To Tech or Not to Tech? That is NOT the Question

November 16, 2011
Lydia Dobyns

Lydia Dobyns

Last month, I was visiting one of my daughters who attends college on the East Coast. The crispness of Fall was in the air. And while I was delighted with the early signs of the changing season, I was also very aware that it was up to me, as a parent and an adult, to make sure that my California daughter was well outfitted for her first real winter, with temperatures sure to plummet to below freezing and ample doses of rain and snow. It was my job — my responsibility — to make the investment in winter weather gear so she could not only survive, but could live and thrive. It was not a luxury for her to have the appropriate cold weather clothing — it was a necessity.

On the flight home, still thinking about winter coats, I found myself thinking about the equivalent investment in education. What ARE the responsibilities when investing in education?”

How do we provide learning that is relevant and rigorous? And how do we give teachers resources and training to engage students? Whenever I hear someone ask, “Do we need technology in the classroom,” I think we keep asking the same wrong questions. Whether we need technology in the classroom is not the question. The real question to ask is, “How do we assess and measure whether technology is helping the learning process?”

Tech fluency is a basic skill students need today, no matter what their post-secondary aspirations. This is distinct from the need to assess evidence of deeper learning. Quality student work cannot be measured by multiple choice testing. Far more meaningful to the student is using performance-based assessments. We read that technology does little to increase test scores. But that statement is made because test scores are the only assessment currently used to measure student success.

Investing in technology is not a luxury. By not providing students with a learning experience that includes ubiquitous access to technology, we create “barriers to entry” — perpetuating a system of “haves” and “have nots” as we prepare high school graduates to face college and career paths.

How can we, as responsible adults, deny the student in rural America the same chance for a quality education as the suburban student in a fairly affluent neighborhood? Technology isn’t the silver bullet, it is a tool that enables development of critical skills necessary for any career path. Eliminating tech from the classroom, or viewing it as optional, will only exacerbate the opportunity gap.

It’s time to develop education policies across states and local districts that recognize the need to provide all students with specific skills along with content mastery. Technology and high speed bandwidth are tools that enable the development of critical thinking skills. To ignore the importance of these tools is the equivalent of sending our students out into sub-zero weather without winter coats. Without embedding technology into the teaching and learning experience, it’s virtually impossible to stay abreast of scientific developments and breaking news. We handicap teachers and students, and hamper their ability to teach and learn effectively. There’s a huge difference between studying theory and learning what is relevant. Technology is essential because it is the world of today, the real world students face well before they leave high school.

Technology has never been more affordable, and access continues to get less expensive. Textbooks certainly serve a purpose. But they are quickly outdated (especially in the areas of sciences and current events) and can cost nearly as much as a laptop.

It is a sad irony that as tech prices drop, districts everywhere face monumental budget pressures. Despite revenue shortfalls, we have to consider new ways to deliver educational services while districts forge stronger private/public partnerships to support innovation.

Now, more than ever, we need to take action. We need to ask ourselves: how well are we preparing students for life beyond high school, for college and career? Now is the time to start asking, and answering, the right questions.

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