Does Your Technology Deliver?

By Golden, Barry | Techniques, October 1997 | Go to article overview

Does Your Technology Deliver?


Golden, Barry, Techniques


To qualify for telecommunications discounts, schools must have a long-range plan that ties technology to student achievement.

School districts throughout the United States have spent billions on technology over the past 10 years, yet little about the classroom has really changed since the 1960s. The technology is not to blame; it has tremendous power to affect students' learning. The problem is that educators feel pressured to purchase the latest computer hardware and software to bring their schools up to snuff, but they seldom give much thought to its long-term purpose.

A small percentage of America's school districts are providing excellent use of technology for instruction, and in those cases there usually is a systemwide commitment. Computer technology has evolved as a result of exuberant staff persons, most frequently at the local school level. These individuals have lobbied, argued, cajoled and even begged for some of the systems they needed to accomplish their vision of contemporary learning. Principals usually have been supportive, but few of them have been real leaders in this area because So few actually use the technology themselves.

The result is a disparate system that provides enriched, challenging and often expanded learning opportunities for some students who are fortunate enough to be placed in the right teacher's class and limits others to a traditional delivery system simply because their teachers either don't feel comfortable with new technology or lack proper training. Even when students have equal access to computer labs, access isn't the real issue. Course content and how the computers are used make the difference in students' experiences.

Finding a vision

Because few school systems have defined how computer technology should be used to help students learn, individual facilities typically have operated in a vacuum, purchasing what they think will be good for their building. This has resulted in major inequities from one building or level to another within the same school district. The lack of a systemwide approach to district connectivity may, in many instances, add to the complexity and cost of accomplishing efficient access to the Internet and even to local area networks.

Leadership and management personnel are finally getting the picture and asking key questions: What do we currently have? How do we update and integrate technology into the curriculum? How do we integrate administrative and staff productivity tools with instructional programs and needs? What are the implications for staff development and curriculum revisions?

Since the first Apple IIs arrived in classrooms, educators have been stressing the importance of getting students to use the computer. Teachers have used "computer-assisted instruction" techniques. They have encouraged students to conduct research over the Internet. Vocational-technical teachers have used computerized simulations to teach technical skills. In retrospect, these techniques may have provided an inadvertent way of taking the professionals off the hook. We have seen neither marked improvement in student learning nor any significant change in the way teachers teach.

Despite tremendous improvements in speed and sophistication of hardware and software, few teachers use the computer as an integral part of their daily instructional process. They say they don't have enough training, they personally dislike technology, they don't have the right kind of computers or they're too near retirement to try new techniques. Some of the explanations are legitimate. But, in my work as an educational technology consultant, I find two major reasons computers aren't used in classrooms as they should be: lack of vision and leadership, and not enough teacher training.

My company works with many school districts in Wisconsin. It is not uncommon to see districts spend a quarter- to a half-million dollars on hardware and software and allocate $10,000 for staff development. …

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