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BLOG: Giving kids iPads won't solve the education challenge

Galen Gruman | Aug. 12, 2013
Los Angeles's program to supply iPads to 640,000 students is the latest example of confusing technology with teaching

You've no doubt read the news that Los Angeles is distributing 640,000 iPads to K-12 students, which is a big win for Apple and yet another sign that the PC is in decline. At the same time, Dell touts the wonders of its Windows 8 tablets for schooling. It's great that students are getting current technology. However, technology doesn't teach -- and it often doesn't help teach, either.

I've been in the business of covering technology since 1982, back when the IBM PC was new and the Apple IIe was the great hope for schools. Yes, our schools are always struggling (at least that's the perpetually popular wisdom). Apple focused on the education market out of a mixture of belief in technology as an educational aid and to indoctrinate kids into the Apple brand. Early in the IBM PC era, IBM did the same. Ever since then, Apple, IBM, Dell, Hewlett-Packard, and so on have touted educational use of their computers to save students from poor schooling.

Regardless of the device or platform, it hasn't worked, has it? In fact, a ton of research shows the lack of correlation between computers and learning.

Along for the ride came all sorts of education software, from the Logo turtle-based programming language to the cornucopia of courseware that was supposed to help reading, science, and other lesson areas. Some were grounded in education theory -- which, as any classroom teacher will tell you, often bears little resemblance to reality -- and others in, well, naïveté or carpetbagging. In other words, like most software, some is really good, but a lot is not.

I don't mean to suggest that using technology in education is bad. To the contrary, it can be quite helpful both for students and for teachers. Just think of how useful search engines and websites are for not only finding information, but also for teaching how to make the critical distinction that just because something is published (whether digitally or on paper) doesn't mean it's true, unbiased, or relevant.

The problem with technology in education is that it is often poorly applied. Managing a classroom full of PCs or tablets, for example, means someone has to set up, administer, and maintain them. Dell has all sorts of wares it hopes to sell to school districts to do this, as do other PC vendors and software sellers. Apple sells its inexpensive Server application to manage Macs in such settings.

But these are designed for IT admins, not teachers. Even if they were designed for teachers, do we really want our teachers doing IT administration instead of teaching? Teachers already have a lot of administrative, grading, planning, and development work to do on top of the classroom time.


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