Students connected, but usage in question

Maryland public school students have more access to computers and the Internet, but how the technology is being used remains a concern, according to a new online study.

Statewide, the student-to-computer ratio dropped from 8-to-1 in 1999 to about 6-to-1 last year. Five years ago, the ratio was 16-to-1, when the Maryland Business Roundtable for Education (MBRT) and state Department of Education first conducted a "technology inventory" of the state's school districts.

About 72 percent of the state's classrooms are connected to the Internet, up from 58 percent in 1999, according to the study, "Where Do We Stand in 2001?"

Disparities in access to technology do exist between schools in counties of lower and higher income levels, but MBRT executive director June Streckfus said the digital divide really manifests itself in the use, integration and application of technology.

Students in wealthier communities are twice as likely than those in poorer communities to use technology to "gather, organize and store information," the report said. "They are three times more likely to use technology to perform measurements and collect data."

The study found that 55 percent of students in schools where poverty levels are higher never use e-mail, electronic bulletin boards or home pages, and 35 percent never use technology to show data in charts or graphs.

"I think we're at a major junction right now," Streckfus said. "We're getting the technology in the classrooms, but we aren't realizing the full potential of putting the learning in the classroom, and [teacher] training is a key piece to that."

Overall, the study found that 87 percent of teachers know how to use a computer and perform basic functions and that 84 percent can browse the World Wide Web and use e-mail. It found that 67 percent can integrate applications in some class activities or help students use technology.

She said Gov. Parris Glendening's proposed budget this year increases funds for teacher training in addition to infrastructure grants. The budget is being considered by the state legislature.

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