Technology, since the introduction of a computer that doesn’t take an entire room, has always been suggested for educational purposes. Technology is sold as an existing off the shelf solution for teaching the youth of the country that it happens to be in. Policymakers and lobbyists tend to sell the idea of technology as an easy solution that just takes money to solve a massive problem.
When an education organization purchases a technology solution many things happens. Typically, given a healthy market, products are evaluated, money is appropriated, and the solution providers bid [through their price, and service offerings]. The goal in this market is to provide business for the producer through a bulk sale, and reduces the price for the consumer [the people who run the educational organization]. This is the only place where the ultimate beneficiary, the students, is represented is by the purchaser of the products. However, since price is a consideration in the sale, the people who ultimately use and learn from the product have to compete with price.
Approximately fifteen years ago, the utopian goal of “high class education” was to have popular educational software or to have internet access in the classroom. By putting this in the classroom it was assumed that students would immediately consume it and use it to fulfill academic interests. Well intentioned as this might be, it wasn’t the case. Few students used the internet for research, and for those who did typically did, performed poor research. The research came from poor resources, and nothing was taught about how to identify a creditable source. However, can you blame the ten year old, teaching him about creditable sources isn’t extremely easy to explain when they’re struggling on algebra. Most students in schools used the internet to fulfill their immediate, typically non-education related, interests.
I would argue that most students below the age of mandatory education are unable to determine what subjects are the best investments of their time. Mandatory education provides a basic understanding of our world and the options available. It provides an understanding for the person that options exist outside of their small town or city, and that society is no longer a basic rudimentary system of barters and trades or tradition based.
Recently there has been a lot of hype over the use of embedded systems. This started with the introduction of “learning toys.” Some of these include LeapFrog, and VTech related products. Typically the premise of a learning toy is taking simple concepts, dressing them up in cute and popular characters and making an electronic version, which can be easily purchased at the local toy store. These are an easy way for a child to reinforce what is taught from another source, however, they are not a great teacher.
One of the more recent fads in technology purchases in education is the use of iPods, iPhones, and iPads. Ironically, these are all produced by the same company, which reduces competition in the market. These purchases are typically favorited by those who have a financial interest or for those who deem it hip. These devices are not built for educational use. These devices are all built to be generic multi-use devices for communication, or entertainment. Many argue that these devices can be used educational purposes; however they were not designed to entertain the needs that an educational experience requires.
For example, if an iPad is used for an educational purpose, what stops the user from switching to OMGmyFavoriateCeleb.com or texting their bff Jill when the material becomes dry and uninteresting? If anything, an iPad, in this manner, cuts down on educational value. The cost of the switch in context [going from information to a pleasure seeking mode] eliminates analysis on the material that was uninteresting. Without the device, the user may wonder why he or she did not like the subject or why it may be dull.
Additionally, the issue with selling devices that were mentioned is ignoring the actual value they may have. The value of an iInsertNameHere is completely reliant on the applications that are installed and the use of them. The users of the technology will ultimate install what they want on it. Why install the “utimate visual guide on history” when you can install the latest fart application for only $0.99 (now reduced from $50). The only few applications where I can see a tablet that would be useful for education is for reading material (books) or music (a Finale like application). However, typically the cost of the books, in the format for the tablet, and the device itself would never be less than the cost of the books themselves. Given that the only situation where the statement would be false is for rare books. Given a situation where everyone purposed books as ebooks, that possibility may not be far off.
Now for the content that is less doom and gloom. Technology can enable people to learn. There have been success stories. Two of the best success stories are electronic publishing of scholarly journals, and the second one being the OLPC project. Electronic publishing of scholarly journals, attempts to help the academics field to reduce the publishing of multiple research attempts of the same findings, create new fields of study, and providing access to academic materials to more people than ever before. Electronic journals are typically subscribed to by universities and access is provided to students. Without electronic access, this would become quite expensive at universities with large amounts of students (with a high demand for articles).
The second success story is an odd one. The project is the One Laptop Per Child project. This project’s goal is to put MORE computers in the hands of more children. However the difference in the people who are getting the machines and the ones I was ranting about before, is that these consumers are children in developing nations. The project is not putting laptops are specifically designed for situations where the internet may not be widely available, or electricity may be a concern. Additionally these are designed for locations where educational materials may be rare or outdated. The main characteristic that makes this project successful is that these laptops are not built to be general purpose entertainment devices. These devices are created to limit the applications that the people can use.
When I was the target for these educational devices, also the time of the dinosaurs, there were a few educational games that came to mind. These games were “Mathblasters”, “Where in the world is Carmen Sandiago,” and “Oregon Trail.” These were fun games that weren’t designed to replace the educational experience.