Some Thoughts and Resources on the TechEd Debate

I work in a school district that is very pro TechEd. I personally am not as gung ho as some of my colleagues, but at the same time, I do believe that there are many applications that can benefit students in schools. In thinking about my general perception on the role TechEd should play in schools and how my kids are growing into this increasingly tech saturated world, I decided to do some light research to direct my thoughts. I’ve included a list of the pages that I read.

I’ll admit, this is one of those posts that I hadn’t planned to do. But, when my wife showed me a Guardian article that was bouncing around social media, I decided to make an attempt. It likened schools as pushers for Silicon Valley. It was something I could imagine, given the money involved in bringing schools into 1:1 programs and the software licensing funds that follow. It also made me think of the way Coca-Cola and Pepsi set up contracts to vend soft-drinks in schools.

I’m not going to go through and write all the pros and cons of tech in schools. I feel like there are so many ways to argue this point, and in fact, many of the articles I’ve included in my bibliography do so quite well and passionately. I do however, want to point out one of the difficult things that I find quoted so often in these articles, and that is that Silicon Valley execs are not sending their kids to schools that use technology. What frustrates me though, is that the articles I’ve been looking at have been using one school in California, the Waldorf School of the Peninsula as the primary focus for this issue.

I like the idea of cutting out a great deal from my family’s tech diet, but I also know that when we look at schools like those the tech execs are sending their own kids to, we are not comparing apples to apples. Any schools that are that exclusive are going to see graduates heading off to Ivies. If they didn’t, the tech execs wouldn’t send their kids there. That’s the benefit of privilege. Pricy private schools have always been unfair when compared to public schools. The class sizes are small, and it is very difficult and expensive for students to be enrolled. Another thing to consider with this particular school is that in articles like the ones in the Guardian, this one school is often the only one mentioned. When it’s not the only one, there tends to be another equally exclusive private school as well—often a Waldorf school.

Public schools work their damnedest to educate all the kids who show up. It doesn’t reject students. Think about disabled students. I have had two blind students who were able to read and write because of adaptive devices on their computers. Think of class size. The Waldorf School of the Peninsula has a little over 300 students K-12. The Virginia Standards of Quality look to have a ratio of 25 students to 1 teacher. In some classes, like Physical Education, it can be more.

While the idea of tech-free appeals to the luddite in me (lord knows I’ve thought about ditching tech more than once—I still use a flip phone that is older than some of my kids), I know that there are also some very useful applications of technology. So, when I look at the idea of completely tech-free schools, I wonder if it isn’t the case of the old cliche of throwing the baby out with the bathwater, even though I could see the benefit of setting some tighter restrictions upon the frequency and the age at which tech gets introduced in the classroom.

Here’s a list of resources I read from oldest to most recent:

Recommended: US Dept of Ed Publication- from 2017 National Education Technology Plan Update—The US Dept of Ed, Office of Educational Technology. This .pdf is a good set of examples, rationale, and recommendations of technology use in schools.

Articles- from 2011, NYT focuses on the Waldorf School from 2012, Washington Post does a fair job of looking at both sides, but focuses on the Waldorf school in California, and then also one in DC. from 2013, Brookings’ recommendations are more common (I assume) now. from 2014, Stanford’s article is fairly prosaic but does have clout being who they are. from 2015, Guardian compares a British private school to the Waldorf school from 2016, EdTech Magazine makes some good points in the infographic, but there’s little context, though they do include citations.  About half are easily recognized sources. from 2016, EdWeek gives an overview of how some ways tech is used, along with pros/cons of approaches to integration from 2017, The Independent talks about the dangers of excessive tech usage doesn’t clearly address all its claims. from 2018, more helpful info than anything. from 2018,  Results from a movement/physical activity experiment. from 2018, The Times discusses the Waldorf school again.