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WHAT WORKS IN EDUCATION The George Lucas Educational Foundation
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The Tools of Tomorrow: New Technologies in the Classroom

Mark Nichol

Editor / Writer

I'm not old, but I feel like a fossil when I remember taking a continuing-education course for teachers about computers nearly twenty years ago. Each of us was given one large, thin floppy disk after another, onto which, with guidance from our instructor, we took turns copying various low tech simulations and activities from the classroom's lone personal computer, a primitive and boxy IBM clone.

I was in the midst of an eighteen-month stint as a substitute teacher at the time and then had my own classroom for a few years after that, and during that period, I never saw a computer in a classroom, much less used one. My students never benefited from that stack of floppies, which I eventually threw away unused. (In my first job after I left teaching, I used a toaster-size but much friendlier Apple IIe, and I also learned an amazing new function called email.)

The most sophisticated technological application I used during my teaching career was the videocassette recorder. Imagine -- recording a televised science program or Reading Rainbow episode broadcast at an inconvenient time onto videotape and playing it for the class later! What will they think of next?

Those memories amuse me now, especially whenever I read accounts in our articles of students conducting online research, creating Web sites, maintaining blogs, assembling multimedia presentations, producing videos, engaging in instant feedback with classroom response systems, using global-positioning-system devices to acquire scientific data, and otherwise manipulating various technological equipment to acquire and record knowledge and understanding.

Every generation gets a turn at staring, goggle eyed, as younger people use remarkable tech tools as blithely as Captain Kirk flipped open his communicator (hello, cell phone!) and ordered Scotty to beam him up, and I smile when I think about what today's students will shake their heads at when they see their own children handling -- or perhaps remotely guiding -- gadgets and contraptions whose functions and abilities seem indistinguishable from magic.

Prognostication is perilous. Virtual reality so far has not fulfilled its early promise, and other technologies introduced in fact and fiction may not be ready for the marketplace for years to come, or ever. But it is exhilarating for me, even though I'm not a tech geek and I no longer teach, to ponder how the gap between technology available in the classroom and commercial products ubiquitous in the home and the office will narrow in the coming decades.

What gizmos have you heard about, or do you imagine, will be commonplace in the classroom of tomorrow? How will the paradigms of education be altered as technology enables students to be more self-directed and mobile in their learning? How easily will educators be able to adapt to an educational process predicated by ever-evolving tech tools? Please share your thoughts.

Comments (55)Sign in or register to postSubscribe to comments via RSS

Anonymous's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

Technology is a wonderful thing but sometimes it is in the way. For example the cell phone for some crazy reason a student can not be with out it. I teach high school and I cannot count the number of times I tell kids to put there phone away they are always texting someone. Would it be so bad to go 50 minutes without talking to your friends.

The computer is a great thing and it can do many things but does a student know how to open a book and use the index to find information or an encyclopedia. When they find information on the computer do they know how to summarize it? NO! But they know how to copy and paste it.

Technology is a wonderful thing but I feel it would be better to get back to the basics sometimes.

Robert Kordon's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

I have recently read several articles on brain research. There have been quit a few scientific, very credible studies that advocate the use of a program called Fast Forward. This program has improved reading skills in students who have had severe deficits in this area. I think the future of technology in educations should be linked with scientific research. The possibilities are boundless regarding new technologies and use in the classroom.

Stacy's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

I received a grant for a SMART Board from my district's education foundation. The kindergarten students use their finger as the mouse on a large white board mounted to the wall. I have a projector and speakers mounted to the ceiling and the whole thing runs from what ever is on my desktop computer. We can use it with websites, programs loaded on my computer or I can create my own lessons using the Smart Board Notebook software. It is so cool and it really engages the students!

Anonymous's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

I have had the opportunity to work in a school district where a bran new elementary school just opened Fall of 2007. I am not teaching there, but have friends who are at this building. They are fortunate to have new and up to date technology in all the classrooms, including "smart boards." These smart boards are so interactive and allow children wonderful opportunities and make learning so much fun! I am a new teacher and I think technology is only going to increase the abilities in our students learning and create an exciting environment for them learn! What will the future hold for us, it is quite remarkable!

Anonymous's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

I find myself in the middle of liking technology and no tliking it. I use technology all the time. I use it to create new activities for my classroom, record grades, create lesson plan pages, smartboard activities, communicate with parents, etc. However, I find myself competing with movies, highly graphic cartoons, and video games. It seems as though no matter what I do to entertain my students, get them interested or engage their brains in higher level thinking, it doesn't compare to the video game world. Does anyone else find themselves in the same place I am?
Jeana

Melissa's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

I agree with you that I find myself using technology on a daily basis. I use the computer to create worksheets, activities, lesson plans and communicate with colleagues in the district, district email and communicate with parents. When also just started doing our report cards on the computer. I also use the computer to play educational games with my students. I teach kindergarten and they love video games. When I play educational games with them on the computer they do not even realize they are learning. They think they are playing a video game. There are many great educational websites and games to play on the computer. They learn more in the 20 minutes on the computer than when I teach them for 20 minutes. I guess the computer has more animation than I do.

Anonymous's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

Some of the classrooms in my school have a smart boards. They started giving them to the upper grades (3rd, 4th and 5th). I teach kindergarten and I was thinking if my students would be able to use it. I guess they are not to young to use it. My students use the computer and they love it. Our students are growing up in a technological world so they would love interacting and learning with the smart board. I will ask my principal if there is anyway I would be able to get one.

Tiffany Rodriguez's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

Technology is and will be the future. I teach high school English and am 30 years old. While I am not young, I do remember learning about and using computers in elementary, middle, and high school. Now that I teach, there is a big push for the use of technology. It seems that every job requires employees to be familiar with some form of technology. I just listened to a conference by an educator named Dr. Sonia Nieto. She gave a very interesting statistic that basically said the jobs that our students will be applying for in the future are not even created yet partly because the technology that is always changing. There will be jobs in 2010 that do not exist now. She posed the question: How are teachers suppose to get students ready for the future if this is the case? Reading posts by other educators, I notice that there is a common theme of competing with technology for students' attention. I have found that when I do get to know my students, video games, movies, and music are always interests and take up personal time. Research has shown that students are more likely to learn if they can connect the content and the learning experience to something that is personal. I try to incorporate as many songs and movie clips as possible in my classes. Also, I use many projects in lieu of formal tests. Projects include making movies that give advice to incoming Freshman or music videos that express the theme, conflict, and summarize a novel. In addition, I also have students create video games (sometimes written proposal or Movie Maker program) as if a story, poem, or novel was going to be turned into a video game. I do not think that we can compete with all of the technology, so we should embrace it and incorporate it in our activities. Since most of the jobs in the future will be in this direction, these projects only reinforce what we want to teach and give students skills that they will eventually need.

Donna's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

I have just read a few articles on brain based research also. Are you taking classes from Walden University? Anyway, the articles I read kept refering to Fast Foward programs. Do you know what these programs are, how do they work and what exactly does it do?

Donna's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

Hi Robert,
What do you know about Fast Forward? How does this program help students learn? I went on their web site and I did not get many answers. Any information would be appreciated.

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