In the educational technology circles that I inhabit, a lot of discussion has taken place around the new Apple iPad. I've been interested in two opposing conversations that have taken place surrounding this new device. On one hand are those that feel this new device is going to change everything in regards to how we think about the personal computer and public education. On the other hand is a group of individuals who don't doubt the device will be a big success but that the device won't change education too much because it is primarily a device to consume content. There are some truths to both arguments and only time will really present the clear picture. However, after 19 years in public education, from what I have seen, the adoption of technology into everyday regular instruction has been limited at best. Sure there are pockets of innovation, but most of our instructional practices and strategies over those 19 years have not warranted the use of technology. The majority of technology use in schools has required that students know some fundamentals with the computer, where to save files, how to use a web browser, how to create a new slide in PowerPoint, and how to search using Google, etc. etc. For the most part, these skills can be taught after about two hours of instruction and some practice. My son did not need any training on how to use Facebook or locate the latest Flash based arcade game. If you know how to write, and have some familiarity with a keyboard, you are already a master of every social networking tool that's been and will be developed. Not surprisingly, the reasons for why computers and technology have not been utilized in a manner that takes advantage of their innate capability to create and innovate stems mainly on the primary charge of our educational institutions. Our focuses has been on eliminating the achievement gap, and improving our scores on state standardized tests. These are not bad goals, but our world is changing and our current goals are the same as every other developing country.
What is going to distinguish our students from those students in China or India?
I remember hearing a respected member of the community, out of frustration at the current budget mess suggest that we could save money by reducing our electrical costs by removing the technology tools, computers, projectors, etc. If you think about it, in ridiculous sort of way, turning off all the power to an average school may not hurt their standardized test results provided you had classrooms with windows or lots of candles and you'd save some money. Nobody would truly advocate for this but I am just attempting to make the point that what we currently evaluate our students on does not necessarily necessitate that we use technology to prepare them for these assessments.
We need to begin thinking about how we can instill in our children qualities that distinguish them from the rest of the world. One of the tools that we've had at our fingertips for the past 20 years, but have neglected to put it into use for this endeavor is the computer.
In (Part II) I will begin sharing a model of using computers that can provide us a strategy for distinguishing our students from the competition and showcase their many diverse talents.
(image courtesy of Xuoan's Dailies http://www.flickr.com/photos/xuoan-dailies/4089162168/)