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Five Myths About Technology in Schools

posted Apr 8, 2016, 7:51 AM by HSD Principal

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      In this article in American Educator, Pedro De Bruyckere (University College in Ghent, Belgium), Paul Kirschner (Open University, the Netherlands), and Casper Hulshof (University of Utrecht, the Netherlands) address some common misconceptions about how computers, smartboards, and tablets are affecting teaching and learning:

            • Myth #1: New technology is causing a revolution in education. Actually, despite all the gadgets, classroom fundamentals have changed very little, say the authors. They quote Bill Gates saying, “Just giving people devices has a really horrible track record.” What matters is teachers, their instructional strategies, and how they interact with students. Computers and other pieces of technology are the medium through which instruction passes and have no more influence on student achievement than a grocery delivery truck has on our nutrition. Situations where researchers have found positive effects from technology (blended learning is one) can almost always be traced back to how teachers use the technology to supplement or amplify their pedagogy. Three areas have been particularly disappointing in terms of the supposed impact of technology:

-   Multimedia instruction accommodating different learning styles – Learning styles are not a robust foundation for customizing instruction.

-   Multimedia facilitating constructivist and discovery approaches – High-achieving students can benefit, but lower-achieving students do better with direct instruction.

-   Multimedia providing students with autonomy and control over instructional sequence – Very few students get this benefit; for most students, it has a negative effect.

The bottom line, say the authors, is that “the medium seldom influences teaching, learning, and education, nor is it likely that one single medium will ever be the best for all situations.”

            • Myth #2: The Internet belongs in the classroom because it’s part of children’s world. True, today’s youth are entranced (and skilled) with technology, but that’s mostly for social purposes. When students are polled about classroom preferences, there’s surprising support for traditional structures with only moderate use of technology. Given a choice of digital and real books, most students prefer the latter. Students advocate for regular access to human interaction and being able to work with a smart person at the front of the classroom.

            • Myth #3: Today’s “digital natives” want a new style of education. In fact, there is little hard evidence that today’s youth are innately tech savvy, avid multitaskers and collaborators, naturals with the language of technology, demanding instant gratification, and more. Yes, young people use their devices and the Internet heavily for personal empowerment, staying connected with friends, and entertainment, but their use of technology for creating content for academic purposes is limited. One study of tech-rich European countries found that only 36 percent of 16-year-olds said they knew more about the Internet than their parents. Studies in other developed countries including the U.S. found that there is actually no such thing as a generation of “digital natives.”

            • Myth #4: Technology is rewiring our brains in a harmful way. The authors are both reassuring and wary on this issue. There’s little evidence that devices and the Internet are making us dumber. In fact, say De Bruyckere, Kirschner, and Hulshof, being able to outsource retrievable memory items to Google may be making us smarter. But there is evidence that when children spend more than 1-2 hours a day looking at screens, they tend to gravitate toward shallower information-processing behaviors and develop patterns of multitasking that increase distractibility and depress executive functioning. More research is needed to draw firmer conclusions.

            • Myth #5: Young people don’t read anymore. This usually refers to book reading, and indeed, there has been somewhat of a decline across the developed world. However, kids are doing a lot of reading on their devices, much of it for pleasure, so the total amount remains quite high.

            The authors feel good about successfully puncturing these five myths, but they’re discouraged that the myths persist in spite of the evidence. Why? First, myths serve a function in any society, propping up “obvious” beliefs. Second, there’s no filter on the free flow of information these days – anyone can blog or post on Facebook without the intervention of an editor or fact-checker. Third, critical thinking skills aren’t what they should be and people blithely circulate and strengthen myths. After too much of this, it becomes difficult to distinguish fact from fiction.

What is to be done? The authors believe we need theories based on solid research methodologies rather than legends and hype. And they say educators should always keep this maxim in mind: “If something sounds too good to be true, it probably isn’t true.”

In a sidebar accompanying their article, the authors offer the following research-based rules of thumb for effective use of technology in classrooms:

-   Use graphic images in place of text wherever possible.

-   Stick to the most relevant material – students are distracted by irrelevant subtitles, nonessential illustrations, and duplicative narration.

-   Spoken narration accompanying images is better than text – it allows students to concentrate better on the visual information and avoid splitting their attention.

-   Work with relatively small chunks of learning material – better four 5-minute segments than one 20-minute marathon.

-   Let individual students stop, review, and repeat videos, animations, and dynamic images, but keep the sequence the same for all students.

-   Build in plenty of opportunities for students to practice what they’re learning in technology-based lessons.

“Technology in Education: What Teachers Should Know” by Pedro De Bruyckere, Paul Kirschner, and Casper Hulshof in American Educator, Spring 2016 (Vol. 40, #1, p. 12-18, 43),http://www.aft.org/ae/spring2016/debruyckere-kirschner-and-hulshof; this article is drawn from the authors’ book, Urban Myths About Learning and Education (Academic Press, 2015)

Excerpt retrieved from Marshall Memo, March 29, 2016.