Michael Schrage, co-director of MIT Media Lab E-Markets Initiative, writing for The Financial Times openly flogged, “edutainers,” or people who claim that technology in schools can make learning fun – the article is, The ‘edutainers’ merit a failing grade (You have to pay to read it all now, so I will quote liberally. Another great reason to use ma.gnolia to bookmark, it saves a copy for you).
Schrage acknowledges that, “state-run school systems require fundamental reform,” but, “Nevertheless, the shrewdest policy to improve public education while saving billions in government spending demands abstinence. Keep computers out of the classroom.” Schrage fails to draw some important distinctions between computers in the classroom, and “edutainment” software. But let’s read on.
To hear the rhetoric of its champions, educational technology is a glittering silicon seducer that will lure learners into fun, engaging and “edutaining” experiences. “Edutainment” is an ideology. The “edutainers” assert that classroom computing should conform to the cognitive needs and constraints of the child. These technologists offer the false promise that learning should be fun and assert there is something wrong if it is not.
I consider myself a champion of educational technology, but certainly not to just make learning fun. In fact, I wrote a piece called, Learning Isn’t Fun, Knowing Is Fun that deals with the “edutainment” issue. Software companies create, market and sell “edutainment” software. Educational technologists are trained educators, who help design curricula that utilizes technologies to enhance student learning. There is a core difference here that Schrage overlooks.
Let’s take the most expensive technology programs out there, 1:1 laptop programs where each student has a laptop. Costed out over 4 years, a student can have a laptop for about $500 per year. The U.S. average for per pupil spending 2004-5 was $8,554 (source: National Education Association, Rankings & Estimates report PDF). Spending $500 a year represents just 6% of that budget. For 6% of our education budget, our we willing to give our students access to: spreadsheets, word processors, online libraries, digital media resources, world-wide communication and social networks, voice over IP and more? If the business world can utilize these technologies, why can’t schools?
Schrage does venture a possibility for technology to help schools. He discusses educators in Seoul, South Korea who are considering having teachers text message with parents to deliver grades, schedules and homework assignments. His conclusion:
Is it possible that parental involvement technologies may have a greater impact on educational quality than the most “edutaining” classroom software? These are the sort of questions that the “edutopians” rarely ask, let alone seriously answer. They are too busy trying to bring The Next Great Technology to your school. Do not let them.
In fact, this is a question that many in educational technology ask all the time. How can technologies like the web, e-mail and mobile computing redefine parent roles in schools? Many schools communicate with parents regularly via e-mail and blogs, maintain up-to-date web resources for families and more. In fact, we are using these technologies to bring parents closer to schools, but most importantly we are using them to bring students more in control of their own learning. We expect students to be problem solvers, and to use powerful tools (laptops, PDA’s, video cameras, digital microscopes, graphic calculators, iPods, the web, and much more) to explore complicated problems and concepts.
It’s not that learning needs to be fun, but that it needs to be authentic. This is the power that these tools deliver.