Can Technology Expand the Reach of Great Teachers?

Frank B. WithrowBy Frank B. Withrow

We have always had examples of schools and teachers that, regardless of their support, were able to inspire and bring out the best in students. My anatomy teacher, Dr. Davis, was a teacher who intuitively inspired students to think and to excel. He was a Presidential Scientist and world renowned authority, but he spent as much time working with an undergraduate student as he did in his post graduate classes.

We have always had these inspiring teachers. The question is, Can technology expand their reach? The question is whether we, as a nation, wish to honor teachers and schools and foster a true love of learning. I am less concerned about a grade for our schools and learners than I am about developing a society that honors learning whether it is through technology or inspired teachers.

If we desire good schools we will have them. Technology can expand the number of children now denied schools worldwide. For the first time, technology has allowed us to dream of schools for every child in the world. Some countries will do well with this dream; others will stumble.

Right now it is difficult to pick the winners and losers.

One Response

  1. The question of education and technology certainly stumps many. Will technology add or distract? Is the cost worth the benefits? How can you know beforehand that a given technology will produce benefits?

    Technology has always been a Janus. Nuclear power is an obvious example and has become iconic as the example of the two faces of a new development in technology.

    We must take care with terms here. I will use technology to mean computer technology and mostly software but allowing for enabling hardware. A projector is technology. Even an old-fashioned blackboard is technology of a very humble sort.

    Computers in education go back a long time. The development of PLATO began in 1959. Personal computers appeared in the 1970s but not as a significant player in education until after the IBM PC appeared in 1981. This event set the stage for the explosion of personal computing that continues today.

    The development of the Internet paralleled somewhat that of the PC. The more recent development of smart phones and electronic tablets as expanded the potential for web technology in education substantially, especially when you can obtain a tablet for $70 today.

    We know from measured results that technology can aid education. The earlier results were for reinforcement, aka memorizing via drill. Computers are totally patient, after all.

    Today, we’re seeking much more from technology, such as personalization of learning, adaptive learning, very high interaction, and dazzling appearance along with educator tools. Some would have computers become “computer tutors,” but that event will not happen soon except in very limited fashion.

    On the other hand, ill-advised technology acquisition by schools have drained them of funds and made many educators gun-shy of technology. Furthermore, what a school buys today will be obsolete in five years or less. The answer to that problem lies in buying cloud-based software that is updated at no additional cost or effort and remaining nimble regarding hardware.

    Technology can also cause a reduction in learning. I’ve read of this happening but don’t have the reference handy.

    I know of no magic answer. So-called research-based educational technology is not the answer unless a qualified person evaluates the research and checks that the software actually adheres to it. Any vendor can make this claim. And so it is with all claims, even those I make. You have to check them.

    WRT the title of this article, I agree that technology can allow great teachers to reach farther, but will their teaching remain great in the extended medium? Is their greatness dependent on the face-to-face environment? I think that technology will support good and great teachers and allow them the extra bandwidth to work with more students, but not orders of magnitude more. I think that excellent educational technology will remove many burdens from teaching and allow closer interaction at critical junctures of learning. I think that technology will allow for student experiences rarely available in our classroom, real or virtual.

    I think that educational technology can change education to become excellent for everyone. I hope that it will.

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