Educational Technology Finally Finding its Place

I've been out of the educational space for a while, but I'm still fascinated by the possibilities for using technology to help advance student achievement. Most of the effort that I've seen has been well-intentioned but ultimately doomed to fail due to a few simple issues. Early efforts focused on hardware - wiring schools and putting in computers with the hope that people would figure out what to do with them. Regrettably, most teachers (like anyone else) don't know how to code or design software. Once an effort to put appropriate software in place was started, it followed what the corporate world did - "digitizing"offline processes. This works for some linear transactions, but ultimately is a poor match for how children learn and the demands of a networked society. Finally, it seems people are opening up to the notion of group learning underpinned by social software, and software that includes the entire learning community. I tried to convince my former employer of the importance of this but it was both a hard sell internally (the company was probably innovative at the start, but over time adopted the top-down enterprise model of its customers, the school districts) and to school districts afraid of spam, porn, predators and any of that making headlines. From the NYTimes:

The project-based approach, some educators say, encourages active learning and produces better performance in class and on standardized tests.

The educational bottom line, it seems, is that while computer technology has matured and become more affordable, the most significant development has been a deeper understanding of how to use the technology.

“Unless you change how you teach and how kids work, new technology is not really going to make a difference,” said Bob Pearlman, a former teacher who is the director of strategic planning for the New Technology Foundation, a nonprofit organization.

The foundation, based in Napa, Calif., has developed a model for project-based teaching and is at the forefront of the drive for technology-enabled reform of education. Forty-two schools in nine states are trying the foundation’s model, and their numbers are growing rapidly.

Also, a good article in the NYTimes (same day) about hands-on learning for software designers - totally applicable to the above scenario.