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Topic: [ncsm-members] Who really benefits from putting high-tech gadgets in classrooms?
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Jerry P. Becker

Posts: 16,576
Registered: 12/3/04
[ncsm-members] Who really benefits from putting high-tech gadgets in classrooms?
Posted: Feb 7, 2012 2:57 PM
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From The Los Angeles Times, Saturday, February 4, 2012. See,0,639053.column
. Our appreciation to Monty Neil, Executive Director, Fair Test, for
bringing this article to our attention.
Who really benefits from putting high-tech gadgets in classrooms?

How much genuine value is there in fancy educational electronics?
Don't let companies or politicians fool you.

By Michael Hiltzik

Something sounded familiar last week when I heard U.S. Education
Secretary Arne Duncan and FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski make a huge
pitch for infusing digital technology into America's classrooms.

Every schoolchild should have a laptop, they said. Because in the
near future, textbooks will be a thing of the past.

Where had I heard that before? So I did a bit of research, and found
it. The quote I recalled was, "Books will soon be obsolete in the
schools.... Our school system will be completely changed in 10 years."

The revolutionary technology being heralded in that statement wasn't
the Internet or the laptop, but the motion picture. The year was
1913, and the speaker, Thomas Edison, was referring to the prospect
of replacing book learning with instruction via the moving image.

He was talking through his hat then, every bit as much as Duncan and
Genachowski are talking through theirs now.

Here's another similarity: The push for advanced technology in the
schoolroom then and now was driven by commercial, not pedagogical,
considerations. As an inventor of motion picture technology, Edison
stood to profit from its widespread application. And the leading
promoter of the replacement of paper textbooks by e-books and
electronic devices today is Apple, which announced at a media event
last month that it dreams of a world in which every pupil reads
textbooks on an iPad or a Mac.

That should tell you that the nirvana sketched out by Duncan and
Genachowski at last week's Digital Learning Day town hall was erected
upon a sizable foundation of commercially processed claptrap [see ]. Not only
did Genachowski in his prepared remarks give a special shout out to
Apple and the iPad, but the event's roster of co-sponsors included
Google, Comcast, AT&T, Intel and other companies hoping to see their
investments in Internet or educational technologies pay off [see
below or go to,0,639053.column
t0 download the talk].

How much genuine value is there in fancy educational electronics?
Listen to what the experts say.

"The media you use make no difference at all to learning," says
Richard E. Clark, director of the Center for Cognitive Technology at
USC. "Not one dang bit. And the evidence has been around for more
than 50 years." [see [

Almost every generation has been subjected in its formative years to
some "groundbreaking" pedagogical technology. In the '60s and '70s,
"instructional TV was going to revolutionize everything," recalls
Thomas C. Reeves, an instructional technology expert at the
University of Georgia. [see ] "But
the notion that a good teacher would be just as effective on
videotape is not the case."

Many would-be educational innovators treat technology as an end-all
and be-all, making no effort to figure out how to integrate it into
the classroom. "Computers, in and of themselves, do very little to
aid learning," Gavriel Salomon of the University of Haifa and David
Perkins of Harvard observed in 1996. [see attachment or go to,0,639053.column
to download information] Placing them in the classroom "does not
automatically inspire teachers to rethink their teaching or students
to adopt new modes of learning."

At last week's dog-and-pony show, Duncan bemoaned how the U.S. is
being outpaced in educational technology by countries such as South
Korea and even Uruguay. ("We have to move from being a laggard to a
leader" was his sound bite.)

Does Duncan ever read his own agency's material? In 2009, the
Education Department released a study of whether math and reading
software helped student achievement in first, fourth, and sixth
grades, based on testing in hundreds of classrooms. The study found
that the difference in test scores between the software-using classes
and the control group was "not statistically different from zero."
[See attachment or go to,0,639053.column
to download] In sixth-grade math, students who used software got
lower test scores - and the effect got significantly worse in the
second year of use.

The aspect of all this innovative change that got the least attention
from Duncan and Genachowski was how school districts are supposed to
pay for it.

It's great to suggest that every student should be equipped with a
laptop or given 24/7 access to Wi-Fi, but shouldn't our federal
bureaucrats figure out how to stem the tidal wave of layoffs in the
teaching ranks and unrelenting cutbacks in school programs and
maintenance budgets first? School districts can't afford to buy
enough textbooks for their pupils, but they're supposed to equip
every one of them with a $500 iPad?

"There are two big lies the educational technology industry tells,"
says Reeves. "One, you can replace the teacher. Two, you'll save
money in the process. Neither is borne out."

Apple has become a major purveyor of the mythology of the high-tech
classroom. "Education is deep in our DNA," declared Phil Schiller,
Apple's marketing chief, at its Jan. 19 education event. "We're
finding that as students are starting to be introduced to iPad and
learning, some really remarkable things are happening." [see

If you say so, Phil. But it's proper to point out the downside to one
great innovation Schiller touted, a desktop publishing app called
iBooks Author. The app is free, and plainly can help users create
visually striking textbooks. But buried in the user license is a rule
that if you sell a product created with iBooks Author, you can sell
it only through Apple's iBookstore, and Apple will keep 30% of the
purchase price. (Also, your full-featured iBook will be readable only
on an Apple device such as an iPad.)

Among tech pundits, the reaction to this unusual restriction has
ranged from citing its "unprecedented audacity"
to calling it "mind-bogglingly greedy and evil." [see
] Apple won't comment for the record on the uproar. Whatever you
think of it, the rule makes clear that Apple's interest in
educational innovation is distinctly mercantile. But that didn't keep
Genachowski from praising Apple's education initiative as an
"important step." (Perhaps he meant a step toward enhanced

Of course Apple draped its new business initiative in all sorts of
Steve Jobsian pixie dust, as if it's all about revolutionizing
education. The company's most amusing claim is that iPads are somehow
more "durable" than textbooks and therefore more affordable, over
time. Its website weeps copious crocodile tears over the sad fate of
textbooks [ ] - "as
books are passed along from one student to the next, they get more
highlighted, dog-eared, tattered and worn." Yet as James Kendrick of
ZDNet reports, school administrators who have handed laptops out to
students to take home say the devices get beaten nearly to death in
no time.
] The reality is obvious: Drop a biology textbook on a floor, you
pick it up. Drop an iPad, you'll be sweeping it up.

Some digital textbooks may have advantages over their paper cousins.
Well-produced multimedia features can improve students' understanding
of difficult or recondite concepts. But there's a fine line between
an enhancement and a distraction, and if textbook producers are using
movies and 3-D animations to paper over the absence of serious
research in their work, that's not progress.

Nor is it a given that e-books will be cheaper than bound books,
especially when the cost of the reading devices is factored in. Apple
tries to entice schools to buy iPads in blocks of 10 by offering a
lavish discount of, well, $20 per unit. They still cost $479 each.
The company also provides a bulk discount on extended warranties for
the device, but - surprise! - it doesn't cover accidental damage from
drops or spills.

Apple and its government mouthpieces speak highly of the ability to
feed constant updates to digital textbooks so they never go out of
date. But that's relevant to a rather small subset of schoolbooks
such as those dealing with the leading edge of certain sciences -
though I'm not sure how many K-12 pupils are immersed in advanced
subjects such as quantum mechanics or string theory. The standard
text of "Romeo and Juliet," on the other hand, has been pretty well
locked down since 1599.

There's certainly an important role for technology in the classroom.
And the U.S. won't benefit if students in poor neighborhoods fall
further behind their middle-class or affluent peers in access to
broadband Internet connectivity or computers. But mindless servility
to technology for its own sake, which is what Duncan and Genachowski
are promoting on behalf of self-interested companies like Apple, will
make things worse, not better.

That's because it distracts from and sucks money away from the most
important goal, which is maintaining good teaching practices and
employing good teachers in the classroom. What's scary about the
recent presentation by Duncan and Genachowski is that it shows that
for all their supposed experience and expertise, they've bought snake
oil. They're simply trying to rebottle it for us as the elixir of the
SIDEBAR: Arne Duncan and Julius Genachowski discuss technology in education.
PHOTO SIDEBAR: U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan, left, and FCC
Chairman Julius Genachowski speak at a Digital Learning Day event
sponsored in part by Google, Comcast, AT&T and Intel. (Mark Wilson,
Getty Images / February 5, 2012)
Michael Hiltzik's column appears Sundays and Wednesdays. Reach him at, read past columns at, check
out and follow @latimeshiltzik on Twitter.

FEBRUARY 1, 2012

Thank you all for joining us here at the Newseum and online across the country.

I want to thank everyone who is stepping up to seize the
opportunities of digital learning,
in particular Governor Wise and the Alliance for Excellent Education
for hosting today's

Thank you Xavier for being here and to AT&T for their participation
in this initiative.
I'd like to also thank all the private sector partners of the Digital
Textbook Collaborative,
Josh Gottheimer and Jordan Usdan on my team at the FCC, and Karen Cator at the
Department of Education.

And finally, thank you to Secretary Arne Duncan for your leadership
at the Department
of Education and your partnership on digital learning.

At the FCC, our mission is to harness the power of broadband and communications
technology to improve the lives of the American people.

Few areas hold more promise for broadband-enabled innovation and
improvements than

For example, broadband enables distance learning and collaboration,
connecting students
wherever they are to information, tutors, teachers, and other students.

Studies show technology makes a real difference. Technology-based
teaching can reduce
the time it takes to learn a lesson by 30 to 80 percent.

The FCC has been working since the early days of the commercial
Internet to bring the
benefits of online learning to America's schools.

Our E-Rate program - established in the 1990s - has helped connect almost every
classroom in America to the Internet. And we recently modernized our
E-Rate program
to seize the opportunities of mobile connectivity.

Now, it's time for the next stage - or chapter if you will - in
education technology:
digital textbooks. Digital textbooks are one of the cornerstones of
digital learning.
When we talk about transitioning to digital textbooks, we're not just
talking about giving
students e-readers so they no longer have to carry around backpacks
filled with 50
pounds of often out-of-date textbooks.

We're talking about students having interactive learning devices that
can offer lessons
personalized to their learning style and level, and enable real-time
feedback to parents,
teachers, or tutors.

Imagine a student who has trouble doing his geometry homework; the
digital textbook
automatically inserts a supplemental lesson.

Imagine a teacher who has instant access to the results of a pop
quiz; she can immediately
see that four of her students didn't understand the concept of
photosynthesis and is able
to offer an extra lesson.

We've seen digital textbooks adopted in pockets around the country,
but adoption is not
widespread and too skewed to wealthier areas.

Meanwhile, too many students still have textbooks that are 7 to 10
years old. And some
students are using history books that don't even cover 9/11.

It's not just the content of textbooks that needs updating, it's the
concept. We often talk
about how technology has changed everything, but static, hardcover
textbooks are what I
used in school, what my parents used, what their parents used and so on.

We spend $7 billion a year on textbooks in this country, but digital
textbooks - this
massive innovation - remain the exception, not the rule.

We can do better. And I envision a society spending less on
textbooks, but getting more
out of them.

We all win if the players in the digital learning ecosystem -
including publishers, device
manufacturers, platform providers, internet service providers,
schools - work together to
accelerate the adoption of digital textbooks. If they work together
to address the
obstacles of broadband deployment and adoption, content development,
and device costs.

To date, many of these players have taken important steps.

Costs of the tablets are coming down and many content players,
including the longstanding
incumbents and new entrants, are working to transition to a digital world.

Connectivity is still an obstacle. About a third of Americans - 100
million people - still
haven't adopted broadband at home. Digital textbooks can't work
without this home

We've launched a major public-private initiative called Connect to
Compete, to promote
broadband adoption, and we've seen major companies like Microsoft,
Best Buy, and the
cable companies step forward with significant commitments to promote adoption.

I commend Comcast for their continued commitment to broadband adoption. The
extension of their Internet Essentials program to thousands of
additional families will
help bring the benefits of broadband to more students and families.

Just yesterday, the FCC approved a measure to modernize our Lifeline program -
establishing a Broadband Adoption Pilots to begin transitioning
Lifeline from a program
that supports phone service to one that supports Internet access.

Apple took an important step last month with its announcement of new
textbooks and a
publishing suite for the iPad.

Recognizing the need to do more, the FCC partnered with the
Department of Education
to convene the Digital Textbook Collaborative.

The collaborative enlisted partners from across the digital learning
ecosystem to compile
best practices on how schools can go digital.

I'm pleased that today the Collaborative is releasing a Digital
Learning Playbook.
This Playbook offers information about how to achieve the robust
connectivity that is
necessary for digital learning inside and outside school. It also
details important
considerations when implementing digital devices. Finally, it
identifies the best practices
for making a successful transition to digital learning.

This is an important start but there's more work to do. Countries
like South Korea, which
has announced they are going to all digital textbooks in 2013, are
still ahead of us.

If we want American students to be the best prepared to compete in
the 21st century
global economy, we can't allow a majority of our students to miss out on the
opportunities of digital textbooks.

Today, I want to challenge everyone in the space - companies,
government officials,
schools and teachers - to do their part to make sure that every
student in America has a
digital textbook in the next five years.

Next month, Secretary Duncan and I will be convening a meeting with CEOs in the
digital textbook spaces to work toward achieving this goal.

Digital learning is critical to the future of education in our
country and to our global
competiveness. I'm pleased that we're taking steps to seize the
opportunities before us

Jerry P. Becker
Dept. of Curriculum & Instruction
Southern Illinois University
625 Wham Drive
Mail Code 4610
Carbondale, IL 62901-4610
Phone: (618) 453-4241 [O]
(618) 457-8903 [H]
Fax: (618) 453-4244

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