Refocusing on Technology in Education

11/20/2009  |  ART WILLER, M. ED.

Since 2001, schools were demanded to teach more, test more, and pay more for fuel and energy, and to do all that with reduced funding. During these years, priorities naturally turned from upgrading aging computers, to making sure the tests were administered and washrooms were stocked with toilet paper.

President Obama’s ARRA and EETT stimulus programs are a giant step in the right direction, but money is not the only thing needed.

As important as funding is, there needs to be a refocusing on exactly what schools are expected to do with technology. In particular, what exactly is ‘technology in education’ and how should schools implement it?

Technology in education is the integration of today’s commonly used tools and media in the subject matter we present, the learning experiences we provide, and the skills we teach.

Writing is one skill schools are expected to teach.

Less than 30 years ago, writing was the process of putting pencil, pen or typewriter to paper. Writing was an iterative process of false starts, discarded pieces of paper, repeated consultation and lots of eraser residue.

The big difference today is that 99 percent of the population uses computers to write and communicate. With a computer, the skilled writer can type at over 100 words per minute, or dictate at about the same speed while a computer translates the speech to text. With a mouse, the writer can re-order whole passages of text, easily refine expressions and adjust nuances without consuming a single piece of paper. Often, the writing product is never actually output to paper but to electronic media.

In addition to reducing the labor of writing, computers change the writing process. This change in process requires that modern writing skills must be developed within the context of technology in order for them to be relevant.

Technology also impacts the application of writing skills. Many more forms of writing media are available today such as e-mail, Web sites, blogs, instant messengers and even cell phones.

To write effectively, the writer has to know how the medium impacts the message. An e-mail does not carry the same impact as a hand-written letter or a laser printed letter. In fact, the knowledgeable writer chooses among these media, depending on the effect the writer hopes for. Knowing how to write includes knowing how different media affect communication.

Many educators wonder if text messaging will erode writing skills. Text messaging is just one more mode of communication that students should learn how and how not to use. As for writing correctness, using Victorian grammatical rules in a text message is as inappropriate as using text-messaging protocols in a research paper. They are two communication modes that require unique understandings and have unique applications. Students need to learn the differences.

Take any other skill or subject and consider the role technology plays in it, in the everyday world. Technology should play that same role when we teach the skill or subject. Or teachers should as closely emulate the genuine processes and applications as they can.

Educators should consider how skills may vary in the future, but it is best to stick with what they know — technology advances quickly, but people change a lot slower and so do the skills they require. People who are well skilled with today’s tools, have little difficulty adapting to new tools when they come along.

As schools financially recover, it is imperative they re-examine their technology plans to make sure they are doing the right things for the right reasons.

The following process helps:

  • Identify the target skill or subject in terms of how modern people proceed and act, and how modern people apply the skill or subject.
  • Identify how people use technology in the processes and the applications within the skill or subject.
  • Identify the skills students will need including the ability to choose the appropriate technology and applications, depending on the purposes.

Teach the skill or subject by matching or closely emulating the same modern processes and applications using technology in the school.

If the school technology resources severely limit the ability to have technology in education, then at least acknowledge the way the processes and applications need to be understood in a modern world.

Use the resources you do have. In the writing example, many students now have laptops, cell phones and other Internet devices that can provide an excellent foundation for very valuable and highly relevant writing lessons.Teach them how to use those tools well and you are already achieving “technology in education.”

Art Willer has a graduate degree in curriculum from the University of Toronto. After years of classroom experience and educational technology leadership in a large Toronto district, he founded Bytes of Learning Incorporated, a 25-year software publisher that has won many industry awards. For more information visit www.bytesoflearning. com.
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