Sunday, April 27, 2008

Yong Zhao on how to use technology in the classroom

The Mercer Island education community is talking about Yong Zhao, a professor at Michigan State University with ideas on how to improve schools global competitiveness.

He'll be doing a presentation, open to the public, at Mercer Island High School on May 13th at 7pm, so somebody sent me a link to video of a talk he did in Singapore a few years ago.  You can skip the 60min lecture and just skim the powerpoint to get the basic idea.

Or if you want to hear the conclusion, skip ahead to about the 40:00 part of the talk (see slide 37).  Here's the gist:

  • Why are computers not making an impact on classrooms?
    • It’s not the teachers: they’ve all been trained
    • There’s no shortage of great software
  • Think of classrooms as ecosystems made of computers, students, teachers, etc. evolving toward an equilibrium
  • “Innovation is like an invasive species” that can only succeed by displacing something else
    • E.g. IM chatting (which should be an innovation) is thought of as a distraction to be shut down instead of a great way to enhance
    • PDAs are wasted because teachers don’t bother understanding them well enough to integrate into the ecology.
    • “computers only help if used less than 3 hrs/day” -- after that it’s wasted.
    • Henry Ford thought cars would be great because they’ll eliminate congestion caused by horses. How wrong!

Summary of suggestions (starts at minute 50:00)

  • Need a network of teachers working together, not as individuals
  • Technology takes time to soak in
  • Encourage teachers to play with technology instead of teaching it
  • Connect to existing practices and beliefs
  • Find the right niche where technology is natural, not forced

My takeaway: everything depends on the teacher, staff, and community. If you have proactive, intelligent, innovative teachers, your technology will help a lot. If people are just using technology because somebody told them to do it, it won’t work.

Note that this is no different than the situation in industry.  World-class companies require world-class employees and so do schools.  I still think the best place to start is the McKinsey study I mentioned before

1 comment:

Sam said...

I'm continually befuddled by Mercer Island School Districts intensive focus on technology to the exclusion of other learning materials (ones that have been proven over decades). Why are thousands being spent on Smartboards and the like (despite the fact that tablets are way cheaper and many teachers prefer them. I think they're better) while many library books are 40-50 years old and literally falling apart.