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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.

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Anonymous's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

I have had some new experiences with a website, This has allowed me to create online programs for my students who miss assignments, or for my special needs kids. I teach in an very underfunded rural public school in Kansas and I have found this new site to be of some benefit. I use it for augmenting my classwork, preparation for substitutes, and helping to create assignments for kids who have trouble getting to school on a regular basis. Since it is free, my principal likes it. Parents really appreciate the fact that they can come to my own online university. It also allows me to give great make-up tests.

roseann's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

Thanks for the web-site tip.
It sounds very practcal and useful-I'll check it out!

Anonymous's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

It's great that even though you are not teaching, you are interested and using some of the most accessible and current technology available to our students. There is a really neat item that our many of the classrooms in my school have... a "smart board". This is an interactive board, to enhance the latter chalk board or the recent white boards. The kids can interact and activate this board by touch. It can make sounds, recognize writing, demonstrate entire disections for biology, or can single out a specific instrument line for music class. It's possibilities are endless, and even though I don't have it in my room yet...the free software for it is amazing to use even on a computer projector. I can't even imagine what would be the next wave in technology... maybe the kids would have better ideas than any teacher!~

Anonymous's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

You have posted some interesting questions. At our Canadian school, we have adopted the concept of Universal Design for Learning (UDL). We have a variety of assistive technology for our special needs students but we also make sure the same support is available for all learners. The special needs students in our Language and Literacy systems class each have an individual laptop assigned to support learning. We have available software such as Read and Write Gold, iListen (MAC version of Dragon Naturally Speaking), reading pens etc. We develop learner profiles for students then strategically place assistive technology to assist with learning e.g. if a student has difficulty with writing mechanics we ask the student to use Read and Write Gold software.

Kevin's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

Wow, the difference between the haves and have nots. I teach in an urban district in Ohio that receives large amounts of money from the Bill Gates foundation and we don't even have computers for teacher usage, let alone lap tops for each student. I would love to catch up to an Apple II E. Funding in mostly minority schools is leaving a generation that is used to video games, cell phones and text messaging completely bored in school and unprepared to face the technology needs of todays employers.

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