I'm looking ahead this week to Digital Learning Day on February 6th. It's a day supported by a diverse set of educators and institutional partners, designed to celebrate the possibilities of digital technologies and learning.
It should also, I think, be a day for asking tough questions and reflecting about our limited progress in using technology to enrich schooling. The Web is full of truly extraordinary exemplar projects demonstrating powerful applications of technology in learning settings, where students collaborate across cultures, solve meaningful problems, and rehearse for a networked world. But as extraordinary as the exemplars are, in most cases teachers use technology to extend existing practices, and the limited cases where technology fosters innovation disproportionately benefit affluent students.
So in the spirit of exciting potential and disappointing progress, I offer some questions for us to reflect on:
1) Do the most exciting technology-rich learning opportunities in your school go to the most-advantaged students in Honors or AP classes?
2) Is your school using technology to gain efficiencies in old practices, or to do things that are truly different?
3) Does your school teach students to be afraid of making bad decisions on the Internet? Or do you teach students how to create a digital footprint to be proud of?
4) Do rubrics for online projects evaluate students' ability to demonstrate their understanding, or do they measure compliance concerning criteria like length, number of posts, number of pages, etc.?
5) To what extent is your school measuring the impact of your technology investments? Could you prove to your stakeholders (parents, school boards, trustees) that the vast sums invested in technology are making a difference in student learning?
6) Does your school have a coherent vision that defines high quality learning? Is your technology plan specifically designed to serve that vision?
7) How does your school prepare students for a world where the vast majority of learning takes place outside of school?
Bonus Questions for Educational Researchers
1) Does your research design account for the fact that most new innovations in education technology either have no meaningful impact on teacher practice or disproportionately benefit the affluent?
2) Do your studies focus on "hot-house" cases where educators have access to special technologies, resources, or expertise, or are you studying how typical technologies are used in typical settings?
3) Does your research agenda have plans for translating research findings into meaningful, actionable advice for practitioners? Do you publish in places and formats where educators can make use of your insights?
These are hard questions. This is a hard field. It's hard to look back over the last four decades and find ways that education technology has made deep, lasting changes on schooling. It's also hard to imagine a future where we don't depend upon emerging technologies to shape learning across our lifetimes.
So let's celebrate our efforts, but let's not believe that technology is magic. If it is magic, it's the David-Blaine-standing-on-a-pole-while-frozen-in-ice kind. The hard kind.
We need a pep talk. I'll let Kid President do it. Happy Digital Learning Day.