By John Mullin, Enlearn CEO
The Wall Street Journal recently ran an article that debated whether technology belongs in classroom instruction.
On one side of the issue was Lisa Nielsen, Director of Digital Engagement and Professional Learning for the New York City Department of Education. She believes that new technology tools let students learn more, and more deeply.
On the other side of the issue was José Antonio Bowen, President of Goucher College and author of “Teaching Naked: How Moving Technology Out of Your College Classroom Will Improve Student Learning.” He believes that classrooms must be a place of focus and mental stillness.
My reaction to this debate was four-fold:
First, this was a data-free exchange of opinions, which is certainly provocative. But wouldn’t it be great to have some evidence in hand before opining about what’s best for kids?
Second, the pro-con discussion wasn’t particularly nuanced. It was good versus bad, and all-or-nothing arguments. The real solutions are based on the many, many variables that actually shape teaching and learning in every classroom for every student every moment. New and available technology helps us to see the influence of these variables for each student, teacher and classroom, to know when technology is enhancing learning, and when it is detracting, and when “mental stillness and deliberation” are most impactful.
Third, if we’re talking about what really works for kids, we need to accept the fact that one size doesn’t fit all. It’s really one-size-fits-one — each child is different and requires a personalized learning solution. The debate in the Wall Street Journal doesn’t address the critical importance of individualization in learning, including individualization of the use of technology.
Fourth, today’s technology can help teachers curate the exploding corpus of potential classroom resources and content. It can help them understand, based on student learning, which resources work best, for which students, and when. And those resources include teaching — when does whole class, small group or paired work have the greatest impact, and for which students? When is it best to turn all devices off, or just a subset?
Enlearn’s recent classroom trials, for example, showed that by providing teachers with real-time formative feedback on student learning in math the teachers chose to provide 4.5x the amount of individual, direct student assistance vs. the same teachers using traditional paper materials. And these assists were proportionately delivered to the students who were struggling, versus targeting assists to the mean in the paper classrooms.
This is just one example where technology isn’t replacing teaching; it’s enhancing teaching for the kids who need it most — a subject that’s well worth debating.