Practical Theory - The Origin
The Scholars in CyberEnglish
ToDaY's MeNu - Ted

Friday, November 21, 2008

How far have we come with Technology?

I've been engaged in a conversation with some colleagues about the use of technology in our schools. I argue we have not come very far since the 90's. I would even argue that we have lost ground. Some will argue the reason is that schools don't have the tech support they need to keep the machines operating. They add that schools don't have the funds to keep up with all the updates. Finally, that schools don't provide enough professional development.

I will accept that these may be valid reasons but they don't head the list of why we are not using technology in our schools effectively to prepare our scholars for the 21st Century. I would argue that technology lags behind all the other industries in America because of NCLB, the filters, and new teachers are not bringing it to their new classrooms with them as tools they have learned from college.

NCLB has rewritten education to be more quantitative. We now rely more on tests that provide us numbers and some schema provided by the test maker that gives us some gobbledygook about the student based on numbers. The test is not provided to the teacher nor is it created in collaboration with the teacher. Teachers don't see the answer key nor the scholar's test. All the teachers get is some confusing form that needs translation and tells us very little. We have heard about how schools have canceled recess for more test prep time. We have heard about how some schools have canceled the arts like music and art for more test prep time. We have heard how more and more students are being kept back because schools fear those scholars will bring down the school average. We are sacrificing our scholars for a school's reputation. Are they aware of the damage holding a student back at such a young age is? Of course not or they don't care. Administrators in schools are knowingly doing the wrong thing to keep their jobs and that is quite frankly immoral and unethical. These tests have taken precedence over the more wholesome ways of teaching based on research from the likes of Howard Gardner, Grant Wiggins, and many others. There is no research informing us that the tests are beneficial to learning. Politicians have ignored the research to line the pockets of their friends the test makers. We all have stories that could be told about the negative effects of NCLB on education. Few of us can speak to the positive effects. So why do we still have it? Why do politicians like Teddy Kennedy and George W Bush praise NCLB. Because it lines their pockets.

Another reason technology has not progressed too far is that the filters imposed on public schools filters out more good than bad. Teachers are unable to get to many worthy websites because someone, not associated with the school has deemed them unworthy. Who are these keepers of the filters? What irks me is that the scholars have access to proxies that let them bypass the school's filter and get to the normally blocked sites. I have heard it said by those maintaining the filters that if teachers let them know which sites to unblock, they could have access. Some of those hoops are harder to jump through than imagined. Now if a teacher were to use one of the proxies to access a blocked site, that teacher would probably be taken out of the classroom. The result is that teachers don't have access to many of the neat social networking tools the scholars may be using and to introduce them to other very worthy sites. It isn't surprising we are so far behind the rest of the world in educational terms and in other ways. Employers also suffer because our scholars are not learning the skills of the 21st Century to function in the 21st Century as productive citizens. They are learning about these technology tools outside of school and the result is self evident. Could our current financial problems be blamed on our lack of technology use in schools? It sure can be, especially since so many jobs have been taken overseas to more qualified workers. Business is clamoring for better workers and we give them great test takers and unqualified workers. We are shooting ourselves in the foot because of the filter.

Finally, a third major factor that speaks to our lack of effective technology use in schools is that our schools of education are not training our future teachers how to use these tools as teachers. They may use them as students, but that does not teach them how to use them as teachers. I have heard that these new teachers are spending lots of time learning about theory. Fine, but how about their practice. Are they creating webpages for their scholars? Are they creating Blogs for the classes they teach? Are they creating a Moodle for their class? No is the resounding sad response. Theory and practice must work together.

We have fallen into the trap that all technology finds itself, a glorified toy, an expensive useless toy taking up space in our schools. In fact the technology has become a pariah. Teachers have told me they won't use the technology because the students spend more time on the wrong sites than do their work. It is about knowing how to teach in a computer lab that we don't learn in a college or on the job. As I have said before we teach the way we were taught.

Take a look around. How much technology do you have in your school? How is it being used? Does it work? How many teachers use technology in your school in their classes? Is their use innovative and more than a gloried blackboard? How has technology grown or not grown in your school since 1990? 2000? Take your own survey and I believe much of what I say will be borne out.

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