What phrase is abuzz in the world of education? “Technology in the classroom.” Everyone is scrambling to find ways to fund their school districts or buildings with new technology for students and teachers. Some schools reach out to their communities and form alliances with businesses to help supply classrooms with new computers or projectors. Other districts have teachers working late, after school, in the evenings, and on the weekends without compensation writing Perkins grants to receive monies for new technologies. Principals and superintendents enjoy to bragging about how advanced their campuses are and how it will positively affect their students and their communities. Parents are excited that there are full computer labs in each school building, with some classrooms having computers for each student in the room, or at the very least a mobile lab. Being surrounded by the latest technology is very exciting for everyone involved! Or is it?
Who designs the layouts of the new school renovations? Is it teachers or administrators? No, typically it is an architect who is closely aligned to the superintendent or school board members with the deepest pockets. No one wants any input from the educators who work in the computer labs on a daily basis or the technology administrators, nor do they want the public to know where the money is actually being spent. So what happens is a school gets room full of brand new computers with many software programs that will never be used and antiquated floppy drives. This is a complete waste of money. Then there is the problem with the layout of the room. Because the architect and superintendent were too pompous to include educators in the design process, they discover there are not enough ether drops or power strips provided for the number of computers in the room. So often times, an entire side of a room of computers renders itself useless and computers simply sit there and collect dust. It is the teachers who have to work around this problem and accommodate the students.
On the other hand, there are some great school buildings designed with technology at the center of their focus. They have computer labs with very large monitors for desktop publishing classes. They have smart boards in every room and state of the art software and equipment for the radio, television and editing classes. The problem that often arises in these ideal settings is the fact that no one ever bothered to train the teachers on how to use or incorporate this great equipment. So there are $10,000 smart boards pushed to the side or back of the room in each of the classrooms. And because the district needed help paying for the new equipment, they allow community-based meetings to take place in the computer labs after school or in the evenings. The people in charge of the after-school meetings do not monitor computer use and equipment is destroyed and begins to disappear, or they leave the smart board and projector on overnight. The regular classroom teacher returns to school the next morning to see that the $2000 light bulb for the projector is fried and there is no more money in the budget for a replacement.
And yet there is much talk about not only administrators having computer tablets, but a push for all teachers to have computer tablets in the near future. Why would that even be considered? If no one bothers to train the teachers on the technological functions of their new equipment or see to it that teachers must incorporate the new technologies on a daily basis, then it is a waste of time and money that could be better spent elsewhere. It is also being heard through the rumor mill that many districts are considering providing PDAs for entire classrooms and/or teaching via podcasts. That is a fantastic idea if the students already have access to these technologies. But if not all students possess these items, then the district must compensate or else face discrimination accusations.
Certainly technology-centered curriculum is the wave of the future and extremely important in student-centered education. But there needs to be some accountability at all levels from the top down as to how the technology is funded, how it is incorporataed in a classroom setting, and how often or to what extent these new technologies are being engaged. Without those controls, school districts end up with great technologies that consume their entire school budgets but are never actually utilized in the classroom. And that type of carelessness is reprehensible.
Smart board and computer images from: Flickr