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Does tech make a difference in teaching & learning? 
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Does tech make a difference in teaching & learning? 

By Steve Young, CIO Advisor

If you have not picked up the November 2013 issue of Wiredmagazine and read the cover story, “The Next Steve Jobs," then you missed out on a truly inspiring story of a teacher struggling to get by with little to no resources in the drug war-ravaged Mexican border region. While the star of the article is an impoverished 12-year-old, Paloma Noyola Bueno, who responds to her teacher’s radical change in teaching methodology and becomes one of the best students in all of Mexico, the real story is about the teacher, Sergio Juárez Correa.

Correa struggled to reach his students and meet state testing standards. (Sound familiar?) He knew that with virtually infinite access to information online (which his students did not have access to), the days of him being the bearer of knowledge for his students were numbered, and it was not producing results for his students. As Correa struggled to learn about how teachers are changing their instruction and having tremendous success, he decided to make a change in his classroom. So he told his students that they do have it extremely difficult and have none of the modern advantages, such as laptops and high-speed Internet, that students across the river in Brownsville, Texas have. But he knew his students had potential to learn and to love doing it, which often seems to be lost on students and teachers neck deep in state and national mandates.

The methodology employed by Correa was at least partially modeled on the pioneering and increasingly cited work of TED darling Sugata Mitra. But rather than leaving students unattended, Correa changed his role and now took a back seat in the classroom, as his students became investigators, cooperatively working on problems and debating answers in order to find solutions. He largely did this without the use of technology and had amazing results.

Would technology have hurt or enhanced what was done is his classroom? I think it certainly could have assisted in enhancing a great teaching and learning environment, but I would also argue that if Correa had unleashed his students to look up facts using Google, his results would not have been the same. The power was in asking the students to think about problems and work cooperatively on solving them.

Teaching and leadership make a huge difference in student learning—clearly shown in this story, but they also too often stifle it: Sadly, the article quotes the chief of the Regional Center of Educational Development in Matamoros as saying “The teaching method makes little difference.”

Steve Young is CTO of Judson ISD in Texas and founder of the San Antonio Area Technology Directors group. He blogs at CTO Technotes, where this is cross posted. Follow him on Twitter as @atemyshorts.