No, this is not about the upcoming Easter holiday. This morning I read an article from the Washington Post detailing a study that has just been released by the US Dept of Education. This study maintains that students who used educational software in their classes did not score any better on standardized tests than students who did not use any software. (I just searched the US Dept of Ed site and could not find the study to read on my own, so I will have to rely on the contents of the article.)
So now the big question school districts will be asking is: Should we spend large amounts of money on educational software packages? Here are my first thoughts on what districts need to do to maximize the use of technology for student learning.
- Forget about the magic bullet. No software in and of itself is going to make students suddenly overcome what years of schooling has already failed to do. Especially if it is used in isolation of the pedagogical practices that are being used in the classroom. Software should be chosen that:
- aligns with the curriculum
- aligns with the school/district philosophy of teaching
- allows for flexibility
- Provide all teachers with adequate training on the software – both initial AND ongoing, follow up support. I have seen too many of my own district’s well intentioned missions fail because we trained teachers when the product was first adopted and then bid them to go forth and use it. My experience with teachers is that even if they get it when they are first trained, once they actually try to use it with students, unexpected situations. This is what I like to think of as the tipping point (to co-opt Gladwell’s term). If the teacher can get follow up support at this point, they will likely have success and continue to use the product. However, if there is no one to turn to, the initiative may be abandoned or watered down.
- People are important. Districts will spend tons of money trying to find the magic bullet in software to cure their educational needs, but will not pony up the dollars to hire qualified instructional technology facilitators for their schools. I cannot emphasize enough how critical these ITFs are to the success or failure of the ubiquitous use of technology in schools. Teachers deserve to have someone in their building who both understand the teaching/learning process, have been teachers themselves, and how technology works and can support the core curriculum. They are the ones who can provide ongoing support to the teachers and help them understand how the product can be appropriately used to support their teaching.
- Examine the pedagogy. It may be that the software being used is high quality, but the pedagogy happening away from the technology is undermining any positive effects the software may have had on student learning. Again, this is where the expertise of an ITF is critical. They can help teachers examine their practices and become better users of these materials.
- Prepare the students. We assume that students come to our classrooms knowing how to use technology to learn. Not true. Most know how to use technology and many have learned from their use of technology without meaning to do so. However, many have no idea how they can use the software to improve their learning. So what strategies need to be employed to help them do this?
What else should we add????