Technology is changing the world in which we live and the schools in which we work. Students use word processors to prepare written assignments; teachers maintain intricate databases of their students' achievements; administrators effectively track, maintain, and produce special education paperwork in offices across the United States. The Internet provides teachers and students untold numbers of sources as they attempt to forge a link between our schools and the world beyond.
Battles rage, however, over whether technology is actually improving teaching and learning. In evaluating the use of computers, Todd Oppenheimer (1997), in "The Computer Delusion," stated, "There is no good evidence that most uses of computers significantly improve teaching and learning." Clifford Stoll (1995), author of Silicon Snake Oil, warned that although the Internet may spawn efficient information access, it does not teach students how to evaluate that information critically.
Stages of Technology in the
In their article, "Why Use Technology?" Peck and Dorricott (1994) discussed the three stages of technology (originally identified by Naisbitt in 1982 for the business world) as they apply to education.
As Peck and Dorricott stated, many schools have moved through Stages 1 and 2, or the "line of least resistance" and "improvement/replacement," and are on the verge of moving into Stage 3: "discovery of new applications and uses for the technology." In this stage of innovation, teachers begin to ask, "How can these new tools contribute to a more powerful educational experience?" (p. 7). Teachers must move beyond traditional uses for technology and imagine new and creative ways of using that technology, the goal being a technology that becomes "an integral component of learning" (Peck & Dorricott, 1994, p. 7).
Higgins and Boone (1993) identified these stages of technology as Tutor, Tool, and Agent within the context of reading:
Applied to the broader field of technology, the role of Tutor focuses on drill and practice and basic word processing. Outcomes have been promising in these areas; however, these uses require little higher-order thinking on the part of the student.
Tool technology use moves us into Naisbitt's second stage of improvement/replacement.
Finally, as Agent technology begins to transform teaching and learning (the third stage of "discovery and new application"), truly significant changes take place.
We must move into this third stage of "discovery and new application," for, according to Hutinger, Johanson, and Stoneburner (1996): "New avenues must be explored. New concepts of appropriate adaptations and activities for children with disabilities are necessary" (p. 33). Students in special education programs, in particular, may benefit (see box, "Benefits of Technology in Special Education").
The Explosion of E-Mail
Our own school district seems to be moving along at a fairly predictable rate when it comes to technology. For years, students in special education classrooms used computers for drill and practice of basic math facts, sight words, and spelling words. Students in general education classes had little opportunity to use the computers. Then students began to use basic word processing programs, routinely showing up in resource rooms to type written work on the two or three computers that were available for student work. Students whose handwriting was weak dictated stories to paraprofessionals or typed spelling lists into the computer.
The class for high school students characterized as "mentally gifted" was the first to go online in the district in the spring of 1995; over the next 2 years the rest of the district gradually joined them on the Internet. Today, upgraded MacIntosh computers accommodate the latest software, including PowerPoint and Microsoft Excel. In our middle school, all students complete writing assignments, using Internet resources on a regular basis, in two spacious computer labs, each equipped with 30 computers and two laser printers, as well as demonstration hardware for use during computer class. …