Saturday, November 8, 2008

Article Assessment: Tools for the Mind

Technology specialist Mary Burns lays out her reasoning for rethinking the use of technology in the classroom in this insightful piece in Educational Leadership magazine. Burns argues that current use of technology in education is misguided, focusing on low-order thinking and presentation rather than on helping to develop critical thinking and analysis abilities. Reliance on "show-and-tell applications" like Word, Powerpoint, and Publisher, and an emphasis on presentation rather than analysis has made ineffectual use of the educational possibilities of technology. NCLB requirements have further shackled schools regarding technology by encouraging a reallocation of technology funds from instruction into data-management in order to meet NCLB reporting and accountability requirements.

What is needed, argues Burns, is to refocus on critical thinking and curriculum and to integrate technology as it best serves learning rather than using technology simply to improve student engagement. In order to foster critical thinking and analysis skills through technology we must move beyond show-and-tell applications to technologies that enable students to analyze and interpret data and to explore concepts more deeply and meaningfully. Some specific examples of higher-order technology include:

  • Spreadsheets
  • Databases
  • Geographical Information Systems (GIS)
  • Computer Aided Design and Drafting programs (CADD)
  • Simulations
Such technologies enable the user/learner to interact at a deeper level requiring thought, analysis, reconstruction of knowledge and result ultimately, argues Burns, in more meaningful and powerful learning.

From a teaching standpoint, I can definitely see the benefits of a shift towards higher-order uses of technology in the classroom. Clearly, the more that we can get students to analyze and interpret data and to think clearly and critically, the deeper their understanding will be. The difficulty to be surmounted is in teaching the students to use higher-order technologies effectively. Using spreadsheets, databases, or any of the other higher-order technologies Burns lists requires specific skill sets that need to be taught. With NCLB increasingly focusing curriculum and class time towards meeting progress standards, teachers have little available time to incorporate technology training into their classes, regardless of how helpful that technology might be in deepening student learning. Teachers, tech gurus, and administrators will need to work together if students are to become proficient in and reap the benefits of the use of higher-order technology. That said, the obstacles are not insurmountable. Education professionals all have in mind the best interest of their students, and if higher-order technology is given the chance and can show itself to be beneficial, certainly it will find its way into the classroom.

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