Thursday, October 1, 2009

What is technology?

One of our teachers poised the question last week, "What will our classrooms look like five years from now?"  He declared that teacher laptops and ceiling mount projectors are not viewed as "new technology" but are embedded and required components for today's teachers.  His question was primarily rhetorical; despite some suggestions, he offered no answers but it certainly got me thinking.

We work in a well-funded district that has pursued technology including the tools described above, wireless laptop labs, Elmo visualizers, PolyCom distance learning equipment, and a variety of other hardware and software solutions.  Our teachers use the available technology throughout the curriculum in a variety of ways.  I've argued repeatedly and usually with the majority, that technology is only beneficial when it improves the learning experience or helps to prepare our students for college or professional experiences.

This argument tends to open far more windows of opportunity than it closes.  The use of all types of hardware and software technology in business and in higher education is expanding exponentially.  Teachers who create successful technology based lessons increasingly focus upon creating better and more encompassing future lessons.  The question is more than valid and worthy of discussion; so, what will classrooms look like five years from now?

These were my thoughts when I read Ben Grey's recent post, "Excessive Inaccessibility", in the Tech & Learning Advisor Blog.  Grey relates a conversation with a student, recently returned from Zambia where she saw, "children who lined up by the hundreds so that they might receive a single pencil.  A pencil.  Not an iPod, or laptop, or cell phone, or netbook.  A single shaving of wood lined with graphite.  And she spoke of kids without books.  Kids who are trying to read without the words with which to accomplish the task.  Kids who crave the learning yet lack access to the intellectual nourishment."

Quickly, I remembered that not all education is the same.  Though a digital divide does exist in our district, I had not really focused on its impact on student education in quite a while.  The wake up call that Grey delivered in this piece, though, is way more than a digital divide.  It is a digital and educational chasm.  And the reality is that we need not travel to Zambia to experience the stark differences between the have and the have-not districts.  I have visited schools in my local area that own less than one class set of computers and rely upon 30-year-old (average age) library resources.

As I contemplate my future employment I admit that I would consider myself honored to teach and serve a student community regardless of the level of technology (or library) funding.  I would, however, work within any community that I serve to foster and nourish any programs that will lead to the most complete and well-rounded education possible.

So, what will our classrooms look like five years from now?  Obviously, this will depend greatly upon what they look like today and what funding can be generated in the coming years for upgrades and improvements.  Our goal should be to work within our schools and as part of the greater education community to identify and refine our most pressing needs and to pursue them with passion.

The teacher that initiated my thoughts argued that projectors and teacher laptops are no longer technology.  Grey countered that, "a pencil is technology."  Upon reflection that has included memories of my grandmother's stories about teaching in a cold and drafty one room schoolhouse where all writing was done on a piece of slate because no one could afford paper, I agree that a pencil is technology.

I also agree with Grey and with the teachers in my school, and probably all over the world, that it is not enough.  It was not enough for my grandmother who taught for almost 40 years and it is not enough for our students today, no matter where they live.  I guess the greater frustration is that we may never feel we have enough regardless of our level of funding or support.

I must therefore conclude that while planning and goal setting for the integration of technology in the future is critical, it is more critical that we identify every way possible to draw the most benefit from the tools that we do have available to us.  This is a topic for a whole series of posts that I will not be writing now but which we should all explore.

How can we make the most of what we have?  How can we share and use the technology and resources that we have to their fullest extent to fortify our student's educational experience?  These are questions to which we can respond and directly affect on a daily basis.  We do not need additional financial investment or approval of any board to increase the efficiency of the tools that we have.

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