Venture capitalists do it. Why shouldn't philanthropists do it, too?

Pitch a new idea to venture capitalists and the first question they’ll shoot back is: “Who else is in your space?”

If you can’t answer that question, go straight back to “Go” and don’t even dream of collecting $200.

VCs, of course, needs to weigh competitive as well as potentially complementary efforts. But answering that question should help the entrepreneur, too. Entrepreneurs are most likely to help a field move forward if they build on the knowledge and the mistakes of the past rather than tripping down the well-trodden road.

Really compelling ideas draw multiple entrepreneurs (think of how the idea of social networking brought out Facebook, MySpace and a swarm of other startups). And sometimes ideas have to wait for the technology to catch up (picture phones and electronic books come to mind).

Smart startups, however, look for unique approaches even when tackling a problem that others are–or have–taken on. And the fastest way to assess whether an approach is fresh or a rerun is to know what else is going on.

So what about the educational-technology space? We want to invent new approaches and ideas that will engage students, teachers (and even the occasional parent). But do we have good maps of what’s going on—not just in the for-profit venture sector but in the philanthropic sector, too?

Dale Dougherty, who’s no slouch when it comes to staying on top of the latest technology, summed up the problem well in his recent post:

“I wished the teams themselves were a better judge of their own proposals, and that they understood how their project advanced appropriate uses of technology in education. I wished that each of the applicants had been able to consult an evolving set of best practices for developing educational technology projects. …. They might help others avoid pitfalls and learn from failures.“

Our problems in education are too intense, funding is too thin and time too precious to take on duplicative efforts. We need to apply some of the same discriminating standards in our philanthropic Edu2.0 projects that we use in for-profit ones.

So what would be the relevant features of a topographical map of the educational-technology sector? Here’s one set of categories:

Projects aimed at:

• Improving instruction
• Individualized (adaptive) instruction
• Doing assessment
• Improving teacher practices
• Promoting project-based learning
• Improving transparency
• Bridging the school-home communications gap
• Improving school infrastructure

What would you add? What elements do you think would help people designing education-technology projects get a useful picture of what else is going on?

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  • Marie Bjerede

    I like this. I wonder if anything interesting emerges from slicing it by platform layers – from devices through apps & content. What kind of teaching is enabled or largely ruled out depending on the choices you make at each layer?

  • Ed Manlove

    • Helping communities manage and run their schools.

    This is a simplified element that can be addressed, possibly with technological solutions and non-tech solutions. A more descriptive category might say

    • Helping communities of administrators, teachers, parents, businesses, post-school aged children families, nonprofit organizations manage and run their schools with experienced, trained, paid personal and volunteer workforce.

    Ok this really is just a broad category which covers some that you have mention already but let me highlight two aspects from above not covered in your list, volunteer labor and non-traditional community partners.

    Volunteer Labor – By this I mean non-expert community members who step forward and take on major voluntary roles like local school boards.
    Here we have individuals coming on board with little experience (steep learning curve) needing to make decisions (multiple areas of needed expertise) rapid rise to leadership position due to lack of volunteers (leadership and management skills necessary) need to express to sometimes non receptive crowd (expert communication and debate skills) and deal with turnover of the same volunteer workforce (loss of institutional knowledge).

    Non-traditional community partners – Here I mean those whom at times seem either opposed or indifferent to school issues like business and nonprofits (not are issue) or post-school aged children families and those on fixed incomes (no higher taxes). There are untapped assets here that can work to improve schools. For example,
    • What expert knowledge can be shared to assist schools and the volunteer school workforce?
    • Can business use a 10% rule to give back to their communities? Do retires have expertise to help volunteer?
    • How do we show the entire community what benefits/issues we have in our schools by using open data principles?

    My apologies for thinking off the top of my head but to summarize I would add two categories to look at

    • How can we help the volunteer leadership within school ecosystems
    • How can we bring the entire community into supporting the school system and the school system to support the entire community

  • elizabeth corcoran

    Ed – those are great categories. I very much like how you’re thinking of tools that help schools connect with the ecosystem that surrounds them.

    Marie – I agree platform layers is another great way to divide up edu-tech. I’d love to hear more!

  • Dr Stephen Tagg

    Your categories don’t seem to involve views of the active learner. There’s project learning there, but I’m getting a visual metaphor of learner-geese with feeding-funnels being re-branded 2.0.
    Of course most university teaching is in lectures – a real battery-farm with hundreds of learner geese with one source for all their funnels!

  • Robert Young

    Be careful here. For profit “educational” companies are regularly taken to court for over-hyping and under-delivering, although not nearly often enough. I worked for one, thankfully it was closed down. Education is inherently philanthropic, and for profit outfits are inherently evil. Mixing them yields the expected results.

    As to the assertion that “tech” is what makes education more “efficient”, keep track of the reviews of “charter schools”; most do no better than the “union dominated” public schools they displaced.

    It isn’t the “unions” that choose books and establish the curricula, it’s the managers, often political hacks.

    The alternative schools that do better are those which require the parents to engage. Fact is, if your parents are poor, stupid, and don’t care; odds are you’ll grow up the same. It is no fluke that Mississippi and the other members of the Southern Flank have been at the bottom of achievement; the Southern Flank is all about being poor and stupid and NASCAR and fishin’ and huntin’.

  • sylvia martinez

    You can break it down many different ways – I always think of it in terms of who benefits:

    Administrative – things that make admin tasks easier, more efficient, and add communication channels. This can be administrative at all levels: classroom (like attendance software or handheld assessment tools) or more global (like student management systems or LMS)

    Teaching – Presentation, tutorials, content, test prep, assessment. An example of an older teaching technology is the textbook, putting a textbook online does not change the fact that it’s a teaching tool, not a learning tool.

    Learning – creativity tools, simulations, programming languages. Tools that engage the learner in complex tasks that benefit the learner.

    Toys – Things that might spark interest but don’t allow deep engagement or user agency. Lots of web 2.0 goodies fall into this category.

    Without passing judgement on whether we actually need more of less of each of these types of products, it’s easy to see that the Learning category is the least addressed. That’s because it’s the hardest to accomplish. Handing control over to the user (the student) is a scary thing for both schools and software developers.

  • elizabeth corcoran

    stephen — your point is a good one (and one of the reasons why I put out the question for comment!) When you say “views of the active learner” — what would be useful ways to categorize projects? for instance, as in: hands-on projects that involve building, hands-on projects that involve measuring, projects that involve visual display…. Those kinds of categories?

  • elizabeth corcoran

    Robert — I think you’re spot on. There’s been far too much hype to much of what goes on in “edu-tech” — and, as far as I can tell, much of it happens at the outset. Lots of projects get funded because they’re big on promise and then fizzle in the delivery. One goal of mapping the landscape of edu-tech projects would be to put some realistic markers down — this works, this didn’t (& here’s why). That way, as people are either building new efforts — or considering whether to fund some — they won’t just get caught up in the rhetoric. They’ll have some additional touchstones for evaluating the hope and the dream.

    As for whether tech can make education more “efficient” — clearly there are some things that it can improve and some it cannot. Lots of teachers spend alot of time putting together lesson plans that they have to share with their principal: are there easier ways to do that?

    Knowing when to use technology — and when not to — is critical. Cars can help us get to lots of places. Using them to travel three blocks to the cornerstore is a bad idea for lots of reasons. That doesn’t make a car a bad idea — you just need to be thoughtful about when to use it.

  • elizabeth corcoran

    Sylvia — I like your categorization very much. Your point dovetails, I think, with stephen’s point: if “learning” is a category, any thoughts about how you would further break down projects that fall under that rubric? thanks!

  • Bryce

    I recently had a chance to be a judge a bunch of tech proposals from students at the local university. I only found one proposal in the education space, which seemed lacking to me. The basic plan was:

    Get cool domain name (done)
    Make educational videos (need cash)
    Charge for access to videos via website

    In my judgment, I asked a few questions like, whether they had prior experience making engaging, effective education lectures (or how they would marshal the talent for them), whether they might move faster by asking their users to submit and evaluate content, and how they planned to compete with the free content that already exists.

    There were scheduling conflicts, and I wish I’d been able to meet the proposers. They had some promising ideas and seemed passionate about technology in education. Where could I have pointed them to show them what was already being tried?

    Maybe what is needed is Yet Another Directory, a wiki-ish site where people could put up descriptions of the projects they’re undertaking, the learning principles behind them, what sort of assistance their project is looking for, obstacles, etc. It would help noobs like us get the lay of the ed/tech landscape and keep us from getting too far along with seemingly doomed projects.

    My current best idea* is for a community-driven quiz site. Users could submit (probably multiple-choice) questions, rate them, discuss them, and link to educational resources that covered related topics. Based on the answering data from different users, clusters of questions would emerge, and the system would eventually mine the data to figure out which questions were most indicative of mastery of a given subject. The hope is, it would become a tool that might allow people to do quick self-assessments of their knowledge of a field.

    That was a long aside, the only point of which is that I’d love to have a place where I could bounce this idea off more experienced people, to see if there are any obvious flaws to be corrected or other refinements that would make the idea better.

    Like you said, we need good maps.

    * If you’re reading this, and think you can do it, go ahead and run with it. I’m not sure I’ll ever get around to it, and I’m not possessive.

  • Dale Dougherty

    Ed writes:

    How can we bring the entire community into supporting the school system and the school system to support the entire community?

    I really like Ed’s addition. For instance — and this is really an offhand comment — how could the unemployed engineers in areas like Detroit be used to improve the schools and offer new learning opportunities, even outside school? My observation is that there are great resources in the community that are not utilized by education. The future is moving from campus-based schools to community-based schools. A school represents a networking of resources more so than a location where these resources exist.

  • elizabeth corcoran

    Your experience echoes what Dale discovered during his judging stint. We certainly need a way to discover what’s going on and to share some lessons learned.

    You make a fine cautionary note: “Yet another directory” — there are thousands of fine educational websites, many of which have a few hundred fans. It feels like lots of tiny flowers bobbing around on the great sea of Internet content. That’s tough — and again, leads to many, many duplicative efforts. So clearly the challenge is this: how do you create a website that becomes more glue and less another bloom that gets lost in the sea?

  • elizabeth corcoran

    Dale & Ed —
    Your thoughts are echoed again this morning in the San Jose Mercury newspaper by the marvelous columnist, Mike Cassidy. See: Silicon Valley companies could help local schools improve

    His conclusion:

    “It’s not that valley companies don’t send some money, equipment and volunteers to some local schools. It’s that their executives have plenty more to do if they want to help the state improve education. It won’t be easy and it won’t be cheap. But these are brilliant minds who have helped build global companies, many of which are realizing fantastic profits in the face of hard times.

    Certainly they can figure out a way to bring all of our schools into the 21st century.”

    Few of us are ready to turn over the schools to Silicon Valley tycoons — and I doubt that’s what Mike meant. But we are part of the same local neighborhood. And so we’ve got to figure out how we can each bring our strengths to solving what most of us believe is one of this nation’s top problems.

  • Peter Ball

    School is an impediment to learning. It exhausts children with mindless busy work and rewards robotic non-thinking. Great achievement comes in spite of school, not because of it. Society, and all of its members, need to ‘maximize the area under the curve’, not ‘maximize the minimum’ as in No Child Left Behind. Technology can be a part of that.

    I recommend The Art of Problem Solving and The Teaching Company – with appropriate mentoring – as models for effective learning.

  • elizabeth corcoran

    Peter – That may be true. But most of us and our kids wind up spending a fair amount of time in school. So it seems like a good idea to try to make that time as effective — even inspiring! — as possible!

  • Robert Young


    The notion that the apotheosis of intelligence development is the Holmesian autodidact is, well, fiction. There are, I suppose, a few true such humans, but about as many as hen’s teeth. It’s no prescription for educating the masses, assuming that educating the masses is the goal. Capitalists, by and large, have no interest in that. They do, however, take much funds from DoE for their proprietary schools, and have been furiously doing so during the Great Recession; with the usual results, simply more widespread. (It’s instructive that all those Valley companies have scooted to Asia for cheap engineers, when there are hordes of unemployed ones here. Why would they really want to improve education here when they’re busy buying the results at 1/100 the cost over there?) Further, free public education came from my home state of Massachusetts, and was not intended to be vocational; I’ll admit that there weren’t all that many “vocations” which depended on book larnin’ at that time.

    — ‘maximize the area under the curve’
    is ambiguous, to say the least. Interpreted one way, it could mean to develop the brains of most of the population most of the way; get the most out of everybody. And that is laudable, and I agree, certainly. On the other hand, it could mean maximizing the effort in educating the best and brightest. Either approach, as a macro or societal measure, could lead to the highest population achievement; I don’t know which. One levels the playing field, and the earnings field along the way, while the other increases the inequity in both. It’s not so straightforward.

    Which you pursue is more a matter of morals than engineering, but there is a macro-economic effect whichever tack you choose. If one maximizes the earning power of the few, the result is slow or no economic growth, since we have no process of income distribution. Japan has been in just this situation for a couple of decades. The Crisis in Education overlaps exactly with the Crisis in Median Income, both dating to the election of Reagan. Yes, the issue is largely political, not technical.

    A structured learning environment is needed to impart much of early education, which is in fact, “mindless busy work and rewards robotic non-thinking”: the alphabet, vocabulary, addition tables, multiplication tables, geography, history, and the list goes on. What passes for “intelligence”, even among otherwise intelligent adults, is often fact accumulation. Just watch the reaction to Jeopardy! or Trivial Pursuit adepts; they’ve only very good memories and the effort to acquire “mindless busy work”.

    Without a wide and deep base of knowledge (that “mindless” stuff), real intelligence isn’t possible. The classic liberal arts college education (thus, not just early childhood development) had as its intent the development of both the knowledge base, and the ability to synthesize implications and conclusions from it. (You may have had an assignment to compare and contrast the American Revolution with the French. Figuring out the implications and meaning all those mindless facts is the manifestation of intelligence.) The latter is classically referred to as Critical Thinking. This was not a vocational education.

    Critical thinking, on the other hand, is “intelligence”, and it too is not the product of autodidactic practice. It must be instilled by others. This is teaching (you may have had this in mind with “mentoring”; that’s only available in programs for the few, such as Rhodes Scholars). I agree that No Child was a ruse to replace development of Critical Thinking with test passing, but diminishing the development of Critical Thinking is always a goal in the Southern Flank (and its supporters elsewhere); they seek only to keep the poor having kids, thus a plentiful supply of cheap and stupid labor. The Chinese have turned this into an art form, easily recognized in 19th century American mill towns, first in New England, then the South where “conditions” were “better”; for the mill owners at least.

    In the end, what matters is the goal of education, and capitalists (whether the robber baron or entrepreneur variety) have an innate antipathy towards it. The reason is simple: they wish to garner coin from replacing humans with their machines (that’s what fiduciary capital ultimately becomes), which means to devalue humans. Deeply educated humans are a threat to all capitalists. It’s no coincidence that revolutions have been from the educated classes, by and large, and that includes ours; the Southern Flank wasn’t enthusiastic.

    Which returns to my point a few msgs. back: efforts which have proven effective have required parental engagement. Parental engagement makes the difference even if the parents aren’t rocket scientists (and they won’t be for children in question) because of the reinforcement/discipline which occurs. As I said earlier, if your parents are stupid, poor, and don’t care, odds are you’ll grow up to be, too. But if they do care (and if so, I’m inclined to replace “stupid” with “ill educated”), odds are you won’t.

    No amount of “tech” is going to make that difference. News stories abound about parents (striving middle class ones) cutting off Facebook, Twitter, texting, and the like. Always connected all the time is a detriment. I recommend the writings of Nicholas Carr (not an O’Reilly author, but read him and you’ll see why).

    Lastly, talk with teachers who work in “ghetto schools” (some of which are in nice white suburbia, by the way). Such schools are marked by kids who are undisciplined thugs. And lots of those thugs are blonde, blue eyed, upper middle class 6 year olds. I’ve talked with their teachers. They have no self control or power of attention, and lots of electronic devices to keep them “occupied” all day long. Some kids deal with crack in a vial and parents who don’t care, others with high tech tchotkes and parents who don’t care.

    It’s the parents.

    (This has turned into a treatise. My apologies. It grewed like Topsy.)

  • Ann McCarthy


    Your comments about the value of “mindless busy work” and the role of teachers in developing critical thinking ability were beautifully stated.

    Could you please tell us specifically what, or where, the “Southern Flank” is? I’ve taught in southern schools since 1989, and I don’t recognize what you describe.

  • Robert Young

    Ann –

    The Southern Flank, so far as I know, is an epithet of my devising. It refers to the South, but specifically with the implication of warfare; the Culture War of the Christian Right and its hangers on in this case. This war was started by Nixon, and is explicitly Southern based. One of its manifestations was the Christian School to further segregation. The entire Christian Right, what with Intelligent Design and such, is the crux of the issue.

    Whether the Christian Right controls all schooling in all of the South, the overall intent is clear. Texas’s re-writing textbooks to fit this agenda exemplifies the tactics of the Southern Flank.

  • Ann

    I assume you’re referring to Nixon’s “Southern Strategy.”

    It’s very unfortunate that you believe the Christian right controls, or eventually will control schools in the South. Of course that’s what they would like to do. In fact, their influence is strong and growing in the Midwest, the Northwest, and other sections of the country. This movement is no longer peculiar to the South, if it ever was in the first place. It’s misleading to label it a function of a “Southern Flank.” If anything, it’s becoming less influential in the South.

    That you think “the Southern Flank is all about being poor and stupid and NASCAR and fishin’ and huntin'” is really a shame. You dismiss an entire region with a cartoonish insult. Do you feel so contemptuous of every part of the country with a history of poverty? Whether or not you want to believe it, most people in the South can read and write and are are capable of careful thought. You can even buy the “New York Times” in Mississippi.

    If you were to visit the “Southern Flank” you would no doubt find people who are “poor, stupid, and don’t care” because that’s what you would be looking for. If I went to New York and looked for Archie Bunker, I’m sure I’d have no trouble finding him many times over. But there are too many other worthwhile things to do there.

    Have you ever visited Austin, Houston, or San Antonio? If not, try it sometime. You might be very surprised.

    Regarding the textbook issue–Texas can influence other states’ textbooks only as much as those states allow it. If they’re so outraged about the Texas curriculum standards, they don’t have to buy the stuff.

  • Robert Young

    Regarding the textbook issue–Texas can influence other states’ textbooks only as much as those states allow it. If they’re so outraged about the Texas curriculum standards, they don’t have to buy the stuff.

    That, unfortunately, is not true. And is why Texas pulled the stunt. Due to purchases, textbook publishers do, in fact, bend to Texas since it is uneconomic to have separate editions; one for the Creationists and one for the rest of the country. They can only buy the textbooks on offer.

    This movement is no longer peculiar to the South, if it ever was in the first place. It’s misleading to label it a function of a “Southern Flank.” If anything, it’s becoming less influential in the South.

    Yes, it did start in the South, it is still driven by southern white Republican Christians (although more getting caught being naughty with various boys and girls they shouldn’t be), it does mean to install Creationism, Intelligent Design, Reactionary American History as the curriculum, and yes, the infection has spread to other white suburbias.

    There was a great deal more I had in this reply, but to return to the point of Elizabeth’s post, if we’re serious about improving the educational achievement of all children, then tech, by itself, won’t be the answer. Head Start makes more difference than anything else that’s been tried for that age group. It works because it replaces disinterested parents with interested adults. As the twig is bent, so grows the tree. More flashing lights isn’t going to help.

  • Ann


    I’m always baffled by people who view Southern conservatives as somehow worse than those in other parts of the country (John Birch Society, American Nazis, the KKK in New England, white supremacists all over the place, bricks thrown at little black kids on buses in Boston). I’ve visited and lived in enough parts of the country and heard enough moralizing, racist diatribes by people who consider themselves to be well-informed and reasonable to know that this was never a Southern-specific mentality. That’s a holier-than-thou myth that should be put to rest.

    The current “infection” that you speak of began spreading, by your own admission, through the influence of Nixon (from California), and was continued by Reagan (from Illinois) and his heirs from all corners. The temperament that is receptive to what you call the “Southern Flank” has always been there. Or maybe you think that the much of the country is malleable and spineless enough to be persuaded to change its character based on a few southern preachers and politicians. It’s not clear by what mechanism you think the “infection” spread.

    States that object to Texas-influenced textbooks could easily band together and form a large enough market base to outweigh Texas, that is, if they felt strongly enough about it. It’s easier to wail and complain about it. As a tangential point, much of the NCLB-approved textbook and reading curriculum material is produced by McGraw-Hill and other companies with generations-old ties to the Bush family dating to long before any of them went to Texas. They’ll print anything if the price is right. In any case, it will probably be moot before long with more material being produced online.

    Having said all that, I strongly agree with most of what you said about capitalism and the dangers posed by its involvement in education. I believe that NCLB was, from its inception, nothing more than a way to put tax money into corporate and private pockets. Those private pockets are mainly business interests such as McGraw-Hill, Pearson, and other companies that produce testing materials and books related to it, none of which are based in the South. Most of the research that contributes to the alleged “science” behind NCLB teaching practices comes from non-southern universities, the University of Oregon, for one. To say that it’s a conspiracy of a “Southern Flank” to keep a stupid working class in its place by eliminating critical thinking skills is really over the top.

    Perhaps it is best to stick more to the topic at hand. But if you feel it is not appropriate to go off topic, you should refrain from displaying negative parochial biases.

  • Robert Young

    Ann –

    My reason for broaching this line of discussion was not to engage anyone in a tangential argument, but rather to make a case for the “real problem”, which is not solvable through tech. It does no good to tech-ify education if that education is polluted with Creationism and the rest of the Southern Flank’s agenda. Moreover, there are available models (Head Start, for example) which do improve educational achievement by solving the real problem, which is motivation. There is also a growing body of research and opinion (Nick Carr was on NPR yesterday discussing his current book) that tech-ifying damages cognitive ability. There are news stories, as I said above, of parents curtailing tech in children’s lives, and seeing educational/social improvement. This research is ignored at our peril. Ignoring the pollution of the Southern Flank is also at our peril. That said, some more clarifications.

    — The current “infection” that you speak of began spreading, by your own admission, through the influence of Nixon (from California), and was continued by Reagan (from Illinois) and his heirs from all corners.

    The Southern Strategy of Nixon, et al, was purely political: a way to get Right Wingnut Republicans (the party has been very busy jettisoning any who aren’t Wingnuts, as you may have noted) elected to Washington; it was blatantly based on racism. It was not an effort to alter the whole of society. The Southern Flank of today is less about politics (the Tea Baggers could well destroy the Republican party altogether), and more about being the American Taliban: making the rules of social engagement derived from their version of Christianity and American history.

    The genesis of the Southern Strategy/Flank (and, I say again, while both of the South, they are not the same) is not material now; only its existence. And, to repeat, the Flank is those who, to reduce the categorization to simplicity, advocate Creationism as education. I make no assertion that this is all of the South or only of the South, only that this is an organized effort of and from the South. Nixon did something a bit different, which has become indigenous.

    — It’s not clear by what mechanism you think the “infection” spread.

    The myth that whites are repressed by minorities. Google that. Basically, since Reagan, median income (save for the Clinton years) has fallen. Middle class suburban whites, who are, in a relative way, more impacted need a scapegoat (they’re not inclined to blame the Right Wingnuts they always voted for, and whose policies caused the problem). Minorities serve that function well; always have.

    — To say that it’s a conspiracy of a “Southern Flank” to keep a stupid working class in its place by eliminating critical thinking skills is really over the top.

    You may think it’s over the top, but history says otherwise. The South from the beginning was a slave based plantation agriculture. Governments of the Southern states were, shall we say, more capitalist friendly; they still make sure they are. New England manufacturing, when it took a dislike to paying living wages, moved to the plantation South. That is just a fact. Yes, the factory town existed here in New England, but larger numbers of uneducated machine hands were to be had in the South. Just a fact. When even less educated machine hands became available in Mexico and central America, the capital moved on.

    There is a book, “What’s the Matter with Kansas”. I recommend it. The book discusses why it has come to be that some part of Americans vote against there own self interest. One might say (I sure do), that such Americans lack critical thinking; they’ll buy any argument which reinforces some prejudice, but which leads to bad outcomes to themselves simply because they can’t think past the BS. So, yes, the Southern Flank does want to limit education to not teaching the process of critical thinking. What part of Intelligent Design, for example, passes muster to a critical thinker?? None, of course.

    One could conclude, I do, that the blatant lying from the Right about health care reform or tax reform or any other initiatives designed to -level the playing field- is always couched in base terms. Superficially appealing to those who can’t think through the implications.

    Again, just overlay the Right’s strong states with the educational achievement stats (anyone which you want) or income or college degrees or job types and the inverse correlation couldn’t possibly be more obvious. Coincidence? Could anyone draw some other conclusion?

  • elizabeth corcoran

    Robert & Ann — Thanks for an interesting dialogue on conservative movements, etc. But as you both have suggested, let’s nudge the conversation back to education and technology.

    Robert — I’d agree that technology is not a “magic pill” to solve education’s woes. Hardly. But that doesn’t mean you should ignore or shut it out of education altogether. The all-or-nothing approach seems to me to ensure that we never support teaching and teachers — and instead waste fighting tired battles.

    By analogy: using modest amounts of butter and sugar in cooking is fine and won’t make you obese. But you can gain a lot of weight and waste time obsessing on supplements.

    Rather than rehashing questions about whether we should use technology at all, I’d love to hear far more conversation about what are *effective* uses of technology in education.

  • Robert Young

    Rather than rehashing questions about whether we should use technology at all, I’d love to hear far more conversation about what are *effective* uses of technology in education.

    Unfortunately, there is a growing body of research and anecdote that tech is counter-productive to developing cognitive ability; beyond the use of training in office software. As a result, I doubt there will be many.

    If the issue is education as the process of developing critical thinking, rather than simple vocational training, then one needs to honestly answer the question: what does tech have to do with it? How can computerized devices, whether PCs, iPods, cell phones, or mechanical dancing bears improve in the development of critical thinking?

    I, too, would be ecstatic if such devices (inexpensive) were to exist; thus leveling the playing field between the haves and have-nots. Is not this leveling the ultimate goal?

  • Ed Manlove

    Elizabeth, Dale, et al.,

    I just read an interesting article by Ethan Zuckerman on social media’s lack of ability to power real change. The theme he has written about relates to the recent conversation here; is tech effective in education as it could be and if not how can it be made more effective? If you get a chance read the article and see if it strike a familiar note.

    Robert, one example of effective use of tech in education, FIRST and First Lego League. Ok, its only one example that has a lot of good points and I am sure someone could also find faults in its methodology. But overall I find it a positive experience.

    I agree parent involvement is extremely important and finding where tech can help within the overall goal of education is something to work at.

  • Robert Young

    Now, will Y’all listen:

    In a similar vein, Monsanto was recently allowed to market Round-Up resistant alfalfa (I know, sounds arcane), in the full knowledge now, that other Round-Up resistant seed has had the predicted result of cross-pollinating resistance into the weeds. In other words, what looks like short benefit isn’t always.