Matt Richtel, Sunday Sept 4, 2011, New York Times article asks a question, do we really need technology to learn? It reminds me of when I worked as an instructional technologist in higher education in the mid 90’s; debates raged over the value of the Internet and Web on everything from e-commerce to entertainment.  Often scolded by senior medical faculty, “Computers are for the office not for medical education”. This was before Google when the Internet was primarily used by academia, military and certain industries; a decade and a half later, it’s a moot point.  Medical school libraries have replaced stacks with state-of-the- art computer labs that have everything from productivity software to applications that facilitate medical education courses.  I suspect that if you went to 1st or 2nd year medical school course managers and told them you are going to replace their computer applications with black boards and overhead projects they would be aghast.

Today go into a medical center library anywhere in the US and you will see book stacks replaced with state-of-the- art computer labs that have everything from productivity software to applications that facilitate medical education courses.  I suspect that if you went to 1st or 2nd year medical school course managers and told them you are going to replace their computer applications with black boards and overhead projects they would be aghast.

Do we really need technology to learn? I can’t imagine the answer would be anything but yes.  In the last decade the emergence of web technologies and applications (Google, YouTube, Facebook, Linked In, etc) in all facets of our life makes it only logical that we would be using productivity tools, smart boards, and Internet resources as teaching tools in primary and secondary education. Evidently, I am wrong.  In the article, educators explain if there is little or no data to prove otherwise than chances are technology engagement does not lead to academic achievement.

I would ask are we integrating technology for that purpose, or are we preparing the next generation with 21st century skills so that they are prepared for the work place? The question is better answered by industry and market leaders who have weighed in as part of the National Education Technology Plan.  The plan “endorses brining “state-of-the- art technology into learning to enable, motivate and inspire all students.” However the current research proves that this is not the case. Could it be we are not asking the right questions?

I do agree with Randy Yerrick, “Engagement is a fluffy term.” Certainly true when it comes to social networking and social media engagement, companies are trying to measure, monitor and define how social networking and media is transforming business and client relationships.  Could it be that engagement and inspiration are hard to measure? What we do know is that this generation is in the midst of one of the biggest social movements since the industrial revolution. Middle School kids are digital natives who have grown up with technology devices since their baby monitors (reference).  Kudos to 7th and 8th grade teachers like Sharon Smith who have vision and understand, “kids are inundated with 24/7 media so they expect it. It’s less of a distraction and more of a motivator and helps kids work in teams.

What’s troubling about the story is the sad state of affairs around budgets and pitting resources against each other.  It makes no sense to have state-of-the-art computer labs and do funds for paper, pencil, Kleenex and hand sanitizer.  No wonder teachers, and PTO are not fully embracing technology advances in the classroom.