BusinessWeek ran a great article recently focusing on one school in San Francisco that was rethinking exactly what computers in schools meant. As the article quite aptly pointed out,
Schools are enthusiastic about the technology's promise, but short of the money and trained faculty to extract many of its benefits...In many schools, PCs have failed to aid students' learning or improve test scores, or equip them with the analysis and communications skills that today's workplace demands, according to studies. The problems include a reliance on paper lesson plans that don't factor in technology, and inadequate teacher training and technical support.
Most of us realize how easy it is to throw computers into a school to meet requirements of various regulatory types and call this 21st Century Learning. Actually using these effectively in the classroom is another matter entirely.
"If you're just sprinkling the technology on top of the curriculum, it's not as compelling," says. Intel's [Eileen Lento, a government and education strategist]. "Then you just have some expensive pencils."...Other times, school boards buy computers to prove their technical savvy to politicians and parents, without thinking through how kids will actually use the machines.
If we aren't giving kids anything more than glorified typewriters or web skills that extend beyond Google and Wikipedia, then we certainly aren't going to help them be competitive in a technology- and information-driven world. Rather, as is clear from the article, it's time for some very serious thought on the part of educators as to just what purpose computers in a classroom will serve.
In our district, especially at the primary level, our goal is to use some focused RTI applications to identify students' strengths and weaknesses in math and literacy and use the data from these applications to modify instruction. The particular applications we've chosen also automatically provide some differentiated instruction for students who don't require a more serious intervention.
At the secondary level, we're still defining curriculum around the technology. At the moment, students are becoming adept at research online and most have solid skills with productivity apps, but we still have a long ways to go genuinely integrating the tools and training teachers to build technology-driven lessons instead of merely having kids type their papers.
We still aren't having kids use collaboration tools or access enough primary sources online. We still don't have enough kids actually finding and communicating with human contacts who can provide them with interesting, relevant, and useful information. Our students taking Spanish aren't talking over Skype or Gmail voice/video with kids in Mexico. You get the picture. We have a ways to go. Hopefully, as president-elect Obama looks to infuse schools with technology money, he gets people working on curriculum, as well, rather than merely installing hardware.