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Opinion: Technology Cannot 'Level the Playing Field' of Learning

Opinion: Technology Cannot 'Level the Playing Field' of Learning

According to professor and former computer scientist and Microsoft employee, Kentaro Toyama for the Washington Post, reliance on technology will not replace adult guidance in helping underprivileged students better learn based on his past experiences.

In 2004, working under Microsoft, Toyama and a research team traveled to India to study how digital devices support learning.

After seeing students in rural school districts crowding around single computers despite lack of toilets, teachers, and parental support, Toyama and his team invented a prototype that would allow for multiple mice per computer so students with limited resources like one PC could interact nonetheless via MultiPoint.

"Students loved it, and formal experiments confirmed its effectiveness...for activities like vocabulary drills, students learned just as much with MultiPoint as with a single PC all to themselves," he said.

Toyama and his team experienced worldwide praise and went on to look for more schools in need that could benefit from MultiPoint.

"But exactly in the schools where help was most needed – where administrators were apathetic or underfunded, where teachers were absent or overloaded, or where students learned little and rarely graduated – it was impossible for MultiPoint to gain a foothold," he said.

He found that technology alone could not save failing schools where teachers were not trained to integrate technology into the curriculum and lack of staff could not help troubleshoot inevitable tech problems.

In one school in need, "within weeks, the equipment began to fail. Power surges were probably to blame. The school had no IT staff, and there was no budget for technical support. Soon after, the machines were locked away, and the computer lab was repurposed."

Further, Toyama argues that even when schools are able to keep technology running and functioning, integration is not always purposed to benefit learning.

"Students are often asked to copy-and-paste bits of information they find online into PowerPoint slides without being challenged to think about how to select good material or how to construct a strong argument," he said.

" Meanwhile, teachers who have computers dumped into their classrooms feel like seafaring captains suddenly asked to pilot a jumbo jet, all while the unruly passengers are given free access to the controls."

This all has led Toyama to arrive at his theory of the Law of Amplification, where technology cannot be a tool used for saving, but rather a tool used to amplify good systems already in place.

"Technology’s primary effect is to amplify human forces. In education, technologies amplify whatever pedagogical capacity is already there."

He also applies this theory to letting children take technology home and insists that educators cannot let students chose between learning and distractive alternatives like social media and video games.

"That is, if you provide an all-purpose technology that can be used for learning and entertainment, children choose entertainment. Technology by itself doesn’t undo that inclination – it amplifies it."

Read the full article here and comment below.

Article by Nicole Gorman, Education World Contributor


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