Technology in Schools


There's an interesting series about technology in schools in Milwaukee


1, part

2, and part

3) and it inspired me to an edditorial as well as some

thinking about the subject. Actually the <a


on Slashdot</a> probably got me more inspired.

Technology in schools is something that I've thought was a great idea

for a long time. A lot of that comes from my high school times where I

had a computer at home (Apple II knockoff) and had to share time at

school for a CS class, which was less than fun. In college I studied

computers and always wished that I could have a laptop, a dream that

came somewhat true in graduate work at ODU. I worked for the power

company and got a laptop from them to use for remote work. So I took it

to class and the Norton Editor, running in DOS was how I took notes in

quite a few classes. I've also got two kids in public school, and I've

seen a little of how computers are used there as well as at home for


And I've kind of changed my tune. I'm not sure that computers are a

great idea in school, at least for most tasks. Granted as a

technologist, computers rules lots of my life and I use them everyday.

Actually my job, as a web publisher in a virtual company, wouldn't be

possible without computers. I definitely type more than I write in many

cases. If you've ever gotten a handwritten note from me, you might

argue that this is a good thing.

A computer is a tool. That's all, like a phone, and while it does help

you complete some tasks quicker, it isn't the end all be all in terms

of moving through life and learning things. In schools I think there

are times and places where computers are handy and they help out. My

oldest was in the Cherry Creek middle school system in Colorado and

every teacher had a computer in their room. The ability for them to

take attendence, enter grades and assignments, and communicate with

parents I thought was a fantastic use of technology. I think that

students can benefit from using computers to type papers, especially as

working with manual typewriters and white out isn't a skill they should

need in the future.

But writing is a skill and I don't think my 2nd grader should be

getting out of it. I think learning to write, take notes, handle the

listening and writing at the same time is a great skill. Language is an

important part of his education and I think computers can abstract us

away from language with shorthands and the lack of the imprinting that

occurs when you write things down.

I do think my 7 year old should be exposed to computers as their use in

terms of email, writing essays, etc. is pervasive. Checking onto a

plane and applying for a job at your local retailer all seem to require

some computer skill these days and that's good. But the computer in

primary school, probably at least through 4th or 5th grade is a helping

tool, limited to perhaps some basic testing intrigued and might want to

do some programming, but they are the vast minority. For those kids

they might get a laptop or get the opportunity, but for most kids I

think the basics of education are important.

I do think somewhere about the time middle school starts, 5th grade

perhaps, kids should get some keyboarding instruction and start to

learn to write essays on the computer. However, they still should

perform library research and learn to write rough drafts. Those skills

are important. Part of them is also the mistake making process. If you

know that writing the wrong thing results in a redo or an effort to

erase and correct, you slow down a bit and think a bit more. It's only

natural and that's a skill in an of itself.

School is not the place for super efficiency and results. It's a place

to make mistakes, try things out, and teach yourself a little about

what works for you.

I do think that simulations to explain concepts, like Chemistry, math,

biology, can be done better on computers. And having a teacher show

those is a nice use of technology, but I don't think that kids should

be thinking that the Web is the answer for everything because there is

too much unvetted information. Nor should they be spending vast amounts

of time on email and IM. We have too much of that as adults, myself as

guilty as anyone, and middle school is still the time to be interacting

face to face with friends. It's also the time that learning you need to

wait until school is out or homework is done before spending time with

friends is something parents should control. Allowing someone to work

at the comptuer with IM and email available is a bad idea. Kids will

get enough of that later. A little patience won't kill them.

Technology in both middle school and high school can be a great asset.

I'm not sure if Powerpoint presenations are better than the hand

created ones I had to do, but testing could be done on the computer in

quite a few subjects. Anything with an essay could be put onto a

computer, perhaps a few computer testing labs that are shared by all

teachers and scheduled to allow every student to take an online test.

It would make things easier for teachers to grade and eliminate the

sloppiness that sometimes occurs, but you'd have the whole

I-can't-type-fast-enough problem from some people. And if the computers

were down then you'd have to have a fallback plan.

The more and more I read about this the less I'm convinced that

computers help. They can assist teachers, and I do like that kids are

sometimes shunted to a computer while the teacher works with others

because these days the teacher-kid ratios are not great. But that

requires and needs some education and research on how and when to

incorporate the comptuer into the lesson. Not as a babysitter, but as a

way to provide additional education that a teacher is too busy to