Photoshop, and web 2.0 tools like wikis.  (An interesting aside–on  Two Cents Worth, David Warlick has a lengthy conversation going on about how to integrate these tools.) 

Also, the study evidently didn’t ask about student motivation or enthusiasm, or any other skills beyond standardized math and reading scores (what about science, social studies, music, art, computer skills?)  Is that all we are about in schools are a standardized reading and math test score?   Are there any other measures of student learning or success after high school?

I also would like to point out that although the study found that students didn’t perform any better, it also didn’t find that they performed worse.   How might some of the less motivated students have performed without the use of the technology?   Were the students studied against their own performance prior to having the technology?  Or were they being compared to last year’s students? 

Of course no software or web 2.0 tool is a panacea.  Teachers need training on how to use it.  It needs to fit smoothly into the curriculum or project being done.  It needs to ask students to synthesize or create something new or interact in a new way.  It needs to add value to the assignment, and a new way of communicating or understanding it.

But if we are preparing students for a world where almost everything is done online, from banking to purchasing to writing to corporate communications, I think we have to be very careful not to throw the baby out with the bathwater here and use this study as an excuse for schools not to use technology of any kind, part of our national tendency to boil information down to one simplistic  headline.

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