‘How Tech is Making Kids Smarter Everywhere’ (Fast Company)

This month Fast Company magazine has published a cover story ‘A is for App’ on technology in (and out of) the classroom. While the article has an obviously pro-tech spin, it’s a fascinating look at several projects (mainly US) that are exploring how evolving technologies are being used to improve learning outcomes and access.

The article focuses on the technologies and the innovators, but the last few paragraphs provide some interesting context in terms of the educational environment;

“…the biggest challenge tp [personal learning devices] may not be the business model. The same possibilities that make these technologies – the sight of [kids] pushing the buttons, controlling their own destiny – make them threatening to the status quo. A system built around tools that allow children to explore and figure things out for themselves would be radical for most developing-world schools, which emphasize learning by rote. In the United States, which is currently in love with state curriculum benchmarks and standardized tests, it could be hard to sell as well.

“What is at issue is a deep cultural shift, a fundamental rethinking not only of how education is delivered but also of what ‘education’ means. The very word comes form the Latin duco, meaning ‘to lead or command’ – putting the learner in a passive position. …

“This idea [of ‘putting children in the driver’s seat’], common among these tech-driven educational entrepreneurs, imagines a new role for teachers. ‘The main transformational change that needs to happen is for the teacher to transform from purveyor of information to coach. … Up until very recently, most communications were hub-and-spoke, one to many. The Internet is a many-to-many environment, which is in the early stages of having a major impact on education. It involves a fairly major change in the concept of what education is, which is one of the reasons we use the term ‘learning’ as distinct from ‘education’. It’s student-centered and student-empowered'”

– Anna Kamenetz in Fast Company, Issue 144, p.77

‘in love with state curriculum benchmarks and standardized tests’? Makes you feel just like home 😉

4 thoughts on “‘How Tech is Making Kids Smarter Everywhere’ (Fast Company)

  1. Ben Rolfe

    If you’ll indulge me with a metaphor, I think the reason we get tangled in the nets of standardised tests and benchmarks is that we see them as goal nets, rather than safety nets. We shouldn’t be aiming to get the ball into the net, but to get the trapezist to the other trapeze in their own crazy style.
    It’s important to have the net, because we’re asking the trapezists to push themselves to their personal limits, whatever those limits are, and if they don’t make it, we want to make sure that they are able to try again.
    In the context of a school, this means that any experimentation with the learning environment or curriculum needs to achieve certain basics. That’s probably a REALLY good idea (can you imagine the kinds of schools some dogmatically driven whackjobs would create given the chance?)
    Sadly, this net is often seen as the goal, and in these cases, it becomes difficult for the student to progress past the basic level.

  2. Brett Rolfe

    Despite the appalling metaphor (perhaps even a conceit?), you have a point. The distinction between a diagnostic test to identify areas of concern that can be addressed (making it a more ‘formative’ test) and a high-stakes final examination style text (being a much more ‘summative’ test) is an important one. As I understand it (and my understanding here is limited), one of the big issues many teachers have with the MySchool website is that NAPLAN is intended as an individual diagnostic tool and is now being used in an inappropriate way.
    The phrase ‘certain basics’ is an interesting one, and leads into very murky water. Is being able to multiply nine by eight in your head required? How about knowing the capital of Peru? What year Melbourne held the Olympics? When Aboriginals were given the vote? Why we celebrate ANZAC day? What about understanding how to hook up a media system? How to grow vegetables? What it feels like to be an oppressed minority? How to be innovative?
    As much as I might disagree with elements of curriculum, I don’t envy those making these decisions.

  3. Ben Rolfe

    Hey, not a conceit! There was the whole aiming at vs falling back on thing going on. To use another metaphor, my original metaphor was solid gold!
    Yeah. What students should be learning is a very interesting question. Is the purpose of school to give everyone in society a shared academic vocabulary? To give them a taste of all things so they can decide where to take their education from there? To give them specialised skills in their areas of interest? We currently do a bit of each (though only the first in primary?)
    Here’s an idea economists would love: Get rid of general education entirely. Why waste intellectual resources in teaching everyone calculus, when 90% of them will never use it? Let students follow their own path deep into the special areas they’re interested in. If they don’t want to learn any maths, they don’t have to – let them spend their extra time on literature. (When I went through high school, maths and english were compulsory until yr 12 – a restriction that was removed shortly thereafter.)
    Now, I wouldn’t really advocate getting rid of general education altogether, but the question does throw the murk into some focus (without clearing it away in the slightest 🙂 )

  4. Brett Rolfe

    Well, you will be pleased to know that apparently China is already ahead of you on this one. “A Chinese firm has begun offering DNA testing of children for 11 genes which it claims can be used to predict the child’s future talents and thus allow parents to target their rearing of the child towards its supposed latent potential.” (My favourite part of that is actually the use of the word ‘its’ in the last sentence – love a good scientific journalist.)


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