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Technology in Education
More than Just an Afterthought

by Bonnie Bracey
Christa McAuliffe Educator, National Education Association

As we extend the information revolution, education and the use of technology in education must be more than just an afterthought -- as it still is for many people.  The explosion of new technologies has changed the way we live -- from the way we do business to the way we communicate with each other.  Technological advancements are also affecting the way we teach and learn.  But there is one group of workers who are not getting effective training who touch the future in educating the children of the nation.  The teachers of America have little meaningful professional development.  Students and teachers must learn new skills to live and work in this digital age.

In thinking about education, most people do not understand the impact that technology has on students in their daily lives.  Technology in some schools is seen as an Internet connection or a "wired" solution.  Today's schools may have a wire that does not connect to anything.  The ratio of computers-to-children is aggregated to make us think that students actually have hands-on technology in every school.  That is not the case.  Many schools and students are missing out on the richness of this learning experience.

Today, interactive, multimedia technology provides us with new ways to draw upon children's natural impulses.  These new media hold an abundance of materials including text, voice, music, graphics, photos, animation and video. But they provide more than abundance.  Bringing all these media together means that we can vastly expand the range of learning experiences, opening up the social and natural worlds.  Students can explore the relations among ideas and thus experience a more connected form of learning.  Perhaps most importantly, these new media are interactive, and conducive to active, engaged learning.  Students can choose what to see and do, and they have media to record and extend what they learn.  Learning is thus driven by the individual needs and interests of the learner.

Some good things are happening.  A quiet revolution is taking hold in many schools of education all over the country.  Criticized for offering programs that are long on theory and short on practice, many schools have responded with new approaches to teacher education.  Students in these programs develop subject matter expertise, practice teaching in real classrooms, connect with mentor teachers and learn the skills to teach with technology as media.

However, there remain problems with training, access, resources, the hardware and software and the understanding of how technology should be deployed in schools and learning communities.  Studies of the process of educational change show that access to new information, procedures or tools alone rarely leads to change.

The National Academy of Engineering, in its report Technically Speaking: Why All Americans Need To Know More About Technology, addresses the question of fluency with technology.  All teachers do not have these skills.  Children have grown up digitally and may be masters of the technology, but the teachers who touch their future have been handicapped with lack of sufficient knowledge about the use of technology.  Teachers who teach with limited reach cripple the future of the children they teach.

Missing in our education policy is a focus that encourages the integration of technology content into the learning landscapes of K-12, in the standards, curricula, instructional material, and student assessments in non-technology subject areas.  For technology to work well for students and schools, we must build human infrastructure at the same pace we are installing computers, systems, and hardware.

The US government funds only about 8 percent of the educational budget.  They give the guidelines but not always the models, examples and resources to fulfill the expectations and states are hard pressed to accomplish the tasks.  First of all, federal, regional and state agencies that help set educational policy should encourage, fund, and demonstrate the practices they wish the nation's educators to accept.  The funds should be explicitly earmarked for this use -- but as explicit demonstration activities, not as general grants.  Seymour Papert and the MIT staff talk about hard fun, hard demonstrations and ways to share and show what is possible.  Such hard demonstration projects are needed for learning communities to be empowered and understand the technology needed to create empowerment.  The education departments and agencies should specifically choose places in which they can create demonstration projects that reflect the many kinds of schools and the diverse people we serve.  In that we will all be served.

Second, the use of technology should be a part of the standards that we are asking teachers to teach and test to. As long as technology is held outside of the curriculum base it will not be sufficiently integrated into teaching, and learning teachers' needs, however many guidelines may be used.  There are technology tools that will allow teachers to create and infuse these standards in their own planning.  Empowered teachers using technology as a tool and using technology as media extend the reach of the learners.

While standards are important, teachers without technology resources are swimming in a set of data that they cannot manage.  Teacher tools such as templates and metadata resources to help manage, plan and create learning landscapes should be developed through the Education Department and the Commerce Department's National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST).

Finally, knowledge networks should be developed to bridge the educational communities.  Education needs to be more inclusive as the depth of content available has been increased.  The job is to turn information into knowledge that is meaningful.  Informal education is using technological literacy to improve learning outside of the formal K-12 or university settings.  Learning places such as museums, newseums, science and agricultural centers, and television, radio, newspapers, magazines and other media comprise the informal education system which offers, to citizens of all ages and backgrounds, the opportunity to use, learn about, and be involved in a variety of learning experiences.  We should build on those experiences by encouraging partnerships with parent and community groups, universities, and others who play a critical role in making schools true centers of learning in their communities.

Full white paper can be accessed at:

~ 12 February 2002


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Last Updated:
10 March 2002

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