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.

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4 Responses to “Diane Ravitch outlines ed tech’s promise, perils”

March 19, 2012

This is really interesting because Ms. Ravitch declares that “Students are “bombarded by information that has not been vetted by anyone” and then concludes the exact opposite by saying “Let us use the power of technology to say ‘No’ to those who want to standardize our minds and the minds of our students.” Why should we assume that the persons who are going to vet wikipedia or any other text for that matter don’t have their own agenda and biased opinions. Why doesn’t Ms. Ravitch allow students to apply critical skills, part of the 21st century skills that they need to learn in school, in order to judge on their own whether the text they read is accurate. People like Ms. Ravitch scare me because they just want to replace one means of controlling student minds with another.

    March 28, 2012

    “Why doesn’t Ms. Ravitch allow students to apply critical skills, part of the 21st century skills that they need to learn in school, in order to judge on their own whether the text they read is accurate.”

    Perhaps because that’s not how critical thinking works. Certainly it requires individuals making judgments on the materials they read. But true critical thinking requires more than that. It requires being able to articulate the basis upon which a critical judgment is made, the criteria employed, the authorities relied upon. It also requires being able to articulate those ideas effectively in writing, in verbal expression and using technology. Finally, it requires being able to engage others who bring to bear their own perspectives and understandings on the subject against which one’s views may be compared, tested, refined. It’s not a matter of substituting one form of control for another. Ultimately, it’s about giving up on notions of control altogether.

March 19, 2012

Educational technology resources are simply tools used by teachers to engage, instruct, and support student learners, in exactly the same fashion that textbooks, lectures, and demostrations provide the same purpose in a traditional brick and mortar school program. I found it interesting at the CUE 2012 conference that some schools or teachers were looking at ed tech resources for an easier way to teach at risk populations, especially those that attended my session on Virtual Education. Just because a person knows how to surf the web, email, or post on Facebook it does not mean they will be able to teach students effectively in an online or blended environment, regardless of what any vendor may say. Online learning, Blended learning, use of these resources does not represent an easier or harder way to reach students, simply a different path. As Ravitch comments, Student engagement through the use of digital resources does indeed go far beyond what can happen in a strict textbook only driven model, BUT, in my research and experience, the higher level of student engagement is quite dependent on the skills of the teacher to adapt to the paradigm shift of traditional “brick and mortar” teaching to “bricks and clicks” in a blended model.
Bryan Rogers, Modesto Virtual Academy, Modesto, CA,
(Vaughan, N. (2007). Perspectives on Blended Learning in Higher Education. International Journal on E-Learning, 6(1), 81-94.)

March 28, 2012

There are so many ways of looking at technology in the classroom (and in life). Not surprising that everyone wants to view it from their own self-interest. We need to move from simply promoting technology, to promoting good uses, good processes, and good products. I am not sure how that works in our “let the market” tell us kind of world. A relative of mine who was in a “superintendent” level position took the approach that technology vendors need to “prove it works” from objective testing before she’d buy anything. She bought little. I suppose what works in classroom technology will morph into someone’s idea of what promotes 21st Century skills. It’s frightening to think of who will define 21st century skills. I think Bill Gates and President Obama’s views may be a little different than reality. Do people really believe that our entire population has the aptitude to perform high-tech jobs? We need to build skill diversity in our jobs and businesses. The world has an endless population of people with high aptitudes for technology who are more than willing to relocate to the U.S. to accept high paying jobs. If we decide to become the master of high tech jobs at the expense of all others, we will become an employment agency of the world and a welfare state for massive amounts of our own people. Besides, hasn’t it been shown that after a huge wave of technological advance, the number of technology workers needed is significantly reduced because the technology becomes hidden or integrated into the task? Teachers will also tell you that every minute spent teaching or learning one thing takes away from something else. Having worked with textbooks for years, I can tell you censorship is not the problem in most areas, it’s much more basic than that. The problem is textbook development by teacher committee for administrative/teacher committee. And teachers creating their own texts rarely help–often such texts are worse than anything on the market. Publishers will produce exactly what their buyers want and if their buyers insist on garbage, that’s what they provide. Textbook garbage often occurs when textbook buyers focus on technology and tools for their own use rather than what the students see. Ancillaries that are often “free” to the teacher often cost more to develop and maintain than the textbooks themselves –so the publisher skimps on the textbook and feeds the teachers what they want. Only so many resources can be put into education. How much resources are now spent on testing as opposed to teaching? When educational needs emphasized testing, many of the publishers went down that path. But let’s be honest folks, they were led by the educators and administrators(who were led by the politicians). The same scene haunts technology tools in the classroom. The most popular will make life easier for administrators and teachers rather than serve the students. It’s time to wake up and smell the coffee and move towards focusing on student needs first.