I have been covering technology in education since before my daughter was born.
She's now 22.
It has been frustrating. Educational software was obsolete before teachers could be trained on it. Networks were expensive to build and maintain. The fortunate had parents to buy gear for them. The rest suffered.
But now we are on the cusp of a revolution. Clouds and cheap clients make educational computing of high quality as cheap as chips.
We're starting to see some serious competition in the college market, from outfits like the University of Phoenix, Troy University, and dozens of others. WiFi is ubiquitous on most campuses, and many kids take tests online.
So why is it that, instead of embracing the possibilities, educators are consumed by fear? Fear that kids' gear will be broken, fear that kids will use technology to shortcut lectures, fear someone might see a nasty Web page.
Two good examples hit the news this morning.
- Northern Arizona University is using RFID tags to compel students into attending mass lectures.
- The Lower Merion Schools stand convicted, by their own expert, of taking 50,000 pictures of kids, in their homes, sometimes in their underwear, ostensibly as part of a program to protect free laptops from theft.
I'm reminded of the fact it costs just as much to make a bad movie as a good one. There are no guarantees.
Part of the problem is there is limited exchange of best practice information among schools or universities. It's as though the good movies weren't being reviewed.
Part of the problem is that educators are human like anyone else. Schools play not to lose, rather than playing to win.
But there's ample paranoia on the other side as well. The Northern Arizona case was followed on Dave Farber's Interesting People list by messages from noted civil libertarians fearful of Big Brotherism. The Lower Merion case must have been the realization of their worst fears.
As important as it may be to improve productivity in health care, which I cover here and at ZDNet, it's more important to improve it in education. We can't afford the current system. Taxpayers are rebelling, and in the face of recession cutting back at every level.
This Internet can support all kinds of content, all kinds of interaction. Wireless connectivity reaches nearly every town, it's cheap, and government-subsidized. Client devices cost less than $500.
Yet we still run our schools and colleges like it was 1880, not 2010. And every technology advance is met by an attitude of, "how might this be misused, and how can I neuter it to maintain the status quo?"
You should be mad as hell.
I continue to believe there are tremendous business opportunities here, expanding the productivity of teachers, delivering standard lessons at rock-bottom prices, and making sure our kids wind up smarter than their parents.
But perhaps at this point I should say, our grandkids.
As they say at the bottom of a good lesson plan, discuss.
This post was originally published on Smartplanet.com