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Back to the Future

An old interview has a lot to say about how far educational technology has come, and how much further it has to go.

At the end of each year, I make a deal with myself to clean out my office. Some things get put into an archive box. In perusing the archive box this year, I came across a copy of an old education and technology magazine called Electronic Learning. Following are excerpts from an interview I found in it.

Question: You rank teacher training as the number one issue in the advancement of educational technology. You also say that without proper support and adequate funding, technology in education will be another fad. Can you elaborate on that?
Answer: I am kind of echoing what I hear a lot when I go out and talk to some business people, or when I talk to school people…who say, “Well, we have seen this before. We saw TV, and everyone said TV was going to save education, and yet it is all the same as it ever was, even when I went to school.”

Q: Do you believe that (educational technology) could possibly just fade away?
A: Yes, I think it really could fade away. And the reason that it could fade away is that we don’t pay attention to the needs of teachers and administrators. I think one way it could be a fad is if we don’t require some kind of planning from districts so that they don’t waste a lot of money. And a second way is if teachers don’t know how to use the technology appropriately in the classroom, and if they are not free to experiment and free to fail sometimes, and still be allowed to go on, then we’re going to have a lot of money spent ineffectively…. A third way that it can become a fad is if we don’t do research: if we don’t know when and if technology is effective, if we don’t know how it changes kids or how it changes how teachers teach or how the teaching-learning process goes on.

Q: Is technology use growing?
A: Overall, the use of technology is growing nationwide. And I’m pleased to see that it’s a broader base than just computers.

What struck me in rereading the interview was how some key points still resonate today. Technology has transcended faddishness, but many critics continue to call it a distraction from the real business of educating children. Effective planning remains a concern. We seem to have moved from technology planning—also known as “What equipment are we going to buy this year?” planning—to integrating technology planning with district and campus improvement plans.

Particularly striking is the forewarning as to the inability of teachers to use technology comfortably in the classroom. This remains a core issue, reflected in the priority educators give to technology-based professional development, which dwells near the top of their lists of needs. Encouraged by the attention given to scientifically based research in No Child Left Behind, companies are beginning to do research on the impact of their products, and provide the outcomes of that research to educators. The federal Office of Education Technology under John Bailey (www.ed.gov/about/offices/list/os/technology/index.html) has begun an ambitious research plan that should soon begin to yield important results.

There has been progress, but I wonder, when I dip into my archive box five or 10 years from now, how familiar the themes of the original interview will be.

What year was the above interview published? Send your best guess to gfletcher@101com.com. I will reveal the answer, and the closest guessers, in a future commentary.

Geoffrey H. Fletcher is the editor at large of this publication.

This article originally appeared in the 02/01/2006 issue of THE Journal.

About the Author

Geoffrey H. Fletcher is the deputy executive director of the State Educational Technology Directors Association (SETDA).

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