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WHAT WORKS IN EDUCATION The George Lucas Educational Foundation
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We speak about the achievement gap between the different cultures in our schools. Meanwhile, however, many of the stakeholders in education have created a vast trench that lies between those who accept the inevitability of technology and those who still refute its place in our classrooms.

Policymakers demand our schools must reflect the 21st century, yet continue to deny schools the funding to do just that. Additionally, our districts block many of the online sites for collaboration from our schools.

It is fear that guides many of the decisions about educational technology: fear that we will be left globally behind by countries more committed to technology integration and also fear that our students will somehow be scarred its use.

Frankly, there are many reasons to avoid providing technology as a more common and frequent tool in education. However, as stated in "Strictly Ballroom," one of my favorite movies, "a life lived in fear is a life half lived." Fear cannot shut us down from our mission: to educate students for their future.

For the Naysayers

Here are some typical arguments against technology in schools -- and better ones for using it:

1. The legal issues are daunting: what if a student writes inappropriate content online? Answer: Our job is to teach them how to use the tools of the real world. After all, using a circular saw is dangerous too, but only through shop class have many students learned to build a birdhouse safely. So is it with technology. Parents and teachers must be a part of monitoring and modeling. It may be scary, but without teaching students about appropriate use, they will surely encounter exactly that which we are most scared of.

2. How ever will we train all those teachers? Answer: It's simple. Have teachers train teachers. Give teachers who know how the paid release time to be trainers during their contracted hours of those who don't know how. There are willing teachers on every site, at every district, teachers willing to take on hybrid roles in education that allow them one foot in the classroom and one foot working to improve the pedagogy and practice of those who need to learn. For those who train, they will, as a result, avoid burnout by being permitted ways to utilize their other skills, all the while helping other teachers improve their own 21st century knowledge.

3. Where does the time come from? How can we add more to a teacher's plate? Answer: How 'bout this? Don't. Instead, take something off teachers' plates rather than put more on. We have to prioritize, and including technology is too important. We can't continue to have teachers waste their time on the curricular needs of yesteryear. We need to redefine how a teacher spends their time during the day and redefine the curriculum of tomorrow.

4. Some students don't have access to technology at home so how can we expect them to use it for assignments? Answer: To this I say, many homes don't have libraries either, but we still teach how to read. The fact is that it's a school's job to step up to provide and instruct. Even though some students may not have access to a computer at home, the school needs to see its role in equalizing the differences between those who have and those who don't. It's also society's role to find a way to provide for those homes in a more equitable way or our country's children will be left behind. Some districts are already working in conjunction with phone providers and computer companies to help bridge this gap. Those districts should not be few and far between, but should be commonplace.

5. It's expensive. Answer: Nevertheless, we cannot afford to fall any more behind in our comfort and use of technology. Policymakers need to start backing up their demands with funds. Parents need to be a part of monitoring their student's use at home. Teachers must continue to develop the skills that make them the technology guides in the classroom. For as the gap gets ever wider, the money it will take to fill the divide will increase. We are already in the red. Our reluctance to think and plan ahead has already created a debt of technological knowledge.

Taking Action

We can't allow fear to dictate our progress, nor can we allow those who won't move forward to dictate whether we do move forward. We cannot allow policymakers to insist on adoption and not provide for it, or worse yet, tentatively provide it and not find bravery and support by those within education's walls.

Teachers need to be on the forefront of curriculum, not in its wake. We need to be leading the charge towards preparing our students for their future, not hindering our march towards tomorrow.

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PJ Standlee's picture
PJ Standlee
IESL Instructor at Monterey Institute of International Studies

Technology can also be the vehicle to drive content into the classroom. Teachers can scaffold the use of technology until students have respect for it and can handle how to use it. My fifth grade teacher Mr. Gould taught us how to do our homework on time and how to use Logo on Macs by allowing us access only after all of our homework was done. We couldn't wait to get in the computer lab and draw some crazy parabola.

Paul Bogdan's picture
Paul Bogdan
Student-Centered Secondary Math Teacher

The things I read about the value of technology in the classroom are incredible. Some still think that it is just an electronic textbook, or the same as CAI (Computer Aided Instruction), but it is so much more. Andrew Marcinek's article about the connected classroom is eye-opening and the video he includes is really great. Learning should be collaborative and technology enables the students to collaborate with the whole world. In math, a video about learning a type of Algebraic manipulation (for example) is better than a lecture because a student can pause and start it as they need to, can watch it as many times as needed, or skip it altogether, as needed. Also, it is completely student-centered. As John Abbott says in his article,'We're Born to Learn, Not to Be Taught'.

One more thing about training teachers. I find that it is totally OK for the students to know more than the teacher. When a teacher tells the class 'this is a really cool thing to learn, but I have no idea what I'm doing, and you will have to learn it and teach it to me', this can be motivating to the students (even if it is a lie). The world is a stage...

Stu's picture

Real simple. Students need to know basic Reading and Math skills, they need to have an understanding of Science Inquiry procedures and should have basic understanding of electoral procedure. All else is found or researched through technology. In just a few years, even keyboard skills will be replaced by voice recognition software.
It isn't a question of "Why should we?" It is a statement to the short sighted public, that doesn't want to provide the tools for the students for this century. Every job, well actually 98% require some interaction with a computer system.

Heather Wolpert-Gawron's picture

Thanks to my readers for tweeting and sharing this article. I think it's so vital, that I also want to share a new site that I think has a future in playing a powerful role in tech integration in our schools. I've just started reading the VOICES FROM THE LEARNING REVOLUTION blog, and I thought I'd pass it on as a resource to those who are interested in reading more on this topic.

Enjoy! And again, thanks for reading, commenting, and participating in this all-important topic.

-Heather WG

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