Amanda Toler has done an excellent job in her Each One Teach One project in researching the issues of technology in K-12 education.
She has a 5-year-old. I have a 17-year-old. So I offer some perspective, and I hope much of it applies to the use of technology beyond the classroom.
My child entered public schools in 1995, just before computer labs became the flavor of the year at well-equipped schools. She’s wrapping up her senior year now, and she has benefited from online Flash chemistry simulations, turnitin.com verification of papers and online college applications.
Through the years, some themes emerged that apply broadly, to businesses and media as well as classrooms.
GIGO: Garbage in, garbage out. An online grade report for students and parents does no good if teachers lack the time or training to input the data.
Hardware solutions to software problems won’t get us anywhere. We can’t just throw money at it. I’ve seen boxes of brand new computers sitting at a school a month after school began, waiting for someone with the time and talent to plug them in. Meanwhile, older printers had been taken away, and students without home computer access desperately needed to print college application forms at school.
TMI (Too Much Information) exists: Email alerts of opportunities and information can be emotionally overwhelming and clog in boxes at the same time. It’s like subscribing to too many magazines or newspapers — if they just pile up at home and make you feel guilty every time you see them, you’re likely to opt out of a subscription, whether it’s paper or email.
Social mores, fads and friends have huge impact: The IM craze of middle school at times degenerated into meanness for some. But a whole generation learned to type, quickly.
Documentation and certification lag behind new developments: The public-school curriculum and testing of technology skills is often outdated before it becomes adopted. Successful students need to go way beyond the basic levels of skills the state of North Carolina currently requires.
One good teacher is a gift to be cherished: In seventh grade, a teacher came up with a class project of planning and budgeting for a trip around the state. Students had to research different cities and the price of hotels, restaurants and attractions in each city, then add up costs for the entire trip. The students mapped the trip as well. (This was before Mapquest. Believe it or not, such a time existed.) This project was a killer, especially with dial-up access, but it gave students lasting experience in finding information on the Internet.