Wednesday, November 9, 2011

On the Use of Technology in Education

Technology comes from the Greek techne, roughly "skill" or "craft", teachable knowledge, originally related to woodworking. It is associated with tools, the knowledge or skill of working with them. In Aristotle tools are considered the efficient cause of something, not its final cause; the hammer and saw that help to make a chair, but do not determine its purpose, which is for comfortable sitting.

The most extreme modern proponents of technology in education confuse these matters, however; they argue as if the purpose of education were to employ modern technology "since that is how the world is changing, and our children's educations have to be consistent with the world of the 21st century." Here the use of technology in education appears as an end rather than a means, and with the extremists, it takes up so much space as to appear the only end worth pursuing. But the hoped-for learning gains prove ever elusive; and investment in educational technology is surely one of the culprits behind the very large increases in educational spending in recent decades with no corresponding increase in student achievement. And the most damning piece of evidence against the educational use of technology came out of PISA, where it was reported that the presence of computers in a school had no effect on student learning, while the presence of computers in a student's home was strongly and negatively associated with student performance. So the purveyors of the technology-as-salvation-for-education pitch ought to be listened to with extreme skepticism.

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