Academic journal article Phi Delta Kappan

The Future of Computer Technology in K-12 Education

Academic journal article Phi Delta Kappan

The Future of Computer Technology in K-12 Education

Article excerpt

American business was not able to take advantage of the power of computer technology until many of its basic practices changed, Mr. Bennett points out, and this is equally true in education. Until schools can permit a major alteration in the way teaching is carried on, they must necessarily continue to miss out on the improvement that computer technology can bring.

IN A PIECE published in February 2001, syndicated columnist George Will used Hippocrates and Soc-rates to illustrate the difficulties in contemporary American schooling. "If you were ill and could miraculously be treated by Hippocrates or by a young graduate of Johns Hopkins medical school, with his modern technologies and techniques, you would choose the latter. But if you could choose to have your child taught either by Socrates or by a freshly minted holder of a degree in education, full of the latest pedagogical theories and techniques? Socrates, please."

Teaching has always been more art than science and depends heavily on the talents of the practitioner. Some teachers are outstanding; some are not. In medicine, Hippocrates probably had more innate abilities than many of the new physicians, but his successors have the advantage of modern technology. Teachers, however, rely on basically the same approach that instructors have used throughout history, and, consequently, they must count on their own native skills. This situation presents a difficulty for education because exceptional instructors are in the minority. We see this easily if we think back over the teachers that we ourselves had in our school career. The number we remember as superb is not large.

The Present

Education today, as always, depends on the luck of the draw -- who gets the good teachers and who gets the others? Meanwhile, technology has become a powerful force in the world. Theoretically, it might change education, just as it has made the new physician better equipped than Hippocrates and has brought dazzling benefits to innumerable other areas of society. Education authorities apparently hoped for comparable results because they have placed millions of computers in schools. By 1999, there was one computer for every six children.1 Yet despite this massive infusion of technology, overall improvements in education have been minimal.

Scores on the National Assessment of Educational Prog-ress point up this lack of advancement. Results for 1999 showed no significant change in reading, mathematics, or science for the three age groups tested -- 9-year-olds, 13-year-olds, and 17-year-olds -- from 1994 through 1999.2 During this five-year period, schools acquired huge numbers of computers and hoped earnestly that this influx of technology would improve education.

Since few people want to despair and conclude that K-12 education seems to be about the only major field that technology cannot benefit, authorities have sought reasons for the current failure. The most frequently suggested explanation is that teachers have not learned how to employ technology in their classrooms. Therefore, if schools could train teachers, the argument goes, technology would finally deliver major benefits to education. President Clinton joined those who wanted additional teacher training when in June 2000 he announced $128 million in grants to instruct teachers in the use of technology.

Lack of teacher training, however, is a myth. In 2000 the U.S. Department of Education issued a study in which half of all teachers reported that college and graduate work had prepared them to use technology. In addition, training continues after formal schooling. The same government document pointed out that, from 1996 to 1999, 77% of teachers participated in "professional development activities in the use of computers or the Internet."3 Thirty-three percent to 39% of teachers responding to two surveys in 1999 said that they felt well prepared to use computers.4 Although not the full universe of teachers, this percentage of well-prepared instructors ought to have brought some improvement if technology were going to lift education to a higher plateau. …

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