The last piece of ed tech you’ll ever need, again. (Part 1: Reader Participation Requested!)

While making room for the Christmas tree and other holiday baubles, I got sidetracked by a work of ed-reform history I’d read years ago. Though it was in one of the stuff-stacks I was supposed to be making invisible, I couldn’t help opening to some of the more heavily underlined and margin-noted sections to see what I’d once considered such a big deal.

Interestingly, the portions I got to re-reading showed we hadn’t progressed real far since they’d been written. Buzz-terms may have changed, but many red-letter issues called out in the book as dogging the enterprise — for generations, some of them — were strikingly similar to those we see today. I ended up (after helping with holiday decorating, of course) re-reading the whole thing, and I was similarly struck throughout. Much as we might think contemporary reforms and instructional enhancements are game-changers and all that, it seems that many of them are just reruns.

Make no mistake, re-recognizing this was validating in a sense (my book, Education Is Upside-Down, makes some similar arguments). More so, however, I found it all quite saddening. As I read I kept thinking about how great it would be to finally find the right actions — ones that would allow the enterprise’s professionals and its students to move out of all the wasteful, frustrating, and unproductive cycles.

One such similarity, the introduction of ed-tech innovations to classroom operations, was particularly interesting to me. (I spend a chapter of Education Is Upside-Down, after all, touching on how technological [and other] innovations cycle through and impact instructional improvement efforts. SPOILER ALERT: I largely think they do so time- and resource-wastefully, most often producing nowhere near desired yields.) The historical overview, though, cut so close to so many of my professional experiences that it was almost spooky.

To illustrate, I’ll make a little game of it.

NAME THAT GAME-CHANGING, INSTRUCTION-REVOLUTIONIZING ED-TECH INNOVATION

Read the following clue passages (with obvious leading portions omitted), and guess the ed-tech innovation — from any time in the past century of education — being described. For bonus points, name the second innovation described later in the passage. You may either keep answers to yourself or leave your guesses in the comments section. (If there’s sufficient participation, maybe I’ll even figure out some kind of modest prize for the winner.)

Answers, source text, and follow-up thoughts on these similarities will be posted in the next 2-3 days. Enjoy and good luck!

PRELUDE:

…a familiar cycle of reform recurred: hyperbolic claims about how a new invention would transform education; then research showing that the technology was generally no more effective than traditional instruction and sometimes less; and finally disappointment as reports came back from classrooms about the imperfections of reform as as surveys showed that few teachers were using the tool.

Whom to blame? The obvious scapegoat was the teacher unwilling to climb onto the new bandwagon.

CLUE PASSAGES:

Advocates of _______ as a mode of instruction saw it as the very emblem of progressive pedagogy, for it promised to breathe…reality into the spoken and printed word. But again the companies that wanted to sell technical solutions and the educators enjoined to use them tended to live in different worlds. One advocate of ______ reported that teachers “failed to make their problems articulate to the commercial producers,” while business people “failed to grasp or to study the nature of instruction and the complexity of educational institutions.”

The early _________ were expensive and required constant maintenance, and _______ themselves were costly and needed to be shared by many teachers. For these reasons, _______ was first used in large cities and wealthy suburbs. Most districts had no _________; rural schools often lacked _________.

…even when districts had the necessary equipment…, teachers used _________ sparingly, except for a small cadre of enthusiasts. A study of 175 elementary teachers in New Haven, Connecticut, discovered that [roughly two-thirds of all tech applications] came from twenty-five mediaphiles. When researchers investigated obstacles to the use of ___________, they pinpointed the teachers’ lack of skills, the cost of purchase and upkeep of the equipment, and the inability to find the right fit between _______ and class lessons.

[BONUS: ED-TECH INNOVATION #2] __________ was going to be different, said reformers. In the ____s, when the ______ Foundation entered the arena…with its subsidies and publicity, the campaign for instructional _________ gained momentum. …[However,] a decade after __________ was introduced with a flourish, a fervent advocate lamented: “If something happened tomorrow to wipe out all instructional ______________, America’s schools and colleges would hardly know it was gone.”

Explanations abound. Disappointed reformers complained that teachers were laggard and fearful if not incompetent. Teachers gave other reasons. They pointed to problems with hardware: there was not enough, or it was broken or complicated, or it took too much time to arrange for its use. They criticized the content of the _[INNOVATION #1]_ or _[INNOVATION #2, BONUS]_ as inappropriate to the curriculum, as not fitting the class schedule, or as of poor quality. Top-down implementation provoked many teachers to dig in their heels or simply to put technology in the closet.

 Thanks for playing, part 2 (with answers — and prizewinners?) coming soon.

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