Thursday, March 31, 2011

Technology for students is not optional

How does one get across the importance of technology--for providing access to information for students--to those who still look at tech as an expensive add on? Since we all went to school, too many have the tendency to look back at their education and what it looked like and theorize that it should still work for today’s students. This is flawed reasoning. I always like the analogy that has been drawn many times before that compares modern medicine with what was done medically in the past. Would you go to a doctor who still practiced medicine like it was practiced 50 years ago, just because that medical practice produced cures back then? Of course you wouldn’t. You want your doctor to use all the advancements of modern medicine to diagnose and cure you. We owe the same to our students in classrooms.

I remember learning history from ten year old textbooks that were probably outdated the day they arrived in the classroom. I remember working from five year old workbooks that we couldn’t write in, because they had to be reused year after year. I remember typing papers with typewriters that even with the correction ribbon ended up too messy to use, requiring typing over again. I remember filing index cards of information for debate in file boxes we could hardly carry. Did I learn? You better believe it. I amassed a spectacular foundation of learning that made me an ardent (perhaps obsessive!) lifelong learner. Is it the way I want my children educated? Absolutely not. It’s not the way we do things in today's world.

The point is that information is available from the Internet now. Why would we ever think there’s an alternative to that? Sure, books are great, and I still buy books, but I would never think books could stand alone anymore. Information needs to be gathered, evaluated, analyzed, synthesized, organized, and used to create new products and new thoughts. How do we do that? We do that with technology now. A school is unfair to its students if the people in it or around it think you can learn to your highest capacity without the greatest source of information in the world today, the Internet. Individuals buying insurance, shopping for merchandise, evaluating health options, hiring employees, researching the law, finding recipes, picking cell phones, collaborating with others, working in all industries, all industries. The work place has changed. Homes have changed. Education must continue to change.

We would never put our students behind the wheel of a car without teaching them behind the wheel of a car. Why would we ever think it’s OK to educate without putting the source of information in the hands of our students and teaching them to use it wisely? Technology will never replace teachers. Never. I believe that adamantly, and I’ve posted about it before. However, that doesn’t make technology optional. From PreK through advanced degrees, technology in the hands of students is imperative. We need people and connected technology, and we better continue to figure out how to make that happen financially in our schools.

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