educationtechnews.comThe best classrooms are ... low-tech?

The best classrooms are … low-tech?

November 2, 2010 by Jake Simms
Posted in: In this week's e-newsletter, Latest News & Views, Tech Trends

More money’s being spent on classroom tech upgrades than ever before. Is the investment worth it?

Maybe not. A new report from Slate magazine argues that technology doesn’t improve education:

“In most of the highest-performing systems, technology is remarkably absent from classrooms,” says Andreas Schleicher, education analyst for the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development.

“I have no explanation why that is the case, but it does seem that those systems place their efforts primarily on pedagogical practice rather than digital gadgets.”

According to Kristin DeJesus, an American high schooler studying in South Korea through an international study program: “In California, we use white boards, while in Korea they use chalkboards. We have a projector, but that’s about it.”

DeJesus and her Korean classmates work on computers in school once a week, in computer class.

Technology is better, results aren’t

Despite the technology gap, South Korea consistently ranks at or near the top every year in international exams. In math and science, American high schoolers score in the middle of the pack among other countries.

Technology can be a great educational tool — but it’s not the panacea some experts contend. Including Secretary of Education Arne Duncan:

“In the 21st century, schools can’t be throwbacks to the state of education 50, 20, or even 10 years ago. We must make on-demand, personalized tech applications that are part of students’ daily lives a more strategic part of their academic lives.”

Fifty years ago, America’s schools were producing much better students than today. You could Google it, Mr. Duncan.

Is technology helping students learn more? Share your take in the comments section.

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  • Mark Tarte

    I agree. The plethora of high-tech stuff with which I am bombarded with to teach “better, faster, stronger!” seem more like a commerical for “New and Improved Tide.” I teach criminal justice and the best results I get in class are with simple means. A group exercise in class with each group given a different part of a problem, a field exercise where the students have to use their senses to determine what has occurred, not the Internet and not their smart phones. Powerpoint, interactive DVDs and the like have their place, when judiciously used, but they are not a substitute for good, honest instruction and evaluation. I queried all of our students a few years ago in the program, over 300, about using rented, on-line textbooks to cut their book costs. Only 2% wanted to go to an on-line book. the vast majority said they would pay the cost of a textbook so they had it available to review as needed and didn’t want to be tied even to an I-pad or laptop to view it.

  • Bill Burr

    This article is a great example of the problem with the perception of education. The article’s title “The best classrooms are…low tech?” – Proof? One student in a single South Korean classroom. Not based on anything even attempting evidence or even generic data. Huge generalization. Note: South Korea is one of the most “connected” countries in the world with amazing Broadband for limited cost. To say that South Korean Schools are not technologically advanced is so far off base that it should be an example of how Technology is effective in the classroom. Technology does not make a teacher go from bad to good, granted.. But it makes a good teacher (even a marginal one) much more effective if used right. To argue that students do not live in the modern world and if we look back 50 years we would be so much better is absolutely blind. In the early part of the century they built classrooms with walkways across the top of classrooms so that the admin staff could watch all the students and classrooms to make sure all teachers were teaching exactly the same. Is this good teaching? No imagination? That is what sets America apart from other countries. In Japan students do not ask teachers questions, in China they are taught to become proficient in a single area at the cost of other subjects. Look at your own education: Did you succeed? If not was it lack of effort or ability? Did you graduate? If not was it because a true factor you were not able to control. If you answered these questions honestly and you still think schools failed you then as an educator I am sorry. But in the end was it technology in the classroom what made the difference? I have never once been told that bringing in new technology or tools caused a student to fail. No one in a 1 to 1 laptop program dropped out because they were offered a computer to use, but I know of quite a few that decided to stay in a least a little longer to “Try it out” in a world where every day learning counts, I will take educators who innovate using modern tools over chalkboards. Even if a single student in a single school might feel differently.


    Bill Burr,
    If you read the Slate article (the link is provided), you will see that there are multiple sources/examples given. Perhaps the problem is we are too quick to jump on or off a bandwagon, often before we have done our own homework.

    To respond to your question, have you ever been told that a student failed because a new technology wasn’t brought in? If so, i think you need to look at the education program itself

    I believe that technology, like most anything, can be used well just as much as it can be used poorly. Just bringing in technology doesn’t guarantee a better experience. For hundreds of years, we have had people emerge from technology-free education programs who went on to achieve amazing and brilliant things. I’m not sold that students are receiving a better education now compared to 25 years ago just because there are laptops in classrooms. Certainly some additional skills are gained, but perhaps some other skills may be lost. Just because something is easier doesn’t mean it is better. I’d still prefer a student who can go to the library and read some articles over a student whose only citation is Wikipedia.

  • Macherb

    I agree that there are two many generalizations here. They never address the methods of teaching in Korea or the screening out processes. The one thing people always fail to address when comparing American Public Schools to any other system is that our is one that takes in everybody. Private schools and schools in many other countries have screening processes not the least of which is economics.

    The other issue not addressed id how the technology is used just because there’s an interactive whiteboard in the classroom, doesn’t mean it used or used properly. This is why I cringe every time a state legislature says “we’re give laptops to all x-graders…” I’ve never heard why they were doing this or what they expected the students to do with them. So no just having technology doesn’t improve learning but I bet appropriately used technology will.

  • Lynn

    Classrooms today are certainly different from 50 years ago. Technology in the classroom and in our daily lives certainly reflect different expectations of what we need to be prepared for by educational efforts. However, what no one seems to address is what is expected of our young people entering the workforce. Do we want them to write legibly? Do we want them to be able to accomplish mathmatical situations without relying on technology to do it for them? Do we want them to read and speak gramatically with ease and elloquence? It is possible that, if testing allowed all of the tools one has used to learn were used in the test environment, then true comparison of the equality or lack thereof could be better determined. Just possibly US educated students are not below Korean or any other student educational background. Just possibly the US students are ahead of the others because of the tools we use to accomplish things.

    Quite honestly, what I expect from students graduating High School is the ability to write legibly, speak clearly and listen attentively. That follows my formula for learning, see it, write it, hear it, then repeat it. The tools, technology now, enhance seeing and hearing, but I don’t agree that they improve writing it. The repeat has yet to be determined in the educational testing process. It seems that reference to Korean student test accomplishment doesn’t see the need for technology to be so emphasized.

  • Mike O.

    I think the intent of this article was not to prove anything, but to raise the question as a serious one. I too think that tech in classroom does not necessarily equal higher performance or better learning. Good teaching is good teaching. Giving students the proper skills to be a part of our great society should be school’s main focus. I agree with Lynn that being able to write and speak clearly, be attentive, be creative, and also critically think through problems are what should be emphasized. If there is technology that can be incorporated into that, then we should use it. For example, processing data, creating graphs…really the sheer computational power…of technology is a great thing. As well as using technology to express one’s ideas through other artistic means. Technology is great for this. However, I STRONGLY believe that using technology as a means to make education more like entertainment for the sheer power it has to keep students attention is completely wrong. Just because our country values entertainment almost more than anything else at this point in our history does not make it right. If the US was turning out better, more skilled students all those years ago, maybe it was because we valued different things. Sometimes we have to stand our ground and teach kids what is right to value than simply succumb to whatever young people happened to be interested in that month or what the latest iphone can do with its apps.

  • Jack Ferrante

    I’m always amazed at studies performed by “experts” the end results of which have been common knowledge in the teaching profession for years! Although technology is no passing fad, it will never replace the quality interaction between expert instructor /facilitator and eager student. Neither learning nor healthy teacher/student relationship require technology to thrive. Hard work and an open mind are all that is required.



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