Education failures? Blame inadequate budgets

I've read two interesting pieces this week (Have educators fallen off the tech bandwagon? and Should universities change teaching to accommodate a generation raised on mobile technology?
Written by Marc Wagner, Contributor

I've read two interesting pieces this week (Have educators fallen off the tech bandwagon? and Should universities change teaching to accommodate a generation raised on mobile technology?). Each raises interesting points but from completely different perspectives.

The first seems to target primary and secondary education and asks if our teachers have lost their technical edge. The second suggests to me that the author thinks such a shift in teaching techniques is to somehow "dumb down" the experience so students can succeed in college.

Certainly, we should all be concerned about the reports we have been reading that American children are falling behind their European and Asian counterparts. Many things are to blame, some are cultural, some are socio-economic, and some are such mundane things as "grade-inflation" leading to the passing insufficiently-prepared students. (I believe that the politically correct term is "social promotion".)

In my mind, the largest single cause of these failures to properly educate our children are inadequate budgets. Unfunded mandates and short-sighted state legislatures leave schools poorly funded, leading to outdated technological resources (both in IT and in the sciences), outdated libraries, and low teacher salaries -- driving the best and brightest out of primary and secondary education.

So, the answer to the first question (Have educators fallen off the tech bandwagon?) is: Yes, probably so -- thanks to the challenges I stated above. In truth, if the budgetary constraints that exist today had existed in the 1990s, the author would have likely made the same observations then.

On the college level, the challenge is somewhat different. The typical college student is motivated to learn or they wouldn't be in college. The problem is much more complex though because the gap between the average college professor and their students is much wider than at the primary and secondary level.

The average age of a college professor at a major research university today is about 50 -- and ninety-seven percent of the cumulative knowledge of the human race was not known when they were born. These professors are leaders in their field -- but outside of their field they are often unprepared to deal with the shift in technology that has overtaken them. Still, their underlying understanding of pedagogy will lead them to adopt new techniques to meet the changing needs of their students. As fast as we in IT (or their students) might like? Not a chance. But just as the students learn from their professor, their professor learns from his/her students. Students don't realize how much they can impact the quality of their own education if they just challenge their professors to deliver classroom materials in a form most conducive to student success.

In large part, it is also our responsibility as IT professionals working in an educational environment to demonstrate to our faculty, staff, and administrators the benefits of using these emerging technologies (both mobile and otherwise) to aid the college or university in meeting its educational mission in a cost-effective manner.

Certainly, not all of these emerging technologies will serve pedagogy well. Teaching is, and always has been, an exercise of trial and error -- what works and what doesn't work changes over time. Emerging technologies often make their entrance as expensive toys for the frivolous and yet, many of these 'toys' will one day become ' tools' deemed by many as essential to their daily lives. Faculty will continue to lag behind in adopting the technology made available to them -- and their students will continue to lead the way.

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