We Should Cut Back On Technology In Schools?

Wes Fryer has posted a podcast of a presentation – “Encouraging Reading” by Stephen Krashen, Professor Emeritus University of Southern California, at Encyclo-Media 2006, Oklahoma City, OK_01 September 2006 (Thanks Wes!). It is a great presentation and I highly recommend it. I practically cheered through most of it. The gist is we need to return to doing “Silent Sustained Reading” with our students and put more books into our libraries, classrooms, homes and hands of “At Risk” students. I wholeheartedly agree. SSR has been one of the unintended victims of the time constraints imposed by the requirements of NCLB in many classrooms – it was not forbidden, but at least discouraged at my school over the last 5 – 6 years.

Interestingly, towards the end of his presentation Krashen concludes, among other things, that we should cut back on technology in schools and put the money into books (he says he can’t find any data that supports technology improving reading ability).

I’m sure I’m not the only one that sees a hole in the logic here. I know Dean Shareski for one is questioning the reasoning (note his comment on Wes’s post). My short version response is:

Using technology in education is not mainly about supporting reading instruction (although whether supported by research or not, I suspect technology at least provides greater access and motivation to read) – technology is a tool used to support the gathering, organizing, editing, sharing, presenting, archiving, discussing and collaborating about information (feel free to add to the list, I left out plenty). Technology in its many forms is a tool like paper, pencils, books and libraries are tools (and resources) used to help gather, process and disseminate knowledge. Technology has become so pervasive and valuable a tool, and has so many applications, that being at least basically literate in its use has become an essential learning. An essential learning that presently is only available to the middle and upper classes for the most part outside of schools and libraries. Technology use in schools is not just about using it as a tool, but also using it ethically – which again is tough if it is not available at your home under the supervision of family members that understand its use and implications. (kind of like drug, sex and health education)

Could you lead a successful and fulfilling life without technology … yes. You could say the same about learning to drive a car or using transportation – you don’t have to know how to drive or use modern transportation – how many do so successfully in today’s world?

I could be wrong, but the last time I looked the internet seemed to have at least some pages that contained text, at least some of which might be material that one could access and read … during say … Silent Sustained Reading time? I think I noticed it covers many different topics and languages too – and I have had students participate in online discussions (that they had to read and respond to) a few with authors of books or poetry – so I bet at least some students would find some interesting material on the net (and some software) to read.

Is there research to support my point? I’m not sure I care. I do suspect we should put money into books and technology – and just education in general.

Learning is messy.

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6 thoughts on “We Should Cut Back On Technology In Schools?

  1. SSR is an interesting initiative – I’ve just been talking about this with some NZ teachers – SSR is reasonably common in New Zealand schools. It seems like a good idea but problems arise even when the ssr is faithfully implemented – and it often isn’t.

    The assumption that “students learn to read by practicing, so more practice would result in better reading skills” does not account for students who in truth reinforce flawed approaches to reading because the activity is largely unsupervised. “Practice does not make perfect” as any sports coach will tell you – perfect practice makes perfect

  2. What we need is technology that is significantly cheaper and easier to use and manage than what most schools use now. If you do a cost/benefit analysis of the value of current technology based on research, it is a tough sell. If we are as serious about pushing down the cost side as we are about pushing up the benefit side, I think we can start getting somewhere.

  3. As another reason to keep plugging for tech in our schools, technology also allows us to make educational materials accessible to many students who are unable to learn from print. AND for me it is all about equity and social justice — No one ever mentions the importance of assistive technology and how much of the AT invented has found its way into general use; Kurzweil Reader = Dragon Naturally Speaking. We are just beginning to get Universal Design for Learning ideas out to the general education teachers. I am very concerned that we are missing many students (not just those with learning disabilties) who can use eTexts, digital recorders for capturing lectures to listen to again; handhelds, laptops for taking notes, believe me I could go on and on. . . Please keep up the fight for appropriate use of technology in our schools.
    for more infromation on UDL see http://cast.com (not my website) for the work of David Rose & Rose Meyer, etal.

  4. Artichoke – You are correct – just having a Silent Sustained Reading time and watching kids like a hawk making sure they are reading (assuming you have enough reading material that students can find appropriately leveled reading material) is not going to cut it for every student – especially as you stated: “… does not account for students who in truth reinforce flawed approaches to reading because the activity is largely unsupervised.” However SSR provides a time when teachers can work with individuals or small groups helping them “practice appropriately” in a supervised manner. It also helps if you have the time to help students choose appropriate material or direct them to re-read material you know already is leveled to their ability. Thanks for your comment.

  5. Tom – I disagree. You assume that technology means computers for everyone (I guess since lots of other technology is not prohibitively expensive) – which would be nice, and I think that we need to move in that direction, and prices are continuing to fall – we just adopted a new reading series and the student books are $95 a pop (and that doesn’t include all the other parts of the program we bought) and are really only usable for one subject. Laptops now are down to $500 (notice I didn’t bring the MIT $100 into the conversation) and they touch every curriculum area.
    But that aside, even a classroom using one computer can be used to at least make students aware of technology as a tool – designing and making photo and video presentations, a research center, emailing experts for information, Skypecasts, podcasts, vidcasts that students research and design and all I need is one computer, a microphone or digital recorder – one school digital video camera, and I could go on. At the elementary school level, especially with at-risk students that have close to zero contact with tech – just making them aware of what tech can do is imperative and valuable – its just commoin sense and I don’t need a cost-benefit analysis to tell me so – I see it and deal with it everyday in my classroom.