Since the 80's many schools have thought that the more computers we put in our schools the better the test scores of our students, so we've spent over $60 billion on equipping our classrooms with computers and technology. So what has been our return on investment with all this money we have spent on school technology?
American students have lower national and state test scores now than they did in 1980. But what about the computers? Why didn't computers help these students pass the tests?
The way I see it, there are two reasons for this:
Reason 1: National and state tests do not measure 21st Century Skills. Take the first skill of "creativity and innovation" show me a standardized test that has a question that measures that? So the reality is that our students are gaining valuable 21st Century Skills that are simply not being assessed. (See my many ramblings on 21st Century assessments)
Reason 2: Schools are not using computers for instruction. Don't get me wrong, schools are using their computers for many things (see reason 1) but very few schools are using computers for differentiated instruction, lessons that are customized to many different types of intelligence. We have got to expand the use of our computers from just doing word processing and Internet research to being tools of instruction. Luckily this part of the edtech market is expanding rapidly -- mostly in math.
So the answer is not just more computers (which is important) but also a change in how we are using computers. We need to look at computers as teachers -- not to replace real teachers -- but to help. A real teacher cannot teach how to multiply 2-digit numbers 28 different ways to his or her 28 different students in one class period, but a computer can. As part of a demo of a new math website (paid subscription) I sat down a 5th grade student who was struggling in math to the computer and let him loose. Within a few minutes of playing some games and working on some problems the computer had tested him on a number of strands and found out that the student was struggling due to lacking a basic concept that he should have mastered in the second grade. So after 22 minutes we now knew how to help this student -- WOW! This student soon mastered that concept and has not had any problems in math since.