Academic journal article T H E Journal (Technological Horizons In Education)

Moving from Boxes and Wires to 21st Teaching

Academic journal article T H E Journal (Technological Horizons In Education)

Moving from Boxes and Wires to 21st Teaching

Article excerpt

America's schools have invested heavily in technology over the past decade. Most of that expenditure has gone to purchasing computers. Between 1989 and 1992 alone, K-12 schools increased their computer inventory by nearly 50%, jumping from 2.4 million units to 3.5 million units.[1] Today, there are an estimated 5.8 million computers for instructional use, approximately one computer for every nine students. In the 1994-95 school year alone, schools spent approximately $3.3 billion on technology.[2]

The more recent push to wire schools for Internet access has greatly expanded our educational investments in "boxes and wires." The flurry of NetDays 96, occurring first in California in March and then replicated in almost every state this fall, have generated "electronic barn raisings" all across the nation in which millions of miles of wires and hours of volunteer labor were donated by citizens and businesses. Many states are supporting special technology initiatives to complete the job. These are surely the greatest capital investments and donated resources ever made to education in this country. We find ourselves in amazing times.

This should be the dawn of a new era in education. But a closer look suggests otherwise. We may never rise to meet this dawn if, as in the past, we overlook a key element -- the classroom teacher. In our rush to put boxes on desks and cables in ceilings; to wire, wire, wire without asking why, we may lose the real opportunity for significant educational change.

Distributing Picture

In Teachers & Technology, our 1995 Office of Technology Assessment's report to Congress, we studied the impact of a decade of investment in educational technology. and found a disturbing picture: The use of technology in schools is limited, uneven, and nowhere near meeting the promise that technology can offer.

Do teachers have access to technology? Yes, in most cases. Do they use these resources regularly for instruction? Not really. Computer coordinators, a group we would expect to be optimists about computer use, reported in one study that, on average, students use computers approximately two hours per week across all subjects and grade levels.

Student responses were, however, even more limited, reporting that in grade 5 they spent 24 minutes per week using computers for all subjects combined, 38 minutes per week in grade 8, and 61 minutes per week in grade 11. Even more distressing, we found that these powerful tools were used for lessthan-powerful learning applications. Drills in basic skills, instructional games and word processing were the predominate activities in many classes.[3] Very rarely was technology used to enrich content and enhance learning in traditional academic subjects.

In our role as an "early warning system" to Congress, we reported that we found what could be considered a gross underutilization of the technologies at hand.

Who is to Blame?

Many assume that the problem lies with teachers. I suggest, however, that we follow Shakespeare's admonition: "Condemn the fault, and not the actor of it." Public policy has neglected the guides on the path to learning -- the classroom teachers -- leaving them to find their own way in a jungle of changing technologies and a maze of changing expectations.

Furthermore, public policy has neglected to create community support for technological change -- not just financial support for technology (the wires and boxes) -- but the political and practical support for the even-more dramatic and challenging educational changes that effective technology use will bring schools.

Note how the messages to teachers about the best use of computers have changed over time: In the early 80s, teachers were told to teach students to program in BASIC: "It's the language that comes with your computer." Not long thereafter, the message changed: "Teach students to program with LOGO: it teaches students to think creatively. …

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