When I first started college I bought a calculator. It was from Radio Shack, and it was hand-held, did basic math functions, had an LED display and cost, if you adjust for inflation, about what a laptop computer costs today. There are pre-kindergarten children today using technology that is vastly more advanced then what I had access to, and the pace is still accelerating.
One of the problems faced by schools during the last decade was a lack of understanding at the administrative levels of the technology they were trying to deploy. This led to funding of systems that largely remained unused due to incomplete implementations or bad product selections. In many cases the students knew far more about the technology then the teachers or administrators.
I’ve seen instances where decisions were made that put in place massive server farms without any consideration for what would connect to them, leaving no money to provision the classrooms. I’ve also seen desktop technology selections that are so non-standard that they couldn’t connect to back-end systems, making them expensive to administer and creating a situation where the students had difficulty finding jobs because there was no market for their skills.
Schools are getting smarter, however, and the industry is stepping up to provide resources not only to help in the critical deployment phase of the process, but also to provide the critical skills needed to help teachers use this technology to better train our kids.
This topic came up two weeks ago when I did a radio tour, funded by Gateway, to showcase how technology was now being effectively deployed in schools. To prepare for the tour I had to do some extra research, and I was amazed at how much was going on.
K Through 12
Living on the west coast, I have an impression that the middle of the United States is a bit behind in technology. Kansas and Iowa, as a result, are not the first places I would go to look for innovation in education. Nothing could be farther from the truth.
Wichita has the largest school district in Kansas, with 50,000 students, and it is in the midst of one of the most impressive technology deployments in education. This includes new desktop, notebook and tablet PCs. This is a complex deployment made easier because the core vendor has been doing a lot of these kinds of deployments, and that experience is paying off.
While the change is complex — including servers as well as client hardware — asset-tracking and other tools critical to making a school deployment a success have been designed in at the front end to ensure that the result is successful and within budget targets.
Not to be topped, Pocahontas Area Community Schools, in Iowa, is rolling out an integrated solution that includes tablet computers and digital projectors to replace the aging TVs, VCRs and overhead projectors. Teachers are now able to guide students through virtual tours of exotic, historical and mythical locations where the only limitation is the imagination.
At Pocahontas the tablet computers are also used to keep home-bound children up to date though e-mailed lesson plans, notes, presentation material and even streaming video. This allows the absent student to keep up with the class material and reduces the tendency both to leave certain students behind and to force sick children to go to school and expose other children to the illness.
This is applied technology, not technology for its own sake, and it showcases the kind of thinking that is needed to revitalize education as one of this nation’s most critical resources.
As you would expect, students going to college have, for some time, been using personal computer technology to expand their horizons. One of the recent trends is to switch to mobile products so that they can work more collaboratively and dynamically with other students and groups.
Tablet computers are playing a big roll here because they are seen by professors as more capable presentation tools and because, being flat on the desk, they don’t put a screen barrier between the instructor and the student. The students are better able to express themselves visually without getting up from their seats, and with the proliferation of wireless technology students and professors are finding it easier and more productive to be mobile.
Such implementations are in place everywhere four-year institutions like Winona State University in Minnesota to two-year schools like San Juan College in the Four Corners region of the Southwest. Interestingly, two-year schools are often more innovative because they are more likely to be administrated by managers from the private sector who know the best ways to use this technology to cut costs and improve learning. The United States heartland is stepping up to the challenge of student education, and that can only be good for the nation.
Intel Inside Schools
Intel has rolled out an impressive set of resources to help teachers and parents best make use of the PC tools they already have. These programs are largely run by ex-teachers who have a passion for their work, and that work is educating teachers and parents on how to do their instructional jobs in more interesting, more creative and more successful ways.
Intel’s site is updated daily with new lesson plans, advice, and commentary by teachers accessing it around the world. One interesting tool is the story finder. Say you wanted to know how other classes were using handheld computers to learn. Intel gives you a simple formto fill out. You check a couple of boxes, and then you have the related stories organized by grade level.
One story tells how students teamed up with farmers to gather data on lizards. The real goal was to improve the state benchmarks in social studies, math, writing, reading, communication and science. The teachers won awards for the project, and the students left with a broad understanding of not only the world they lived in but how to do research. These skills should make them vastly more competitive as they enter the job market, and in this case they probably will be more environmentally aware as well.
Other sections help teach students how to analyze complex systems; learn cause-and-effect relationships; use visual tools to organize information; improve math skills; and explore rudimentary engineering. The site also has an extensive section on career development for teachers.
It is one of the most impressive resources I’ve ever seen, and one that could substantially benefit the children and the teachers who use it.
Companies like Intel and Gateway are doing their part for our most valuable resource, our kids. Too many schools, however, don’t know about, or use, these resources.
Take a look at what these showcase schools are doing and ask yourself if your school district is doing its job to prepare your kids for the technological future.
If not, maybe it is time to point out that these resources exist and that your district should begin to introduce them. There is no investment with a greater return than an investment in our children.
Rob Enderle, a TechNewsWorld columnist, is the Principal Analyst for the Enderle Group, a consultancy that focuses on personal technology products and trends.