Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Need More Than Ubiquitous Multiple Choice

In her article Moving Beyond “Personalized Instruction” Audrey Watters eloquently states:
But technology today is mobile, and it is social, and it is networked. We need to rethink, reimagine how technology can enhance learning — through collaboration and connectedness, for example. We cannot simply use newer technologies to make old practices of lectures and worksheets digital. That’s not enough to transform school. And as the NEPC report highlights, that doesn’t work. And it doesn’t work, in part, because we know that those practices aren’t the best analog pedagogy either.
Clickers. Apps. Multiple choice. Videos of lectures. 

This is not meaningful. This is not better. This is not getting students "college and career ready". This is not empowering students, learners, "scholars" or educators. This is not personalization. This is digital reinforcement of a hierarchal structure of knowledge acquisition that in the 21st Century, need not exist. This is digitizing a world that only exists within the walls of our industrial model schools and pretending that it exists in the always referenced "real world" (which is only true in the "real world" of schools and factories).

Clickers. Apps. Multiple choice. Videos of lectures. 

These would have you believe that novelty and entertainment is engagement. These have you believe that having "data" will lead to customized learning. The use of these tools may qualify as educational technology, but they do so at the lowest levels. These technologies do not empower or connect students to the world. These technologies do not help students answer big, essential questions. And using technology to answer multiple choice questions certainly does not require a meaningful student investment in their learning.

But with such a huge push to use technology in education-- they are comfortable. Easy. They digitize the model of education where the teacher is the sole purveyor of information. Where we are the sole individuals who can answer the ultimate questions (or at least those on the tests we make).

But What About Formative Assessments?

Sure formative assessment is great. Strike that, MEANINGFUL formative assessment is great.

But why are we shooting to make multiple choice ubiquitous? And yes, I understand that getting formative data back to teachers rapidly is important, but to what end? If it is so teachers can craft better multiple choice questions then by all means, have at it, but don't tell me this is personalizing learning or an example of a meaningful use of technology worthy of such a huge investment.

If this is what the call for more technology usage in classrooms is about- multiple choice, algorithms and "personalized" video lectures, then the profession is embracing a model that can and will replace educators. 
But, it does not have to be this way...and it should not be this way.


I would implore educators who are looking to use technology meaningfully to do so in a way that helps you do what Google can't. Use technology to explore the previously unreachable. Search and learn with, and from, students about questions you don't have the answers to (even if it is not on the exam). Connect students with experts, other than yourself, from around the globe. Identify and solve problems that exist now, not in a carefully crafted scenario. 

Most importantly, take back what it means to personalize learning- use the unique knowledge that you have about your students' lives to craft instruction, assessments, and experiences that have personal and intrinsic value to students. Use data to identify, harness and build upon students' strengths, not just weaknesses. Finally, use technology to share the amazing, personalized work students create with the school, community, and the world. 

Then technology and people will have transformed "school" together.