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The Real Cost of Technology Integration

I came across a fascinating—if depressing—piece from author Jeff Stimpson, who was guest blogging for online newspaper The Faster Times. Stimpson chronicles his thoughts when he visits the special education classroom of this 12-year-old son who suffers from autism, and learns that the class—despite financial pressures facing all districts these days—is home to eight iPad tablet computing devices.

In the process, he identifies conflict that is essential to understand, yet often overlooked by technology zealots and phobics alike.

Leaving aside that Alex tries to access TV shows on Preschool On Demand not by pressing the buttons of the remote but by pressing his fingertips on the TV screen, I'm left to answer: What is this teaching him? Will it help him survive? Stand up to people who want him to eat in his classroom? Keep him off a park bench in 30 years? Or will he simply use the big Pad to find, and I know there must be one, an Elmo app?

In other words, technology's potential to enhance a student's abilities can be constructive or destructive. And that is magnified for students who have special needs, such as Alex, or attend otherwise inferior schools.

Students in underserved communities and students with disabilities are two populations technololgy advocates say stand to benefit the most from technology integration. That might be ensuring that every student has a device with Internet search capabilites—a major goal of mobile learning proponents—or allowing students like Alex a more intuitive method for communication and self expression.

But if we agree that those students are more vulnerable, then isn't it also true that any negative aspect of the technology could also be magnified—such as a student's ability to become distracted, inattentive, or even academically fraudulent with the push of a button, or to lean on the crutch of a favorite preschool program long after they should be maturing past that content?

It's not a reason to abandon technology integration all together. But even in a field where research lags far behind the rate of change, it is a reason to reconsider powering up first and asking questions later.

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