I might be the outlier in the education technology community, but I greeted the US Department of Education’s “Effectiveness of Reading and Mathematics Software Products” research study prepared for Congress as a great success for the technology community. It might also be the case that as a former working journalist and a TV news producer that I know what is necessary to generate a headline and to stir up a bit of controversy.
The US Department of Education contracted with two great organizations (Mathematica Research Policy, Inc and SRI International) to study 33 districts, totaling 132 schools, and 439 teachers. They ultimately ended up with a student sample of 9424 students to test 16 reading and math products (1st and 4th grade reading; 6th grade math, and Algebra). What they learned was that statistically there was very little difference between classroom instruction and the products tested. Bravo!
Addressing the deficiencies of higher education in light of the pressures of globalization and the information economy are driving many very pointed recommendations for higher education reform. While US colleges and universities are carrying on their role in research and scholarship, their ability to attract, retain and graduate new students is being challenged by college student mobility, low high school graduation rates, high school dropouts, and ill prepared high school students across all demographics.
It occurred to me the other day in the doctor’s office that not only did I have a bad problem with my Achilles tendon, but education has an Achilles heel in almost the same conundrum. The issue it turns out, in an odd sort of way, is identical for medicine as it is for education. Here is the issue.
When you take an anti-inflammatory drug for a specific issue, say the tendonitis in my Achilles tendon, the drug goes everywhere in your body, not just to where the problem is. As a result, the effects are diluted significantly and, specifically, where you need it they are almost non-existent.
Students are the ultimate technology drivers. While a college or university can institute a course management system such as the platforms provided by Blackboard or WebCT, getting it into wide use is another matter. Faculty adoption rates for technology-driven tools go up a little bit each year. Yet, with the exception of fully online or proprietary institutions that can demand it, there is always a mix of faculty who use the system and those who don’t or only use it superficially.
What does this feel like if you are a student? To them, part of the faculty is in the information age and the other part is not. Ryan Tansey is about to graduate from the University of Puget Sound. Ryan not only was a Blackboard user, but he was on the university’s help desk. It should also be revealed that Ryan grew up with a father who played a role in the evolution of course management system standards.
Gilly Salmon is a professor of eLearning and learning technologies at the University of Leicester. Her work in eLearning began at the UK’s Open University where she worked in the Center for Innovation, Knowledge and Enterprise. She is one of the world’s pioneers in the migration of education online and the values that represents. In her address to BbWorld Europe ’06, Dr. Salmon will choose an interesting angle on looking at eLearning — what if some of the greatest men and women throughout history had taught online…