At EIS, Some Express Reservations About Tech in Education

The Education Innovation Summit kicked off yesterday on the campus of Arizona State University. The attendees will be focusing on the role technological innovation will be playing in the schools of the future. When it comes to digital classrooms, the summit participants believe that the sky is the limit. Between digital textbooks, video-based learning and distance education, the time will come where the traditional room with a desk and a blackboard will be completely supplanted and replaced.

Given the very complicated problems facing our educational system, it’s no surprise that some believe technology may serve as a savior, bringing down costs, personalizing the learning experiencing, and improving student outcomes. Whoever creates the best versions of these products, many entrepreneurs at Education Innovation are betting, stands to make a lot of money.

While enthusiasm for technology-enhanced education is running high, not every speaker is universally optimistic. Chris Lehman, principal of the Science Leadership Academy in Philadelphia, which is a school run in partnership with the Franklin Institute, a premiere science museum in the country, sounded a note of caution about the efforts aimed at replacing teachers with tech.

“Before we rush to embrace the idea that the market might do education better than educators,” he says, he wants to see a lengthy conversation about the “worst consequences of our best idea.”

Lehman’s presentation highlighted a disconnect between the representatives of the technology sector who feel that educators are too reluctant to adopt new digital solutions and classroom veterans who think that digital evangelists are entirely too eager to push unproven technology into the schools.

Further, the two groups are deeply skeptical of each other’s motives, with many for-profit innovators accusing teachers unions of trying to hold onto a monopoly, and many educators alleging that companies prioritize profits over students.

Those in education who believe that technology is becoming too pervasive in schools can now point to the example of South Korea, home of the most rigorous and successful public school system. A plan adopted five years ago to completely modernize its schools, including completely converting from traditional to digital textbooks by 2015, has hit a snag when education leaders started to question the assumptions that students who were already surrounded by gadgets in other areas of their life would benefit from additional exposure.

Those concerns have caused South Korea to pin back the ambition of the project, which is in a trial stage at about 50 schools. Now, the full rollout won’t be a revolution: Classes will use digital textbooks alongside paper textbooks, not instead of them. First- and second-graders, government officials say, probably won’t use the gadgets at all.