Thursday, September 27, 2007

Technology in Education- Part5

The Future

Teaching students how to use technology is the most important skill we give our students after teaching reading. Some people have even suggested that the term literacy be changed to mean a combination of reading and technology skills.

I believe that instructional technology is this important, not because this is my job, but because I have eyes and can see how the world is changing. The world is driven by technology like never before. If you have no technology skills, you are virtually unemployable in this society. Project that into the future 10 years, or 20 years. Isn't it reasonable to assume that technology will play a more important role than today? If this is true, then are we adequately preparing our students for that future if technology is not a large part of what we teach them?

Unless the there is some sort of major catastrophe like a nuclear war, or comet impact, the old days are gone forever. What will today’s teacher do when suddenly the world is alien to them and technology becomes the teacher, their role is a facilitator, their only task is to make sure students continue to work on their computer?

Computers never tire of repeating the same material, and they can immediately move to the next topic keeping pace with the student’s needs. They don’t get an attitude after repeating the same material for the forth time, or even the hundredth time.

Have you played video games lately? Guitar Hero, and Dance Dance Revolution are examples of games that were not even dreamed of in my early days of Pong and Space Invaders. These new games teach you how to play the game as you play. When this same type of approach is applied to classroom instruction, teachers should start thinking about new employment opportunities.

Computers can accept speech input, hand writing and eye movement. Have you seen Microsoft’s new computer? Or what about the laser keyboard? How long will it be before teachers are not needed to teach computer skills? I don’t think it will be very long at all.

This might be a shocking idea to many, but what is a teacher’s salary? Let’s say an average of $35K. How much money would it cost to replace 5 out of ten teachers with computers for each of those teacher’s (who are leaving) students? How long would the equipment be usable? If you start to think like that, in terms of money, it is possible to see that it could happen. School divisions are political bodies whose main concern is the student and the bottom line. There is little loyalty, if any, for the teachers who do the daily work of instructing students. Computers don’t cause a fuss when they get replaced by a newer, cheaper model that does more.

If a teacher can’t teach the skills needed to use the tools that the world uses, and it won’t be long before the tools themselves will be able to do the teaching, will the problem and the solution come together in our lifetime? If a teacher is an effective technology user, and instructor of technology skills, this will ensure the teacher a job, at least in the short term future. If you are still not convinced, ask the factory workers who lost their jobs to robots. No one thought that could happen, but it did.

The problem is that non-native technology users avoid using new tools because they don't feel they get anything from it. It takes work to figure out the new tools, and the payoff is not that great. My argument is that these skills will keep them employable as teachers, at least for a few more years. Did I forget to mention that in my state there are technology standards for instructional personnel? Sure the standards are sketchy at best, and require the school divisions to define what the standards mean, but they are out there. They are sure to be revised soon. I mean, they are 9 years old now and many people have worked hard to define the skills teachers need, and let's not forget that the technology that the world uses has changed. A revision of the technology standards for teachers is sure to happen because the work world decides what the educational system needs.

My school system has a technology proficiency test that teachers must pass to stay employed. The test is a joke. It was a joke in 1998 and I don’t think that the test has changed at all since then. Never mind that the technology has changed. You only have to pass it once and you are set for life- until they change the rules. I don’t fault my school system for this; I blame the state for creating a set of weak guidelines.

A teacher’s goal is to teach the SOLs and anything that takes them away from this is not considered a productive use of time. The funny thing to me is that there are SOLs for technology, but because they are not tested, they are not taken seriously. The teacher’s technology test is a joke and some teachers actually brag about being computer illiterate and passing the test. And stupid me, I wonder why no one is serious about using technology. It really comes down to how well a teacher can avoid technology. Maybe if teachers thought that their livelihood was at stake they might take technology more seriously and really work at learning to use it. Perhaps the teachers who do not see the benefit of technology are just waiting for retirement. In the meantime, how many students are missing out on a quality education? What will their future be like?

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