Technology is utilized by almost every business and school in the United States, including elementary and secondary schools. During 1999, nearly $7 billion dollars was spent on computer technology, such as servers, software, and computers, in K-12 schools throughout the United States and that figure has grown exponentially over the last decade. Technology is now being utilized in more ways to enhance and make education more accessible worldwide.
Many educators and school administrators are attempting to determine whether this major investment in computer technology is improving the quality of education American students receive.
They are also trying to determine whether it’s improving the efficiency of learning models. More importantly, educators and administrators are evaluating whether technology utilized in the classroom is preparing students for the workforce of the future.
To many people, there are similarities between the current effort to invest in technology to be utilized in classroom instruction and the investment many people made in new Internet entrepreneurship ventures during the–dot-com–bubble. This comparison is made since the investments in both situations were, and are, being made with the intention for a large return in the near future. However, many people lost their investments during the–dot com–craze, and it is yet to be seen whether investment in educational technology will pay off.
Benefiting from the investment in educational technology will not be possible without explicit goals and specific plans to realize them. However, technology is being placed in schools at high rates without plans to effectively utilize it within classroom instruction. The push to inundate schools with technology is often based on misconceptions.
Myth #1: Putting computers into schools will directly improve learning; more computers will result in greater improvements.
Computers have made information more accessible and can be utilized for educational purposes, but a computer is only useful when it’s effectively utilized. Students often get distracted by using computers to play games and social network. This does not mean computers are not effective learning tools, but they can easily sidetrack students from their education.
Even though school districts purchase computers to improve education, many students use computers for frivolous purposes, rather than using them to conduct research or complete school assignments.
Myth #2: There are agreed-upon goals and–best practices–that define how computers should be used in K-12 classrooms.
Educators and school administrators often hold conflicting views about the most effective ways to utilize computer technology in schools. Until there is some agreement about how to effectively utilize computers to educate K-12 students, school districts will continue using computers in different ways, which will continue to create roadblocks to progress.
Myth #3: Once teachers learn the basics of using a computer they are ready to put the technology to effective use.
Teachers using computers in classroom instruction are often limited by what they can present with computer technology. It’s also difficult in many situations to involve students in classroom discussions when using computer technology. Since traditional instruction and teaching methods have worked effectively for years, it can be counterproductive to implement technology in the classroom.
Research conducted to determine the effectiveness of the Apple Classroom of Tomorrow (ACOT) project documented the many ways which teachers utilized technology in the classroom. The people conducting the research recognized five stages teachers went through when implementing computer technology in their classroom instruction:
1) The first stage, also known as the entry stage, was a period where instructors acted both enthusiastically and cautiously as they developed expertise in new technology and outlined strategies for implementing it within their teaching methods. Many teachers became apprehensive about the effort it often required to apply the technology in their classrooms, which if not done right, served as a distraction.
2) The second stage also known as the adoption stage, was a period where teachers began implementing technology within their instruction without major alterations being made to their preferred teaching methods.
3) The third stage, also known as the adaptation stage, was a period where technology became an everyday part of classroom instruction. Teachers frequently used power point presentations, word processors, and other technologies to assist them with their instruction. Many teachers could pin-point benefits during the adaptation stage.
4) The fourth stage, also known as the appropriation stage, was a period where instructors utilized technology within their classroom instruction without difficulty. In many cases, teachers would not know what to do without it.
5) The fifth stage, also known as the invention stage, was a period where teachers began to look for new ways to use technology in the classroom. For example, many teachers began to use computers to enhance study programs students used to prepare for exams. During the invention stage, students greatly benefited individually from the use of technology in the classroom. Many were better able to solve problems by themselves and learn new concepts without the aid of a teacher.
The Apple Classroom of Tomorrow ACOT project study also discussed the necessary support systems and instruction teachers relied on as they progressed from stage 1 to stage 5.
Myth #4: The typical district technology plan is sufficient for putting technology to effective use.
Most school districts have an organized technology plan since government funding is often contingent upon developing an effective plan. In most cases, technology plans detail specifically the type of technology to be purchased, plans for teacher training, money budgeted for maintenance and support, and how technology will be used within the classroom during a 3 to 5 year time frame.
Other details, such as the impact of technology on education within the district, plans for revising the plan, and other implementation issues are often listed in these plans, but these issues are secondary to the main plan details. Unlike school districts’ educational plans, technology plans are often developed as preliminary goals since most districts are still experimenting with technology within the classroom.
Before the implementation of technology within the classroom can be considered effective, there must be some noticeable benefits resulting from it. This is not only the case for traditional instruction, but also special education and teacher training programs. Until the use of technology within schools aids them in meeting their educational objectives, district technology plans will continue to be viewed as goals.
Myth #5: Equity can be achieved by ensuring that schools in poor communities have the same student-to-computer ratios as schools in wealthier communities.
To reduce the technology disparity between schools in affluent and poor areas, the federal government instituted the E-rate program. It’s designed to make sure schools in poorer regions have access to the Internet and adequate amounts of computers in each school. This has helped students in poorer areas have access to technology, but their teachers often don’t have the same technology training as teachers working in schools located in more affluent areas.
Students enrolled in schools in both poor and more affluent areas often utilize computers for different learning purposes. Those in more affluent areas usually rely on computers to conduct research and complete group-learning assignments; whereas, students in poorer communities complete drill-and-practice work on computers.
Although technology can be used to decrease the educational disparities between students in poor and more affluent areas, it has yet to be accomplished. Even if students in all regions of the country have access to computer technology, if the educational disparity between students in different economic backgrounds does not improve, it will not make a difference whether children in poorer areas have computers in their schools. Educational reforms are usually not this simple, so it will require a long-term vision and attention.