Posted by: crudbasher | February 3, 2012

The Education System Should Focus On Software Not Hardware

Watching the public education system try to deal with technology sometimes drives me a little crazy. 🙂 In the story linked below, the Obama Administration, in the spirit of the great Soviet 5 year plans, is now going to direct that in 5 years time every public school student will be using digital textbooks.

Ok there are several problems I have with this, but it did lead me to an interesting thought. Let’s deal with the problems first.

(cc) laihiu

The focus of this initiative is certainly going to be getting digital devices into the hands of all students. Of course they need devices in order to read digital textbooks, but this is something the government is not good at doing. They are way too slow to make timely decisions. I remember reading a story about a school that was trying to buy monitors for a computer lab. They had found a great deal on 21 inch monitors but the school district rejected their proposal because the district standard was 19 inch monitors. The irony was, the 19 inch ones were actually more expensive than the 21 inch. When the standard was written, it was the reverse.

So let’s say a district settles on a tablet. They buy them, and then distribute them to all their students. Naturally, by the time this has happened, several new generations of technology will have come out. What if a student wants to bring their own new state of the art tablet instead? Will they be allowed? Are you kidding me? You can’t have one student have something better than everyone else!! No, they have to all be equal!! Will the students own the tablets or have to give them back at the end of the year? If they don’t own them, they won’t like them. If they are used again every year, how often will they need to be replaced?

This is a no win scenario. A much better idea would be to give each family a voucher who need one and let them get whatever they want. Of course that way, politicians can’t give lucrative contracts to their campaign donors so it will never happen.

The other problem I have with this plan is the whole concept of “textbook”. It depends on what you mean by that. If you just mean a paper textbook digitized, then we have another problem. Keep in mind, the education system adopts technologies that fit with the current model and rejects ones that disrupt the system. A non interactive textbook, is just a passive source of information so that fits the current system. True interactive software would be a much better idea but that takes some of the teacher’s role away. We can’t have that now can we?

This brings me to my main point though. I have seen too many stories about computers put into the classroom, then the teachers flail around because they don’t know how to effectively use it. A computer is just a portal to the Internet. Without anything there to do, it’s useless. I think the education system should promote and incubate education software. This software can be used both at home and at school in a blended learning situation. There should be a huge diversity of content in every subject catering to ever learning style and speed. Going along with this, each teacher has to be trained on how to be a “guide on the side” and not be a deliverer of content.

Our society is moving from a centrally planned organizational structure to a peer-to-peer, adhoc organizational structure. If schools want to remain relevant in how we learn in the future, they have to start making content, not buying devices.

    • the Obama administration has come out in support of digital learning, claiming that all students will be using digital textbooks within five years.
    • Education Secretary Arne Duncan and FCC chairman Julius Genachowski state that the Obama administration has set a goal for getting digital textbooks in the hands of all students.
    • the FCC’s Digital Textbook Playbook suggests that the transition will see a savings of about $600 per student per year, owing to reduced copy and paper costs, savings from online assessments, and expected cost reductions from lowered drop-out rates. That’s a huge positive.
    • Capital investment remains a problem, though. If someone can find an affordable way to provide students with a suitable device, then we’re home and dry.

Posted from Diigo. The rest of my favorite links are here.

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