The discussion about investment in educational technology should focus not only on learning results but also on its contribution to the digital literacy of future generations.
As school districts across the US enter 2012 planning, there is an increasing debate about the value of educational technology investments. For some, “edtech” is a way to reduce costs and increase operational efficiencies in schools. Others express an almost messianic faith that edtech investment will support teachers and drive learning results in core academic subjects – reading, math, science.
On the learning results front, the latest news looks bleak. As the New York Times recently reported, education technology companies and advocates have grossly inflated the software report card.
In a nutshell, “schools are spending billions on technology, even as they cut budgets and lay off teachers, with little proof that this approach is improving basic learning. This conundrum calls into question one of the most significant contemporary educational movements.”
Yet, educational investment is about more than just spurring existing learning goals through new means. Classrooms of the future will play an essential role in ensuring that the next generation of students acquires the basic digital skills needed to succeed in today’s world- from computer programming and online research to analysis of social data and basic web publishing. Furthermore, in a country that continues to suffer from a great digital divide, the classroom remains one of the few places where students who lack computers, broadband connections, or smart phones at home can reliably access these tools.
We are now in the midst of an economic recession, with increased uncertainty upon us. While significant numbers of high school and college graduates live in areas where job opportunities just don’t exist, many more workers are unnecessarily unemployed because there remains a tremendous mismatch between skills and market needs.
It’s time we in the US acknowledge the digital skills gap and define a “Minimum Standard of Digital Literacy,” a standard that every high school and college student should reach by graduation.
Should we demand that every high-schooler know how to write a basic computer program? Should they know how to analyze a Wikipedia article and decipher it’s sources? What about editing a video or deconstructing a commercial? We will have to work to define the standard, and there is room to debate the balance of hard computer skills vs. critical thinking abilities. But the need is there. Once we establish the Minimum Standard we will then have a rubric from which to design new edtech products, investment in infrastructure, assess student performance, and analyze the value of our tech investments.
We think that the digital literacy of children is an essential frame through which the ROI on edtech investments should be assessed. In future posts we will propose a Minimum Standard of Digital Literacy and look forward to collectively debating and agreeing on this standard.