Diane Ravitch outlines ed tech’s promise, perils

By Laura Devaney, Managing Editor
March 16th, 2012

NYU professor Diane Ravitch said technology should be used to expand and challenge students’ views of the world—but should not stifle student and teacher creativity.

Technology offers incredible potential for education, but it also presents certain perils that all education stakeholders must take care to avoid, said noted education historian and NYU professor Diane Ravitch on March 16 at the Computer-Using Educators (CUE) conference in Palm Springs, Calif.

“I’m actually here to get some more followers on Twitter,” Ravitch jokingly told the audience, before diving into an illuminating discussion about the promise that technology holds for education and the pitfalls that accompany it.

“I’m genuinely excited by what teachers are able to bring to history, the sciences, economics, the arts. … For a century, educators have dreamed about student-centered learning, and now technology has the potential to make it real,” Ravitch said.

Educational technology helps students rise to a level of engagement and learning “far beyond” what a textbook can offer, Ravitch said, adding that textbooks often avoid sensitive or difficult topics from the past because publishers and those with a stake in adoption want the textbooks to be approved for student use.

Textbooks have been “plagued by a regime of silence and censorship,” and for years, educators have wondered how to expose students to true versions of the events they read about in their textbooks, she said.

“So what do you do? The answer is technology,” Ravitch said. For instance, educators can show videos depicting historical events or portraying scientific phenomena without editing.

“Technology is too big, too various, too wide open, and far too much for them to monitor,” she said. “It’s free, and they can’t make you edit out the controversial stuff—they can try, but I think it might be too hard.”

Ed tech has, in fact, helped spur new kinds of freedom.