The Power and Value of Technology

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There is a constant bombardment of questions, concerns and requests to prove the value and effectiveness of technology's use in education. In essence, educators, policy-makers, students and parents want the truth of its value to become self-evident. The following are two examples that helped me both achieve and confirm the final stage of truth as noted in German philosopher Arthur Schopenhauer's quote: "All truth passes through three stages. First, it is ridiculed. Second, it is violently opposed. Third, it is accepted as being self-evident."

Innovative Use of Technology

The story of Tim Lefens and A.R.T. (Artist Realization Technologies) is one of the most moving and powerful examples of how technology, innovatively implemented by a person of passion and knowledge, can make a difference in the lives of students. In 1992, Lefens was a visiting artist in a classroom for the severely handicapped who intended to inspire the students with his own art; instead, he became inspired by their unrealized potentials. Lefens knew that children and adults with severe physical challenges had a wealth of knowledge, insight and artistic talent waiting and needing to be unleashed from the constraints that their physical condition had put on their ability to create and communicate.

Therefore, Lefens developed a methodology that enabled even quadriplegics to create beautiful works of art that reflect their innermost feelings, values, truths and opinions. To create these works, the artist wears a laser pointer on a headband that allows a light beam to be moved over the canvas where an able-bodied person, a "tracker," applies the paint. The tracker acts only at the command of the artist and through a series of yes-and-no questions to understand the artist's intentions. In addition, Lefens has perfected a way to include photography by using a remote digital video camera that communicates to a monitor or a computer through a wireless transmitter. In the same way students are presented with choices in their painting, they are asked to direct a tracker holding the camera.

I must admit that when I first found out about Lefens' work and heard that some of his students were selling their artistic creations for thousands of dollars, I experienced Schopenhauer's stages of truth. Though I did not ridicule the idea, I thought about how visually appealing their creations could be and wondered if they actually created the works. Then I saw photos of their creations; they were true works of art. There was still a level of opposition in my belief that the students actually created these works of art, until I learned how Lefens implemented technology to overcome his students' physical challenges.

When I read the following comment from one of his students, the truth of the power and value of technology became self-evident: "When I die I want the paintings [to be put] on my grave because the truth is in the paint." I realized that if we can develop a way for such physically challenged individuals to achieve this level of success, there is almost no limit to what we can achieve with the innovative use of technology.

Making a Difference

A less dramatic, yet more personal, example about how technology can make a real difference in the educational life of a student happened this last year. My youngest daughter Maari, who was a senior at the Boston Arts Academy in Massachusetts, decided to leave school the last semester of her senior year to join a band in Los Angeles. Maari was a high honors student and was disappointed that she wouldn't be able to complete her education at the academy and graduate with her friends.

Fortunately, the school principal, Linda Nathan, is one of those educators you read about: innovative, caring and willing to take well-calculated chances to help her students succeed. She had her staff create a program that could be completed via the Inter-net, which allowed Maari to fulfill her graduation requirements.

One of the courses Maari had to complete was a precalculus course that required the use of a $100 graphing calculator. I told her to look online for a free downloadable software program that had the same functionality. Maari found this with GraphCalc (www.graphcalc.com), which she was able to use in her studies and helped her graduate on time.

The truth and value of the use of technology in education is very self-evident to those of us who have personally experienced or witnessed success in its implementation. Some of us have had to push through the previous stages of ridicule and opposition; others bypassed one or both of these earlier stages and now find the use of technology an invaluable tool. It might be an interesting activity to determine what stage individuals are at regarding the use of technology in your organization. But, always remember that the truth of the power and value of technology will become self-evident with persistence and continued effort.

This article originally appeared in the 09/01/2003 issue of THE Journal.

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