Educational technologies: the revolution that never comes?


In our time, the idea that technology and progress imply and need each other seems to prevail. This article aims to collect some reflections and pose certain questions about this apparently necessary interdependence in the specific field of education.

It has been more than thirty years since the concept of computer-aided learning began to spread . In an interesting article , D. Hawridge confirmed in 1990 the perception that the computer should be a catalyst for change in schools, and that it should radically improve teaching and learning processes. They were natural expectations at the time, in view of technological advances in so many other fields. Since then, technology seems to promise a revolution in education that, however, never ends.

Does technology improve student achievement?

Three decades later, digital technologies have undergone rapid development and their contributions in the health field or in sectors such as communications or space exploration (to name just a few examples) have been decisive. But is there evidence that its use in the educational system has resulted in an improvement in student outcomes?

Larry Cuban’s answer to the previous question is very clear: “no.” Cuban is one of the most critical voices with the indiscriminate introduction of technology into schools, particularly in the early stages.

However, the question above is definitely a difficult one. It admits very diverse answers and clarifications, of which we can only do more than a sketch here: technology can better adapt to the current profile of the student, improve their motivation, help to specify and visualize concepts, etc. But it can also make you more passive, or limit you when it comes to imagining solutions to problems that cannot be addressed by the technology available at all times.

If technology is aimed at reducing the effort required to perform certain tasks, it is possible that in some learning processes the very idea of ​​reducing effort points in the wrong direction.

There are also concrete risks linked to an excessive implantation of digital technologies at an early age. As a sample, we can mention the apparent negative correlation between the introduction of technology and the development of basic literacy skills (see this OECD report ).

The social enthusiasm for technology

We can affirm with certain guarantees that this revolution in the educational system has not arrived: Hawkridge himself pointed out its utopian character. However, the social perception of the possibilities offered by educational technologies does not seem to have changed. It is argued that digital technologies are not yet sufficiently developed to meet these expectations, or that the use made of them in the educational system is insufficient or inappropriate. Without a doubt, these are arguments that must be taken into account.

But another reading can be done: when the results of a project do not reach a certain threshold, we can simply conclude that those results have been bad or, more astutely, that the threshold was too high. Perhaps the expectations placed on educational technologies were (and are) too high.

Authors such as Cuban or Neil Selwyn point to the existence of political and economic interests that, in a systematic way, contribute to creating or maintaining those expectations. For Cuban, the introduction of technology in schools contributes to projecting an image of modernity (progress), and also transmits to society the message that the political leaders of those decisions act, take concrete measures to try to solve the problems of the educational system . The bottom line, according to Cuban, is that this is done regardless of whether the results are good or bad.

Selwyn and other authors point directly to the economic interests of companies in the world of educational technologies. It is also worth noting the enormous potential of the technological giants to consolidate the opinion that their products are essential and that evolution in the direction defined by their vision of the world is inevitable and does not even leave room for qualifications.

All this is aligned with the social perception of technology as something inherently positive, possibly due to extrapolation of its enormous success in so many sectors and because of the facilities it provides us in everyday life, among other reasons. The idea has been created that technology is omnipotent. From this techno-optimistic perspective , why should education be an exception to the mantra that technology will improve everything?

Avoid Manichaeism

Given the extraordinary complexity of the subject, it would be a tremendous simplification to reduce it to false dilemmas that, in practice, only admit one answer: for example, limit the problem to whether the technology is good or bad, or ask whether we are in favor or in favor of it. against the use of digital technologies in education.

It would also be a mistake to assimilate any critical reading of the use of educational technologies to outdated slogans (“the letter with blood enters”), to attribute that critical vision to a simple resistance to change by teachers or institutions, or to identify it with an exotic techno-skepticism and marginal.

What technologies to use in teaching, how, when, why and for what are questions that do not allow uniform answers. Among other reasons, due to the diversity that exists in people, in the subject matter of learning, in the technology itself and even in the teaching methodologies that can be used with and without it.

In any case, Cuban or Selwyn’s claim to that old philosophy of suspicion regarding interests in this area invites a critical approach to the use of digital technologies in the educational system that leads to their informed use, guided by objectives and well assembled in the teaching project.

More generally, this critical attitude will help to reflect on creating artificial and unnecessary dependencies on technology, and thus to make more intelligent use of its enormous possibilities.

Author Bio: Ricardo Riaza is University Professor in the area of ​​Applied Mathematics at the Polytechnic University of Madrid (UPM)