A Lesson Plan for Educational IT

To read the literature on the state of U.S. educational technology, you would think teachers had become one of the biggest stumbling blocks to a perfectly digital, interactive elementary- and secondary-school system -- technology primitives barring the door to classrooms from young, shining faces yearning to be Java-enabled. Often, teachers are portrayed as lacking the computer skills needed to fix a printer jam, much less set up an Internet-based collaborative learning project.

I think teachers are getting a bit of a bad rap. In our cover story this month, several educators point out the need for schools to devote more time to training teachers in basic computer skills and in methods of using technology in the classroom. But certainly teachers aren't alone here. I haven't worked in a business setting yet in which the management echelon (the teacher equivalents) weren't mostly, well, slow in using a computer and running applications.

That's because, like teachers, managers cannot spend the time at the keyboard. Those whose jobs depend on the computer are generally more adept, not only in the operating basics but in seeing ways to blend computing with the corporate processes. So teachers simply need more time with the basic tools -- not an easy commodity to come by during a typical day in the profession.

One suggestion from our story: Issue teachers laptops that they can take home to correct papers, produce handouts, write e-mails and develop lesson plans. Over the summer, organize teacher seminars on ways to use CD-ROM and Internet media in the curriculum. Design collaborative teaching programs as well as learning programs. In other words, seed the technology among teachers as aggressively as among the students.

Also, let's not blame teachers for failing to be up to speed with technology that's not quite up to speed. Despite the amazing learning possibilities that the Internet holds out to K-12 classrooms, data communications is still a temperamental medium, all too frequently subject to outages and breakdowns. It has not yet reached the reliability levels of voice networks or video systems.

Setting up a classroom Internet exercise among 25 to 35 elementary- or secondary-school students requires the organizational skills of a combat-logistics officer. The tools need to be fail-safe in that kind of environment. But when the server goes down, or the local-area network gets overwhelmed -- as it does all too often, even in the best-equipped office -- teachers might be forgiven for being gun-shy about running the exercise the next time.

Preparing the young for 21st-century skills is going to require more than making sure the teachers are trained. School boards, city councils and even vendors must take the heat and share the responsibility.

Paul McCloskey




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