A reader posted an interesting comment last week on my blog, "Bring it on (a Mac, that is)" that I felt was worth a post of its own. His question was a good one, as he tried to determine the value of digital content in education:
crank out content...
I'm not in education, but I have several friends and family members who teach, and always have to wonder what teachers are using their computers for. I can see it being used for some material/exercises, but I'm curious what kind of content these teachers are cranking out. I look back on my educational career (not that long ago) and wonder how the computer would have enhanced my education. My sister, who teaches, complains that many in her district spend too much time creating these multimedia presentations in an effort to entertain rather than teach. I'd like to not think of myself as an old fuddy duddy, but I just don't get it.
In many ways, he and his sister raise valid points. The focus needs to be on the content and instruction, not on the presentation, right? It's easy to get lost in the manifold tools we have at our disposal to present information, whether through video, elaborate PowerPoints, Web Quests, course management systems, etc. However, one of the key points of my post was that Macs help some teachers avoid this trap by allowing them to create really engaging content quickly and easily. For many users, they seem to address the issue of "spending too much time creating these multimedia presentations" because the out-of-the-box software included with the Mac makes it so simple.
This is one of the reasons why I just bought a Mac (it's supposed to be here late next week). I'd like to evaluate first hand if I can increase my productivity as a teacher (and as a blogger, who would really like to enhance this blog with multimedia) by using the built-in iLife and integrated iWork applications. I've used Macs before and I support some Mac users, but can they enable me to create content better, more interesting educational materials faster than Windows or Linux boxes? That remains to be seen. If I think they can, then I'll start selling the idea to my teachers.
So what of their point that we shouldn't really be bothering with this sort of content anyway? If a black and white slide was good enough for me, it's good enough for kids now. Again, this is not 100% off base and I've known some incredibly effective teachers who eschew technology even with Generation iPod. However, most of us agree that a picture is worth a thousand words; a well-planned video or podcast can be worth a lot more than that and provide an incredible resource for students with disabilities (20 years ago, we didn't need to accommodate kids who struggle to listen and take notes at the same time or who have retention problems, or benefit from multimodal learning). The same video posted on the web can allow us to serve remote students, students at virtual schools, or even to help collaborating/substituting teachers.
Kids are different now (just as every generation has presented new challenges to an older generation of teachers). Like it or not, students in school now remain more engaged and better focused with a bit of flash in front of them. More importantly, the ubiquity of the Internet allows them to revisit and review content posted after class; anecdotally, they seem to actually do it. If I can hand my teachers a tool that allows them to serve a heterogeneous group of students better, then I should do it. Now I just need to decide if a Macbook (or OS X in general) is such a tool. I'll let you know.