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Here we go again

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The iPad has arrived and with it the usual claims about the transformation of everything education. I saw that the TLT group here on campus has taken up the issue in the form of a post at Geek Dad. What disappoints me about all this is that it is so predictable and so seemingly ignorant of past prognostications of this type. People have been saying that technology will transform "everything" about teaching and schools since there have been schools. One of my favorites:

"[This technology] appealed at once to the eye and to the ear, thus naturally forming the habit of attention, which is so difficult to form by the study of books...Whenever a pupil does not fully understand, [it] will have the opportunity...of enlarging and making intelligible."

This was said about the chalkboard in 1855. 

My point is that if we want to change schools the place to start is with the teaching. Technology is an amplifier. There is plenty of evidence that technology in the hands of teachers with outmoded pedagogical practices just gives us more and faster outmoded practice. We need to start with a conversation about how to change teaching and then see how technology can support the transformation. I know it sounds obvious, and yet there are so few examples of it happening out there. We are willing to spend huge sums of money to put technology into our classrooms, but are not willing to put more than a pittance in to supporting the teachers in reconsidering how they teach. We are spending money to amplify what is already wrong with schools. It makes me feel like I am watching This is Spinal Tap, when Nigel Tufnel explains the special volume on his custom amps:

"Well, it's one louder, isn't it? It's not ten. You see, most blokes, you know, will be playing at ten. You're on ten here, all the way up, all the way up, all the way up, you're on ten on your guitar. Where can you go from there? Where? ...Eleven. Exactly. One louder."

If we don't change the way we think about teaching with technology the iPad in schools will just be one louder.

Education Monoculture

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I recently finished the Omnivores Dilemma by Michael Pollan, which is just a brilliant and scary book about how we eat and how these choices impact our world. Not surprisingly this got me thinking about education. I have two points here:

First, a lot of the book is about corn as a very successful monoculture. Humans cultivate it in huge swaths of our country to the exclusion of almost anything else. Corn, with human help, wipes out everything else. As a result we have a tremendously unstable ecological situation where corn is (almost) the only organism and the corn is totally dependent on humans to reproduce. The only goal is yield per acre, and whatever has to be done to the corn or the environment to improve yield is being done.

This is an exact analogy for our educational system. We have an educational monoculture founded on the same principles - yeild - the most output possible per unit input. What does this mean in education? It means higher test scores per dollar. If your school is not producing an adequate yield (AYP in NCLB terms), then it is time for you to shut down. The emphasis on yield is forcing schools to create a monoculture of students. Students should all be the same and maximize yield.

Macronutrients as the be all and end all.

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