Real Changes in Education Are Rare

picture of Harry KellerBy Harry Keller
Editor, Science Education

[Note: An earlier version of this article first appeared as a comment to Jessica Knott’s “How Do You Define ‘Technophobia’?” -Editor]

I appreciate the comments on this sort of article (Liz Dwyer’s “Why Twitter Is a Teacher’s Best Tool,” 5.21.11) about as much as the article itself. One teacher (rossmau) commented that Twitter is less useful than her stapler. Another (Michelleg1) was effusive in her praise of Twitter.

I find Jessica’s question much more engaging than just talking about Twitter, which has its value and its drawbacks.

Many have noted that schools, as an institution, tend to resist change. Some decry that tendency as even troglodytic. It certainly frustrates me from time to time.

However, if you think about it, schools provides a critical service for our children for a dozen or more years of their lives. Were it subject to every whim of education theory, the results would likely be unpleasant at best. I’ve seen a few education fads come and go.

My favorite fad is “New Math.” Wow! Some still cling to it today, but it was totally discredited years ago. In science education (and others I think), we see “back to basics” as a fad that trades places with social relevancy.  Each gets stretched to its limit resulting in an overreaction in the other direction. So, one day, it’s all about learning the fundamentals of science. Another day, it’s all about relating science to your community, to your nation, to the world as in global warming. It’s not that these things are bad. They’re just not in balance.

So it must be with the introduction of technology into our classrooms. There will always be a few brave early adopters and some who will resist change to the end. The bulk of our teachers are careful with the lives we’ve placed in their hands. They wait until they can understand the trade-offs they are making when they choose a technology.

The early adopters also are usually quick to abandon something that doesn’t work. The die-hards just keep on teaching as they have. We all have to pray that they’re doing a great job without the use of anything new; many probably are.

I’d like to think of technophobia as a form of a broader issue, change-phobia. As you can see from my remarks so far, I have a mixed reaction.

Once in a while, a real change that really helps learning comes along. I suppose that you might consider textbooks to be one such change. The concept of using the Internet for distance education instead of the old mail-order format is another to my mind.

In science education, the addition of students working in a laboratory was a huge change from the strictly lecture-based science learning that preceded it.

How many really significant changes can you think of in the history of education or in your education field? I wouldn’t count the change from blackboard to whiteboard because all it did was eliminate chalk dust. Think of real changes that made a real difference.

Now, consider the technology changes being discussed today. How many truly have the capability to make a big change in learning? In my opinion, interactive whiteboards (IWBs) don’t make the cut. I don’t really see video recording of lectures as doing so either, but I’m willing to be convinced.

Make your list and post it here!

One Response

  1. You’re so right about “new math” and many other fads. As to real changes: in language learning/teaching, the use of authentic recordings of course precedes the personal computer, but has been made easier by digitization, and heaps easier the wealth of such recordings offered by video and audio hosting platforms.

    One might argue that such a big quantitative change entails a qualitative change too. But it’s also a qualitative change per se: before, teachers were the main access channel to these authentic recordings. Now students can choose them according to their interests.

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