Magazine article Teach

Appropriate Technology

Magazine article Teach

Appropriate Technology

Article excerpt

Technology is a hot topic - and a controversial one - in education. A lot of money is spent on it, and there's little agreement about the benefits. A recent article in The Wall Street Journal indicated a startling high-tech tool being used in some British classrooms that is proving to be surprisingly effective. The technology? Individual-sized whiteboards and markers. When a math teacher gives a group of high school students a problem in class, she plays quiet music in the background while the students work on the question. Instead of calling on someone who has their hand up, she has the students write their work on the whiteboard. When the students are done, they hold it up for their teacher's inspection. Everyone is expected to do this-no one must volunteer an answer or experience the potential public humiliation of being wrong. Even shy students are participating and learning more than they did before.

Interestingly, girls in particular are showing marked improvements in their math scores, catching up to and even surpassing boys in the subject. Perhaps the discussion of "innate differences" between girls and boys in math and science should look at classroom dynamics along with whether male brains are more logical than female brains.

The Wall Street Journal article truly begs the question, "What is appropriate technology in the classroom?" I find this particularly interesting because I know people working at each end of the technology spectrum.

As an example, I'll tell you about my friend Tom who effectively retired rich in his late 40s. I say "effectively" because Tom sold a technology company he had founded for a lot of money, and then started a different kind of tech company in the late 1990s, which collapsed shortly after the technology boom. The company was ahead of its time-when the tech bubble collapsed, everything tech-related, good or bad, was tossed out with it. But Tom still had a fortune from his earlier successes. By 2002, he had a lot of money, a lot of time and a passionate interest in technology, the environment-and in education.

Tom had a difficult life as a child -he was destined to be a problem kid until he attended a school in Montreal where the teachers took an interest in him, straightened him out and set him on the path that eventually led to his prosperous life and fortune. Tom didn't forget this help, and he has shared his financial success with his former school.

Recently he heard that his alma mater was going to design and build a new school with "ordinary" classrooms. He disagreed with this plan, insisting that they build state-of-the-art classrooms. They could pay for the structure; he'd design and pay for the technology. As he was describing some of the things they'd implemented, I found myself reflecting on all the technology-laden schools I've visited and read about that had almost zero impact on the education of the children who went through them or society as a whole. Although they're filled with wonderful tech-toys, they fail the ultimate tests of technology.

For instance, Tom started talking about the panel computers used by the teachers: they use stylus rather than a keyboard, and content can be projected on a screen at the front of the class by a data projector. My initial thought was that this was a waste of resources. …

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