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My Views...

I am a skeptic when it comes to technology in the classroom. From accounts like those found in The Flickering Mind: Saving Education from the False Promise of Technology, by Todd Oppenheimer, to the works of Larry Cuban, one finds a series of issues with technology that keep repeating every generation — as if technology and the excitement that always follows it will translate into better-educated students.

Oppenheimer is an award-winning San Francisco journalist who toured the country to study how computers were used in the classroom. He began as an optimistic believer in technology and ended the work on a skeptical note, almost a "back-to-basics" philosophy based on everything from the price of technology to the lack of technical support and training teachers generally receive.

Gene I Maeroff's work, A Classroom of One: How Online Learning Is Changing Our Schools and Colleges, is authored by one of the leading experts on education. Maeroff has written 11 books in 30 years and is a leading instructor (and administrator) at Teachers College. I read his work, which also begins with an optimistic view of technology, after my own M.A. research on the use of Blackboard in Cal State composition courses. My original research had to change as instructor after instructor stopped using Blackboard... a case of poor teacher buy-in and even worse technology (which has improved greatly in just two years).

I deal with special needs students. The technology doesn't always fit their needs: even issues as simple as color-blindness are ignored. I often dictate because of my own issues with sight and information processing. Most educational software and Web sites ignore my needs and those of people with more severe disabilities.

Most importantly, I want a pedagogical defense for technologies. Getting "excited" is not reason enough to use something. I want to know what skill it improves, how it improves it, and if students can expand to use analytical skills.

Finally, I do care about the "real world" and what employers want. Our students do not write well. I know this as an employer, not merely as a teacher. I've watched students I have hired struggle to make change for customers, read instruction manuals, and compose basic e-mails professionally. I want to know how technology helps with basics because I want students to succeed outside school.

I installed publishing systems during the 1980s and 90s in three schools. I've donated small computer labs when I thought they were appropriate. But, I need to know that teachers will use the labs in ways that help students later in life.

My students already have "digital literacy" and a deep skepticism of media. They need writing and math skills. Show me how those are being improved, and I'll be right there installing the network and computers.

As for the risks of online technologies — it is an issue of teacher training. Too many teachers don't understand the risks, ignore them, or imagine there's no way a student or parent will report a minor incident. Trust me, I've resigned from a teaching post after my "mentor" tried to push off blame for minor things.

My very first year with a "real" job (1991) ended abruptly after the teacher (a genuine "character" from a bad movie) was scanning pictures and commented on the anatomy of the female students in the images. Our conflicts increased, until I finally resigned mid-semester. This man was "teacher of the year" and had the video class, yearbook, and newspaper. He also ran the drama program. All the cool toys were "his" and not the school's.

The moment there were any issues, I was the one meeting with the principal and being told I was inappropriate. Technology was too hard to explain. It was clearly my fault digital editing was being used inappropriately. I was threatened (literally) by an administrator who said, "The parents of young girls might complain about you. It might be wise to think about other paths."

And so I went back to programming and selling computers for two or three years, knowing I had nothing to do with what was happening in the lab.

Technology comes with responsibilities. Once it costs you a job, you realize it isn't always used wisely.


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