My Turn: Why technology is vital to our students
A recent article in the Sierra Sun (“New direction praised for school technology” July 24) reported on a technology workshop at the July 18 school board meeting. Unfortunately, this article did not completely capture the issues the district is grappling with, and as a consequence I felt it important to help clarify and frame the discussion in a way that is understandable and conducive to both further discussion and ultimately finding constructive solutions.
The fundamental point I made in my presentation to the board was that teaching our students to be comfortable and adept at using technology is no longer a luxury, but a necessity. Look around you ” not only are desktop and laptop computers ubiquitous, but so are cell phones, Blackberries, iPods, and now iPhones ” not to mention the myriad of tiny computers hidden inside our cars, microwaves, and the other mundane products in our lives. And who would argue that the Internet has not fundamentally changed how we get information and communicate with one another?
In his books, “The Lexus and the Olive Tree” and “The World is Flat,” the New York Times best selling author Thomas Friedman argued that we are living in a global marketplace, where it is just as easy to access products and services from halfway around the world as it is from our own backyard. In order to enable our children to be competitive as adults in this brave new world, the public school system has an obligation to ensure that all of our students possess the relevant technological skills to fully participate in this new economy ” whether they are college-bound or not. (In fact, technology is increasingly finding its way into the vocational trades.)
Specifically, I suggest that the district focus on accomplishing four key technology objectives. First, we must develop specific technology skills and standards for each grade level across all schools ” from basic operations and concepts, to leveraging technology as a tool for effective and creative communication and for research, analysis, and decision making. And we need assessments to ensure our children are successfully acquiring these skills and standards district-wide. Learning how to use technology should not depend on which school a child goes to ” all of our children, regardless of which school they attend, should develop the same skills that will make them successful.
Second, we must incorporate technology in the classroom to enhance our ability at teaching our children the core curricula as well as non-technology subjects like the social sciences and art. For example, Google Earth and Universal Streaming videos can be combined to create compelling, interactive tours of Civil War battlefields. In addition, decisions to place technological equipment in the classroom should be grounded on sound research demonstrating a clear benefit to student achievement.
Third, we must take advantage of technology to increase our teaching effectiveness by collecting “just-in-time” assessments of student performance. Fortunately, we are already starting to do this with the new Aeries and Datawise systems.
Fourth, we need to use technology to enhance the “business” of education, by increasing organizational efficiency through better integration and communication between different departments, school sites, staff, and the public.
How do we get there? That’s where we need your help and your ideas. It won’t be overnight nor will it be easy, and it will take an unshakeable philosophical and financial commitment by the board, staff, and by the community. But we owe it to our children that they be prepared for the 21st century. We’d like to hear your thoughts.