Debating Technology Use in Education

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finding a place to air one's viewsInitially conceived by a diverse set of partner organizations during one of the follow-up meetings to the World Summit on the Information Society (WSIS) as a way to continue in public a number of on-going discussions that were largely occurring in private, since 2009 infoDev's EduTech Debate web site has featured contributions from an eclectic mix of experts and practitioners on a variety of topics related to the uses of ICTs in education, especially as they relate to developing countries. Drawing inspiration from an online debate sponsored by the Economist in late 2007, the ETD site has featured disagreements (and occasional agreements) on around themes like impact assessment, gender, sustainability and a variety of specific technology tools.

Re-visiting some of the issues explored in that Economist debate, in 2011 the EduTech Debate site kicks off by hosting a high level discussion around the question, Are ICT investments in schools an education revolution or fool’s errand?

From the time of Plato, educators have struggled with the acquisition of knowledge, seeking it to be understood by the learner versus just assimilated as dogma.  Since Plato's time, educational technology - from the written word to the printed book to the chalkboard - has been hailed as the solution to this challenge.  Each successive technology had impact, though often not what the introducer hoped. 

Now we come to the digital age, where electronic information and communication technologies (ICT) are the newest promise to empower learners to understand and interact with society.  Radio, TV, and now computers and the Internet are profoundly changing civilization, as we know it.  Can they have the same impact on education?

Will ICT create a revolution in education, as The Children's Machine predicts, where the learner is central and knowledge is created and understood with guidance from fellow learners and adult facilitators? Or is ICT use in education really a fools' errand, yet another fad that will waste resources, creating The Flickering Mind and leaving educational systems no better than before?

A fantastic line-up of contributors has been assembled to begin the new year:

  • Cristobal Cobo is a research fellow at Oxford Internet Institute at the University of Oxford and a coordinator of a collective project on informal, non-formal and invisible learning, as discussed in the TEDx talk Invisible learning: How to learn beyond the school? He also blogs here.
  • Larry Cuban is a former high school social studies teacher, district superintendent, and university professor. Larry is a prodigious and influential author on the history of the use of technology in education in the United States (among other topics), including Oversold and Underused, a critical look at the use (and non-use) of computers by teachers and students. He also blogs at Larry Cuban on School Reform and Classroom Practice.
  • Lowell Monke is assistant professor of Education at Wittenberg University. Lowell researches and writes on the social and psychological impact of high technology on children’s development, including (with the late and dearly missed R.W. Burniske) Breaking Down the Digital Walls: Learning to Teach in a Post-Modem World.
  • Kentaro Toyama is a researcher in the School of Information at the University of California, Berkeley; he was previously the assistant managing director of Microsoft Research India in Bangalore. Kentaro was recently featured in the Can Technology End Poverty? debate that inspired this month’s ETD. Those who enjoy his writings may also enjoy the blog of the ICT4D Jester.
  • Claudia Urrea is a visiting research scientist at the MIT – Media Lab. Claudia's PhD thesis focuses on the creation of new learning environments for the digital era and she collaborates with OLPC in the worldwide deployment of revolutionary learning tools to children in the developing world.

Kentaro Toyama has kicked off the debate with a though-provoking post, There Are No Technology Shortcuts to Good Education (in which he lists what he considers to be "9 Myths of Technology in Education").

Please feel free to join in the debate as well -- everyone is welcome.

In case you missed them (and extending the 'best of blog' theme of the recent entry detailing the Top World Bank EduTech blog posts of 2010), here are some quick links to last year's EduTech Debates, which were moderated by Wayan Vota:

EduTech Debates 2010
January 2010: 2010 ICT4E Trends
February 2010: Assistive Technology
March 2010: eLearning Promise
April 2010: ICT Tools for South Asia
May 2010: Is ICT in Schools Wasted?
June 2010: Low-Cost ICT Devices
July 2010: Educational ICT at Home
August 2010: Literacies: Old and New
September 2010: mEducation Initiatives
October 2010: Games and Education
November 2010: OLPC in South America
December 2010: Computer Configurations for Learning

Some of the notable contributors to ETD over the past year included Oscar Becerra, Mark Beckford, Fernando Botelho, Nick Carr, Christoph Derndorfer, Atanu Dey, Inés Dussel, Bob Hawkins, Tim Kelly, Derek Lomas, Cavin Mugarura, Miguel Nussbaum, Ian Thomson, Steve Vosloo, Marion Walton, Mark Warschauer, Seth Weinberger and Clare Woodward.

Please note: The image used at the top of this blog post of Debate Square, the site of the second debate between Abraham Loncoln and Stephen Douglas in Freeport, Illinois (USA) as part of their campaigns for a seat in the U.S. Senate in 1858 ("finding a place to air one's views") comes courtesy of Ivo Shandor via Wikimedia Commons and is used according to the terms of its Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license.


Michael Trucano

Visiting Fellow, Brookings, and Global Lead for Innovation in Education, World Bank

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