School's in

Summary:My kids started school today. Over the coming weeks, so will millions of others. As an IT professional, I've struggled with reconciling my core belief that IT, properly applied, can make most things work better and the evidence that it's had precious little effect on public education. One problem is that the application of IT to public education tends to be a hit-or-miss kind of thing.

My kids started school today.  Over the coming weeks, so will millions of others.  As an IT professional, I've struggled with reconciling my core belief that IT, properly applied, can make most things work better and the evidence that it's had precious little effect on public education. 

One problem is that the application of IT to public education tends to be a hit-or-miss kind of thing.  There's often little in the way of district-wide or state-wide strategy--most of these entities see themselves as funders or enablers due to a tradition of local control in education in the US.  That's not all bad, but it results in one school district having great programs and labs while the one next door has nothing interesting. 

There's also the fundamental question of what we want IT to do in education.  Mostly, my kids learn to type, use Word and Powerpoint, and find resources on the 'Net.   Those are useful life-skills, but they don't fall into the realm of using IT to change the nature of education.

Using IT to change education usually comes down to either proposals to use computers more ubiquitously (e.g. let's give everyone a laptop and see what happens) or to use more "multimedia," a term that makes most instructors cringe. 

I believe that there are interesting things that teachers can do with the kinds of labs they already have and some additional smallish grants that might make a difference.   Here are some examples:

  • Give students blogs and make them to write in them as part of their assignments.   Blogging can teach writing and critical thinking skills while making it easier for students and teachers to see each other's work.  This might require creating a new culture where people's work is public and open to analysis. 
  • Use podcasting to add audio commentary to papers or interview interesting people.  Better yet, let the students create their own podcasts.  If you're wondering how to podcast, I've got an explanation of my set up, but you'll find lots of examples on the 'Net.  Be creative and you'll find ways to do this inexpensively. 
  • Use screencasting as a method for creating simple, easy-to-make video demonstrations of ideas, methods, and techniques.  Screencasts are remarkably effective teaching tools that take much less technical know-how than the multimedia of yore.
  • Use open source course management software like Moodle or SchoolTool to set up interesting places for your class to meet and get resources. 
  • Use wikis to create places where students can collaborate. Wikis are great places for people to come together and create things.  You might have to give them an incentive to participate at first. 

There are free and open source tools for doing all (or most) of this and it doesn't even take expensive hardware.  I've used an old 233MHz box to run Linux for one of my classes for years now and it's still going strong.   For some inspiration, listen to how Tom Hoffman and Tim Lauer used SchoolTool, Wikis and ad hoc networks to create a unique learning experience in one school. 


Topics: Laptops, Open Source

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