Reauthorization of No Child Left Behind
Why Johnny Can't Read:
Assessing the influence of technology in Education.
Frank B. Withrow, PhD
A research project is just as good as the questions it asks. Many of our assessment techniques in education are wrong.† We measure factoids to determine what a learner has learned. †Authentic evaluation and assessment would measure how well a learner uses their skills and knowledge to solve problems. Formative evaluations are more reliable than standardized tests.
For example, more authentic questions with respect to technology in schools might be:
Can learners learn from technology?† If so is it cost effective?
What form of technology is effective for a given learning tool?†
For example, EPA has many tests it makes and many different testing instruments from the measurement of PH levels in streams and ponds to the measurement of toxic waste in polluted industrial sites. The PH level measurement can be made by middle school children with a printed chart to identify the PH to thousand dollar instruments used by perhaps a dozen top EPA scientist. IN addition there are a wide range of mid level instruments used by mid level EPA employees. It is cost effective to bring the top scientist in to physically handle the expensive instruments and keep them in training until they have mastered using the instruments.† On the other hand many mid level instruments can be mastered through computer simulation programs. The critical question is what do you want to teach and how will you measure it. Technology may or may not be the answer.
The Navy has demonstrated that landing and taking off from an aircraft carrier can be done cost effectively with very expensive simulators. Pilots can in simulators develop the initial skills that increase the likelihood of success when they actually fly a real multimillion-dollar aircraft to take off and land on an aircraft carrier.
During the first Gulf War combat officers functioned as if they were combat veterans. In debriefings they said their training simulations were like the real world of combat.
Before technology can and should be used we must ask what it is being used for and will it be cost effective.† Most importantly we must ask is the test going to measure the goal we have for the learner. For example, in early reading programs can technology teach phonics?† If the answer is yes then we must ask is it cost effective? Part of the answer will be the number of trained professional teachers capable of teaching phonics to young children. If we have a limited number of available teachers and we have a well-developed software program that can teach phonics then we must weigh its value based upon our Total Cost of Operation. Technology from the Wilber Schram studies of early television teaching to early evaluations of CCC programs, PLATO programs etc have demonstrated effective learning through technology. The critical question is not does technology teach, but what do we want to use it for and when and where it is needed.
A most critical question in the evaluation of any technology program is can the technology do what other systems cannot do. For example training workers in a nuclear plant through simulators is cost effective.
Can technology do things that other systems cannot do? Some of the early graphing software such as the Geometric Supposer allowed learners to change the values of formulas and immediately see the changed graphic curves. This can only be done efficiently with a computer. The question we must always ask is what is the value added element in the technology.
The recent USED technology study asked the wrong questions. In fact, the USEDís obsession with standardized tests of achievement are the wrong measurements of education achievement. For more than half a century we have demonstrated that technology can and does teach in the military, industry and especially the airlines.
Formative evaluation of software designed to teach specific task have time and time again proven valid. To ask the general question of can technology teach is wrong.† It is like asking can teachers teach or can books be used in learning?† As with all these resources the design and development of the materials is the critical issue. Are schools beneficial to society?
Just as with teachers, books and any other resource the design and quality of the content is critical.† There are bad textbooks, bad teachers, and bad environments for learning. If you measure the wrong thing you do a disservice to the learners of America and to the nation.† The current study may yet yield some reliable results, but today those results should be taken with severe skepticism.
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