Posting in Education
Rapid changes in technology over the last 30 years have not served educators well. Billions were wasted on systems that became obsolete. Not enough was spent on training, and support was also neglected. The result is that today's public schools are little changed from those of 20 or even 30 years ago.
It's called dysgraphia.
My parents dealt with it by getting me a typewriter.
Flash forward 35 years. My son is dysgraphic. But there are no typewriters.
PCs wiped out the typewriter market but the PCs of the late 1990s were too heavy, expensive, and fragile to take to school. Even in high school my dysgraphic son got dinged by teachers because of his handwriting.
This is just one example of how computing has failed education. The rapid evolution of PCs in the 1980s and 1990s caused investments in "computer-aided education" to be wasted, as this year's software could not run on last year's hardware.
The training curve of teachers never caught up to what upper middle-class kids could access at home, and schools fell behind.
If my kids were 10 years younger there would be a solution to their problem. Netbooks first emerged in force last year. They're fully functioning PCs but they have no moving parts. This means they are rugged by definition. And they're dirt cheap -- even a Windows version can be had for under $300.
This still doesn't answer for kids whose parents can't put $300 in their hands. Most of my son's high school classmates were like that.
One solution tried in my son's senior year was to get rid of Windows, installing Linux terminals in classrooms linked to a central server.
I was impressed with this solution when I first saw it but my son recently revealed that it didn't work in practice. A shortage of support funds meant many of the terminals just refused to boot. They weren't stolen, as older PCs were, because once disconnected they were useless. They became paperweights.
The rapid changes in technology that have marked the last 30 years have not served educators well. Billions were wasted on systems that quickly became obsolete. Not enough was spent on training, and support was also neglected.
The result is that today's public schools are little-changed from those of 20 or even 30 years ago. Most public school teachers still lecture from blackboards. Most lessons are still found in books. Backpacks have just gotten heavier.
Fortunately smarter solutions may be coming.
Internet-based learning systems require no upgrades at the school level. Any terminal with a broadband connection will do, so long as the system is maintained. This will give teachers the time they need to learn how to adapt what's available to what their kids are doing, and in time change their teaching methods from "the sage on the stage" to "the guide at the side."
As to my son? He's a high school graduate now, starting college classes next semester. And he'll be bringing my netbook with him. He can take notes with it, output them to a stick memory if they need to be printed there, or he can access tests and lessons from home.
It has taken much longer than I expected but this marriage of PCs and education may finally be about to become a beautiful friendship.
Feel free to add your own computers-in-education horror stories below.
Sep 29, 2009
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...you point out the superior approach that private schools take towards implementing technology in the classroom. And then in the next paragraph you repeat as to how public schools fail at it. And then for some inconceivable reason, you then decide to take a political shot by saying that "conservatives can't see that if the majority of kids don't learn they won't make productive employees..." Dana, we DO see it! Conservatives have been harping for decades about the uneducated masses being dumped upon the economic landscape by the Soviet-style public educational monopolies and how it is a disaster for America. And to say that our public educational system is "Soviet style" is not hyperbole. It discourages competition and wastes resources in the name of central control. I think it's liberals, who overwhelmingly control education in this country and resist all efforts at reform (charter schools, vouchers, etc) that you should have the problem with. That is, unless you're satisfied with the idea that your high school kids got their economic and scientific educations not from knowledgeable teachers, or even working with hands-on technology, but by watching DVDs from Micheal Moore and Al Gore.
As a Systems Integrator and VAR, I was on contract with several local school districts to provide support from the early 90's. Today, I still provide backup support for two districts with professional IT staffs. My sharpest memory of that period is how clueless most teachers were compared to the kids. My 16 year old son did most of the Internet lock down work and as far as I know, none of the students every got around him. The situation is much better today primarily because the districts have good, and expensive, IT departments. Most teachers are still lost. Regarding the comment about conservatives in the previous post, public school kids aren't given a decent education. They have to work at it and earn it. That means rigorous courses and high standards. More money is not the answer.
I was shocked to learn after my kids graduated high school just how many movies they had watched in class in lieu of actually learning something. You're right -- TVs and DVDs are the big classroom innovation of the decade. In public school systems, the big problems today are maintenance and training. They don't budget for it. They do in private schools, and as a result private school kids are way, way ahead of public school kids...that gap is growing. Somehow conservatives can't see that if the majority of kids don't learn they won't make productive employees, and those jobs will go to foreigners. That's what has been happening. I can't tell you how many H1-Bs I see doing work American public school kids could have learned to do had they only been given a decent education.
I was mainstreamed, but too many people with ADHD today are considered disabled and put in "special classes." In fact, for one of my son's end of course tests, he was taken to a special room with the dyelexics even though he would later get college credits for the same subject, without any support. Don't get me started on that.
The internet solution does indeed appear to be the best one since it isn't hardware dependent but you still have to have a computer of some sort to access it. There are millions of used machines around that can be given to those in need for little or no cost as long as someone in the food chain doesn't insist on kids having the latest and greatest. Not to be indelicate, Dana, but schools have come a long way. There was a time not so long ago when you and your son would have been placed in special ed classes with your condition.
..."silver bullets", not well integrated solutions. Every generation has had what they had hoped would be the technological silver bullet. When I was in high school, the next big thing was going to be cable TVs in every classroom. Overhead projectors was a pretty effective technology from the '50s and '60s. I hear that the "digital wall" is the big thing now. But as we know from the corporate world, effective IT is neither cheap nor easy. It requires extensive investment, user education, and ongoing support to be effective. Most of the educational establishment doesn't seem to be capable of it. The highly political nature of public education drives the educracy towards the Hail Mary approach of large up-front investment, but poor follow-up. Budget processes are mostly about procurement and not ongoing support and growth. Schools aren't used to life-cycles defined in months instead of years or decades. Complex integration is illusive. That's probably why TVs with cheap VCRs proved more useful than cable TV programming in every classroom.