The Millennial Classroom

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In this first issue of T.H.E. Journal for the year 2000, let me reflect on the use of technology in education at present, and its utilization in the future. These thoughts are the result of attending recent meetings of Educause, the League for Innovation, the K-12 meeting on Teaching and Learning, and the UNESCO meeting held in Paris titled "Higher Education in the Twenty-First Century — Vision and Action" (www.education.unesco.org).

 

General agreement seems to exist on issues such as:

  • Teachers need at least three years to acquire expertise in using technology:
    Year 1-Mastering technical resources
    Year 2-Exploring the curriculum
    Year 3-Refining classroom applications
  • Education is undergoing rapid and dramatic changes. Technology is helping to meet the learning needs of a diverse population.
  • Business leaders are increasingly vocal in their demand for graduates who can use basic skills, who are capable of working together, who can communicate verbally and in writing, and who can use information to arrive at reasonable conclusions.
  • Educators feel more confident. In a special Newsweek supplement (December 1999-February 2000) President Clinton stated, "We know what works and we know what to do. It comes down to good teachers and good principals, high standards, real accountability and adequate resources." Many states and districts are beginning to mandate skills in basic curriculum.
  • Education is big business. For example, in 1997/1998 K-12 schools spent $5.2 billion on computers. Projected growth for 2001/2002 is $8.8 billion. Increasingly, colleges and universities operate in competitive environments. More than 500 for-profit institutions provide post-secondary education. Privatization, though apt to continue, is not predicted to take over K-12 education. However, private companies are becoming more competitive in seeking the education dollar.
  • The need for lifelong learning is growing as specific skills become obsolete and new ones are needed. Distance Education programs are increasingly used for lifelong learning. Virtual courses need support, library resources, registration, financial, and other services as provided for on-campus students.
  • Sharing of assessment tools and results needs to be expanded. Seton Hall University, N.J. has established the Institute for Technology to develop a national data repository on technology assessment, and has made its instruments available to the higher education community in return for data collection by those tools.

The real digital divide is global and growing. The European Commission has stated that after a country reaches a certain level of development, it has one phone line per 100 inhabitants. Studies suggest that it takes 50 years to get to 50% penetration. Nevertheless, at a UNESCO meeting, representatives of 182 states responsible for general and higher education agreed on a number of issues. For example:

  • The potential of new information and communication technologies for the renewal of higher education should be fully utilized.
  • Higher education should be considered a public service, with public support for higher education and research essential.
  • Networking, which has emerged as a major means of communication, should be based on sharing solidarity and equality among partners.

Higher education is being challenged by new opportunities resulting from technology that is improving the ways in which knowledge can be produced, managed, disseminated, accessed and controlled. Equitable access to these technologies should be ensured at all levels.

Conclusions

How can we determine the best use of technology as we enter the 21st century? Let’s identify what may exist, not for a century, but perhaps for a decade. Schools shall continue to exist, though re-organizations shall occur. A variety and combination of learning locales using technology shall be available, and teachers shall be present. No evidence exists that technology can replace a good teacher. Technologies, such as e-mail, presentation systems, two-way interactive video, sophisticated management systems, etc. will be fundamental to the learning environment. However, technology will not eliminate the need for campuses and residential programs, especially for undergraduates. Traditional educational institutions shall continue to be faced with growing competition from non-traditional educational organizations.

Availability of technology is bringing students to traditional institutions and positive changes in the way teachers teach and students learn. The Internet is modifying the way we learn, work, communicate and play in ways that we are just beginning to imagine. The Internet Revolution, as it is often referred to, is more than about finding resources, but about building relationships, engaging people and communicating — this needs to be taught.

Money is always needed, and it will always need to be spent wisely. Steve Jobs, founder of Apple Computer, when asked if technology could help improve education, stated "I used to think technology could help, but I’ve had to come to the inevitable conclusion that the problem is not one that technology can hope to solve. Throwing money or computers at schools is not sufficient. Infusion of technology will not matter without trained personnel to support implementation."

As we begin this new century, let us acknowledge we still have a great deal more to learn on the use of technology in education. However, we are sure, technology is not a special privilege for only select students. It is a resource and tool for all students and educators.

This article originally appeared in the 01/01/2000 issue of THE Journal.

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