We always make the same mistakes when it comes to technology in education


Last week, educator Gaurav Singh posted a detailed and thought-provoking Twitter thread about the failure of Project One Laptop Per Child (OLPC), a high-profile EdTech initiative that emerged from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) ago. about two decades. .

The project was led by MIT internet futurist Nicholas Negroponte (who was also director of the initial phase of the Digital Hub in Dublin). The small OLPC laptop was beautifully designed, costing just $ 100, and was intended to put laptops in the hands of children around the world, especially in areas where access to technology was previously limited.

It had smart features, like a hand crank that could be used to charge the device, and a built-in e-reader. The problem, Singh notes, was that teachers, children, and families weren’t sure what to do with it. In addition, the devices often broke.

Negroponte and OLPC supporters strongly believed that children would master technology and expand their educational horizons through an innate willingness to explore and learn.

But OLPCs have not developed a significant role in education. Why? Singh argues that far too much EdTech attention has been placed on “Tech” rather than “Ed”. There has not been enough thought into how these laptops should be used, or to prepare teachers and children for this use.

Former Irish Times Silicon Valley tech columnist Danny O’Brien foresightedly wrote on the laptop in a 2008 column, pinpointing exactly these looming issues with the OLPC deployment.

“I can foresee so many ways this could fail. Children and teachers may not understand it (a failure of the pedagogical philosophy of learning by exploration that underlies Negroponte’s plans), ”he wrote, after tinkering with one for himself. same.

“Genie à la Gates”

“While playing eToys, a seemingly innocent laptop game, I stumbled across, as a smart kid would, a toolkit of amazing and incredibly advanced utilities: frequency analysis systems; a voice synthesizer, a video editor and a gesture recognizer, ”he added.

“This computer rewards exploration, okay if you’re a Gates genius.”

I experienced this same Ed vs Tech gap a decade earlier, around 1990, when I was teaching junior writing at a state university in Silicon Valley. During my job interview, I was asked if I would be willing to teach in newly equipped classrooms. I said I would like too.

Unlike the majority of my part-time faculty colleagues, I myself used computers and was interested in how they might be integrated into writing lessons.

I greatly underestimated the difficulties. Those of us who used computer rooms were simply thrown in, with no training or teaching materials or set goals. Not a single idea was offered by the administration as to what we should do with the PCs.

Every signal from the education sector indicates that technology will be an even more important part of education

Few students then had an (expensive) personal computer, so any role for computers had to be during class time.

Machines on every desk were distractions, even though they had no internet connection and required students to type commands (they were pre-Windows PCs). Students would surreptitiously type on keyboards and watch screens and their attention wandered whenever I didn’t make them actively use PCs for an exercise.

Tech vs Ed

I spent personal, unpaid hours attending some of the first revolutionary EdTech seminars at UC Berkeley, trying to learn how to use equipment that my own college didn’t know how to use. It was inspiring at times – I was young, and we were pioneers in the field of EdTech – but also exhausting, time consuming and professionally discouraging.

Singh concludes, “Maybe the problem isn’t how well the technology works. Maybe the problem is how well we know what works in Ed and how well we apply it.

And we are still there. Thirty years after having encountered exactly these problems, a decade after the collapse of the OLPC project, the piece “Tech” is too often far removed from the essentials of “Ed”.

Yet we are at a point where the effective coupling of the two is absolutely essential for the future of education, which should be crystal clear as we emerge from a pandemic with its intense shift to technology-based learning.

Teachers everywhere have struggled, often on their own, to master a totally unexpected virtual environment that required massive EdTech change for teachers, students and parents. Families without good internet connections or the ability to purchase expensive tablets or laptops have struggled.

Teachers from elementary to university level have described to me the feeling of angry frustration with the administrations that have mandated Tech, but that have offered little support and little guidance on integrating Ed into Tech.

Like me, a long time ago, we let them go it alone or exchange ideas with each other in an educational vacuum.

Students and teachers may be back in physical classrooms, but every signal from the education sector indicates that technology in the times to come will be an even more important part of education. Unless we want to make an extremely difficult situation worse, we have to remember (and then make sure) that in EdTech, Ed comes before, not after, Tech.

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