Sunday, February 04, 2007

Bill Gates on Technology and Education

This week's TIME magazine includes a ten question interview with Bill Gates. One of the questions is devoted to education:

T: Education is a big focus for you. so, is there better learning
through technology?

BG: It's important to be humble when we talk about education, because TV
was going to change education and videotape was going to change it and computer-aided instruction was going to change It. But until the Internet exploded 10 years ago, technology really hadn't made a dent in education at all. Learning is mostly about creating a context for motivation. It's about why you should learn things. Technology plays a role, but it's not a panacea.
One of the things that strikes me about what Gates said is his emphasis on the tools. The tools alone have no effect. An electronic whiteboard becomes an interactive, instructional whiteboard only when used effectively by a teacher. In the past, computers were used as a reward or during free time but rarely as an integrated instructional tool to engage students. Web 2.0 has the potential to change that when used by teachers willing to embrace the power of emerging technologies. When we combine the human factors with the tools, the power is unleashed. It's what we bring to the tools that makes them effective.

Gates also says, "learning is mostly about creating a context for motivation." On this point I disagree with him. Learning occurs when individuals are engaged by the content, whatever it is, when there is ownership of the material and opportunities to build upon previous experience. Have you watched a child using technology independently lately? Have you watched a child navigate the computer/internet/video games? They trial, they evaluate, they fail, they try again, they problem solve, they persist, they succeed and move on to the next level or explore new information. This all occurs without adult guidance or instruction.

We have so much to learn from our kids about learning. Why don't we listen.

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