Learning in the Age of Technophilia

A long time ago, as I was beginning to finish the coursework needed to earn my principal certification from the state, Mesa Public Schools offered administrative internship classes that I was a part of in hopes of a future principal position with them later.

The assistant superintendent taught the last class of the internship program. During his time with us, he shared many behind the scenes stories about the district and its workings. The story that stood out the most was his story on technology use in the district.

He said the district had completed their five years of setting up computer labs in all the district schools. And after this large investment and five years of implementation, he said test scores had remained the same or dropped slightly. He said something about how it was a lot of money for not much in return.

Well, it seems to me Mesa USD did not share their findings.  In Arizona and the nation as a whole, public schools in the United States spend $3billion each year on digital materials. For example, the Kyrene School district in Tempe spent $33million dollars on technology for their schools in the years 2005-2011. There was no improvement in their test scores.

“It is the poor who will be chained to the computer; the rich will get teachers.”

FORBES editor Steve Kindel

Technophilia “is a worldview that sees all new technology as inherently positive and beneficial to human life,” a quote from a dissertation the author whose name is unknown.

Technology is not the priority of education. The training of our students to confidently read, write, and perform math at levels that continue to allow them to move forward with their lives is.. Improving our instructional methods through solid research is a better answer instead of our growing reliance on technology.

Andrew Pudewa  at the Institute for Excellence in Writing states “There exists an abundance of peer-review journal published research which strongly supports …. Reading on paper rather on screens provides better comprehension.”

The development of fine motor skills using paper and pencil (writing and math exercises) is associated with strong learning as reported by cognitive psychologist Daniel T. Willingham.

Here are some more comments from Dr. Willingham. “Reading on the screen would seem to be little different than reading on paper. Maybe even better: They (students) can integrate video and audio, for example, and content can be updated easily. But in study after study, reading comprehension is actually a little worse on screens. That’s why even younger readers with lots of screen-based experience say they prefer paper.”

I am certainly not a Luddite naysayer. I enjoy my iPhone, iPad, and Apple Mac. Easily I take for granted the ability to map my journeys, find the latest movie times or FaceTime my children. Technology has added opportunities and experiences to my daily life that if absent would be sorely missed.

The answer to Technophilia in our schools is simple. Use computers to teach computer skills not the core subjects. Teach our teachers how to teach. Use the money saved from unneeded technology to increase pay in order to attract more people to education, making positions more competitive.

All the billions of dollars being spent on technology in the classrooms has not caused our students to suddenly excel in their subjects.  A good teacher will adjust their instruction to meet the individual needs of his students. He will build on what the student has mastered and reinforced material when necessary.

Ignoring the severe problem in our schools of test scores well below the 90thpercentile in the core subjects is partly because of the false promise of spending more on technology. This allows the real problems of inadequate continuous teachers training, unsuccessful teaching methods, and poor instructional materials to continue.

If you are interested in reading more from people who are much better at explaining the false promises of technology in education,  the writings of Kentaro Totama,  Todd Oppenheimer and Mark Warschauer are wonderful resources.

Nothing has changed in over 30 years as far as the promise of computers in education. There is a lot of money being spent for little in educational value. Well-trained teachers using well-researched methods do make a difference where technology cannot.


Tim Ihms

I am an educator with 41 years of experience. An experience that includes teaching regular education kindergarten through twelfth grades; special education K-12 with the labels of mentally handicapped, learning disabilities, behavior disorder and multi-category; public and private schools; three states; started three private schools; board member at four schools; principal for eighteen years and custodian off and on throughout.
I earned a Bachelor degree from ASU in Special Education and a Masters Degree from UNC in Learning Disabilities and Emotional Disturbed. Teaching certificates are in regular education k-8; principal; special education- learning disabilities, mentally handicapped, emotionally disturbed.

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