Technology not living up to the promise in the classroom

Schools face a shortage of public funding and subsidies for computers in their classrooms. For some reason, I’m not surprised (which I’ve stated for some time now). It seems that some folks are unclear as to what technology can do in the classroom. I think Milwaukee Journal Sentinel journalist Amy Hetzner did a great job reporting on this in a three-part series on how computer funding for classrooms is slowing to a trickle.

She indicates in the first article how using technology in the classroom is not resulting in academic outcomes that were anticipated. Although some use has resulted in a better understanding of the technology by teachers and students, it does not seem like it has allowed kids to develop their academic skills as well as expected. Instead, many computers are not used, and when they are, teachers are using them for administrative work (such as reporting grades). Now there is some debate as to whether or not kids should even be taught the programs that will be obsolete by the time they reach college or the workforce, and even if keyboarding skills are really necessary (my answer to both is no, but then again I was pretty adept at learning how to use Microsoft Word on my own when it was competing against the mighty WordPerfect).

I think the saddest part of this article is that a seventh-grade geography class uses, “PowerPoint presentations, word processing, Internet research on cultures and countries of the world, spreadsheets to compare data, graphs and video configurations.” Although the class uses many tools for their work, the sad part is that there is no mention of one of the most powerful geography tools out there: geographical information systems (GIS). GIS has posted itself to become a major data warehouse in many fields. Knowing this tool would help prepare many geography and cartography students for the future. However, GIS is complicated to learn (in my experience), but it’s a skill that many can learn in late high school and college. Even using it as a visual tool in the earlier grades will promote it. I think that it is truly sad that the computer in a geography class does not have the most important software tool that would make sense in a geography class.

In article two, Hetzner describes the reduction of public funding and how to maintain and replace the equipment. Even those of us that work with this stuff daily know that when you buy a PC, it has a lifecycle of about three to five years (five years is pushing it). Plus the behind-the-scenes stuff (servers, network hubs, wiring, software) works only for so long before it needs replacing. Although proponents of classroom computer technology advocated their use because they are used in the workplace, they seemed to overlook these long-term needs and costs.

Article three explains how proponents believe that the reason why students are not excelling as expected is because they do not have as much access to the technology. Thus a number of schools have embarked on providing computers in front of each student. Even with this one-to-one ratio of computer use, though, the results do not show remarkable improvements in academic achievement. Even students at these schools view computers more as tools than magic bullets. One student is proficient at repairing the hardware when it goes down, while another lost her homework in the system and recognizes that computer use is not truly integrated in their work. Even their use in math and science is limited, versus usage in English for writing and history for Web searches.

Hetzner does a great job of giving a very balanced approach to how technology is being used while also providing insight as to how it is and is not being utilized. Her articles are skillfully written and show both sides of the argument. Still, some of my questions remain: How much more capable, if at all, are students becoming in the academic basics? Are they truly learning and retaining more history and science? Are they writing with grammatical proficiency? Are they able to solve complex mathematical, physics, and chemistry equations?

Unfortunately, she doesn’t answer the most important question: Will these kids be prepared to deal with these same problems when the computers break down and stop working?

JSOnline Article one: Is technology in schools the future or just a fad?

JSOnline Article two: Schools must weigh costs vs. benefits of technology

JSOnline Article three: Some push schools to put computers in front of all students