54 years. In geologic time, that is nothing. In technology time, it is nearly an eternity. Much can happen to technology in 54 years. The UNIVA 1 is considered to be the first commercial computer and, with all its parts and pieces, would fill a large bedroom. One huge computer, by today’s standards—colossal. And this computer did not even have drop down menus our a mouse. Can you imagine?
This year a new exhibit around the computer opens in Albuquerque (the place where Paul Allen and Bill Gates started Microsoft in 1975, being close to other computer folks, later moving to Seattle, Washington in 1977).
In my lifetime, the computer existed as huge, behemoths sequestered in rooms where you would have to schedule time to use them. Then, and I remember it clearly, in 5th grade, my school added a computer class. Our computers had a hard drive capacity of 64K, which is funny when you consider that a photo taken by a camera usually has double that. We learned BASIC and played games. That was the curriculum. That was all there was to do with computers and education.
However, that has changed. The computer and subsequent technology is ubiquitous in the classroom and if not, it is seen as a weakness by the community. No other instrument has been accepted as readily as the computer. No other object has as much cache power to symbolize the rosy future for little kids than a computer; think of all of those district or school brochures that show 4 or 5 elementary students huddled around a computer, smiling. It took decades for the pencil to be accepted into the school as an appropriate tool, but the computer was there before people could say, "no".
Computers have shown their strength as an educational tool, and they do seem to have limitless capabilities. However, I would argue that computers sit in most classrooms collecting dust, used for basic internet research and word processing, two activities that do have their purpose, but could be achieved with computers many years old, and in the case of word processing, decades old.
Why do we insist on using up-to-date, expensive computers when they are not used as such? Is it because the computers are a status symbol or the classroom, the school, and even the community?
I am a teacher of English so word processing makes up the majority of my classroom computer use; and this is fine as it is a real world use.
Computers are great, but they cannot replace the human quality of great teaching in the classroom. They are not flexible and cannot adjust to the immediate needs of the student. To fear the computer and to not embrace it is putting your classroom and students at risk of being behind the times. Students understand vidcasts and like to be able to play and replay a video. Is the acquisition of knowledge inherently better solely through a text book?
Some great computer trends to consider for the coming school year
1. Web site with resources, handouts, and lessons so that students and families can always be up-to-date or used for review
2. Podcasts: audio instruction that can be played on a computer or mp3 player
3. Vidcasts: the visual equivalent of a podcast, stronger because kids like videos
4. Online parental (student) access to the student’s progress in each class, through the teacher’s grade book. Emailing of progress reports to parents (students) whenever the teacher decides.
5. Using the comment feature in Microsoft Word for peer feedback
6. Student web sites of their work and current learning paths—a portfolio
7. Blogs, You Tube, Teacher Tube
8. Web search (not new, but being used more)
9. Weekly “Notes from the Classroom” email or posting on a web site or blog
10. Co-learning with another class over a great distance such as peer feedback on stories with students in Africa.
Worst uses for computers
1. Interior classroom design—the computers just sit on desks in the back
2. Word processing if that is all for which the computers are used (in this case, a decade old grey computer would work)
3. Computerized report cards as the sole use
4. Flash games on the internet
5. Power Pointing your students to death
6. Students Power Pointing their final projects to death
7. Email as the sole reason the computer is turned on in the morning
I have an opinion on the topic and teaching and technology. However, what I want to do with this post is provide an open forum for you to leave your thoughts on technology in the classroom. Check back in a week and respond to the comments left by others. I consider it an opportunity for me to hear from others.
Here are some Points to Ponder:
• To what extent should technology be used?
• What about the discrepancy of technology in the have and have not schools?
• Can computer based curriculum replace teachers?
• What are the strengths or weaknesses of technology in the classroom?
• Are today's youth "programmed" differently then when you were in school?
• For what do you use technology in the classroom?
• For what do you NOT use technology in the classroom?
• How to get enough computers for consistent use by all of the students. Can you push technology as the panacea of education, but limit the use to three computers, where you have to plan months ahead of time?
• For computers and technology to be used effectively, they need to be accessible whenever the teachable moment happens, but there is never enough technology available, why?
• Teaching the teachers how to use the technology.