Three Challenges for Technology in Education

Originally published at mrcoreyjeffers.blogspot.com in November 2008.

Three of the major challenges facing school as we look to the future are exponential informational growth and change, inherent problems with incremental change in schools with regards to technology, and the structures of many current schools that impede technological expansion and growth.

First of all, in Windows on the Future, Ian Jukes and Ted McCain discuss the challenges involved in coping with and learning in a world of exponential informational growth and change. Parallel to Moore’s Law of exponential growth in the efficiency of computer hardware and the steady depreciation in consumer cost, Jukes and McCain posit that there is a similar exponential growth of “unique new technical information” that is currently doubling every two years. Subsequently, as Jukes and McCain show, if this rate of technical information maintains a doubling every two years, the amount of information in our world would increase 256 times its current size within the period of time a student enters the public school system to the time he or she graduates. Furthermore, fortunately or unfortunately, Jukes and McCain also speculate that, since the growth is exponential, the amount of information in the world will double itself every 72 hours by the year 2014 (34).

This poses an extraordinary problem for teachers because it is already impossible to know all of the information currently in the world, but now it will be nearly impossible just to keep up with pertinent new information even haphazardly. In addition, this rate of informational change punctuates the idea of a structured curriculum with an enormous question mark. Exponential growth disallows for the development of curriculum that is content-based; from now on and forever, “our biggest challenge both personally and professionally will be comprehending and accepting a scale of change changing so rapidly that the very nature of change is changing,” and a paradigmatic shift in curriculum from content-based to strategy-based is likely in order (49). A shift like this is radical and cannot be taken in increments, which brings the ideas of Seymour Papert to the forefront.

In Papert’s article “Technology in Schools: To Support the System or Render It Obsolete,” Papert recognizes that many schools attempt to incorporate the use of technology incrementally and for the purposes of merely enhancing the established curriculum; however, he recognizes inherent problems with this approach. Papert compares the incremental incorporation of technology as a current curricular enhancer to attaching a jet-plane engine to the rear of a stagecoach to improve methods of transportation. In other words, the stagecoach is the metaphorical embodiment of the current educational system as it stands appallingly similar to models recommended more than a century past; the current technological world is the equivalent of the jet-plane engine. The jet engine is fast, modern, and efficient — using all of the world’s current technology as it’s updated in quality frequently. The stagecoach is archaic and obsolete — a necessary stepping stone but one that is of out-of-date in modern transportation. Therefore, Papert suggests it’s time to retire the stagecoach that is the current educational system and radically reform the structure of education to promote necessary strategy-based classes like Technological Fluency. The challenge Papert brings to educators is a frightening one, and his solution (the radical reformation of the structure of education) is also alarming. However, his extended metaphor of transportation sustains truth and relevance: “you have to stop trying to improve the functioning of the old system. Instead lay down the seeds for something new. Maybe this will result in decreased performance according to the traditional measures. Remember that the first airplanes were not so good as stagecoaches for getting around. But they were destined to revolutionize transportation” (Papert 4).

Finally, although Seymour Papert’s ideas call for a revolutionary change in education, the changes he proposes may actually be the answer to some of the problems uncovered by a study entitled “Techno-Promoter Dreams, Student Realities” by Craig Peck. In this article, Peck reveals that teachers feel disadvantaged by two structures of education: departmentalization by discourse and cellular classroom arrangements. Part of the appeal of technology is that it increases the accessibility of virtually everything including collaboration. Departmentalization is antithetical to technological education because it isolates (intentionally or not) beneficial pedagogical strategies or ideas centered in technology. In addition, departmentalization also isolates resources and the “deployment of computers in separate, department-specific technology labs, thus rendering the machines off-limits to those from other departments. Moreover, the isolated and individualistic nature of teaching, most noticeable in schools’ cellular classroom arrangements, often prevents the spread of ideas from teacher to teacher, even within the same department” (8). Therefore, the traditional, antiquated structures of the stagecoach educational system need to be laid to rest once and for all in order for technology to be an effective pedagogical tool with implications for an exponentially changing future.


Originally published at mrcoreyjeffers.blogspot.com in November 2008.

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