Gary Natriello: Uniting Our House behind Education Technology
In his 1963 book anti-Intellectualism in American Life, the historian Richard Hofstadter lamented a historic divide between scholarly researchers and classroom teachers in which “academicians scornfully turned away from the problems of primary and secondary education, which they…saw as the preoccupation of dullards,” and “too many educationists were happy to see them withdraw, leaving the educationists free to realize their own credos.”
Bridging that divide has never been more important than it is right now, when a new technological infrastructure, anchored by the Internet and growing upon it, promises to support the kind of individually responsive learning environments that were only a dream to earlier generations.
Past “technological revolutions” in education, heralded as sure to transform the classroom via everything from slides and audio recordings to TV and software, have understandably left many people skeptical. But three qualities distinguish today’s technologies. First, they are networked—that is, continuously connected both to end users (whether teachers or students) and to creators or providers—and thus embedded in increasingly robust lines of communication. Second, they are adaptive, responding to differences in learners to create more personalized learning experiences. And third, they are self-improving, generating information that drives a continuous cycle of design, development, application, assessment and change.
Yet obstacles loom. There are substantial commercial pressures to develop technology in directions that limit educational benefits. Well-established routines and procedures in the education sector also make accommodating the latest technologies difficult. Most worrisome, however, is that many practitioners and even some researchers in education distrust technology. They believe it threatens the primacy of the teacher or creates an impersonal approach to students, when in fact, used correctly, the new tools empower teachers to understand and connect with students as never before.
Whether in designing and testing new software, preparing entrepreneurs to lead educational start-ups, or creating the research base for new technologies, we at Teachers College and other leading research institutions are positioned to ensure that the latest technology revolution delivers on its promise. Because we bring together education researchers and practitioners under one roof, we have a unique opportunity to bridge the divide between these two communities so that students—our ultimate clients—are the beneficiaries. That union has always been a worthwhile goal, but with the opportunity currently before us, it now becomes imperative. Otherwise, future historians will rightly accuse us of much worse than “anti-intellectualism.”tc
Gary Natriello is the Ruth L. Gottesman Professor in Education Research and Director of the Gottesman Libraries at Teachers College.