Technology to the Rescue

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It happened again: technology came to my rescue. I know we have all experienced the displeasure of having a bad photo taken of ourselves. We usually just rip them up before anyone ever sees the image. Last Thanksgiving, my family had a photo taken in which my wife and three daughters came out looking beautiful, while I came out looking almost criminal. I wanted to make copies of the photo to send to our family and friends, but not with my horrible image. So with a scanner, along with lots of cutting, cropping, copying and pasting, I was able to superimpose one of my best photos over my very unflattering image. This experience caused me to think of the ways technology has "come to the rescue" in major world-effecting ways, as well as in smaller, more personal ways — especially as it relates to solving educational concerns and issues.

An Invaluable Resource

One of the most dramatic examples of how invaluable a resource technology can be occurred immediately after Sept. 11, 2001. On that infamous day, I had a morning flight from Boston to New York City. We flew over the World Trade Center at 8:40 a.m. — I remember looking down and marveling at the beautiful sight of the towers as they rose far above the city. Six minutes later, the first tower was hit by the terrorists. We are all too well aware of the tragic circumstances of that day. However, what is not as well known is how Avi Duvdevani, who was New York City's acting commissioner for the Department of Information Technology and Telecommunications at the time of the attacks, his team, and numerous businesses and organizations were able to use technology to handle the crisis over the next few days.

The amount of organization that was required to handle the disaster was almost overwhelming, especially considering that the city's telecommunications network was devastated by the attacks. But literally within hours, an entire network was established to enable the various city agencies to pull their resources together and coordinate their activities. Other technological solutions were also utilized; for example, special infrared devices were brought in to track the fires that were raging below ground to help firemen and rescue workers understand what they were dealing with. Keeping accurate track of all the supplies that were needed, as well as the supplies already available and in what quantities, was another Herculean task that was handled through the innovative use of existing technology. The full story is an amazing illustration of how technology came to the rescue of our nation.

There are also powerful applications of technology coming to the rescue and making a difference in the lives of individuals throughout the world. One example is The Child Soldier project (www.childsoldiers.org), which gives a voice to children affected by war. Its purpose is to help stop the incredible evil and misery associated with child combatants. This project is made possible by iEARN, or the International Education and Resource Network (www.iEARN.org), a nonprofit global network that enables young people to use the Internet and other new technologies to engage in collaborative educational projects that both enhance learning and make a difference in the world.

Technology's Tremendous Potential

The previous two cases are powerful examples of technology's capability to help in tragic circumstances. But there are thousands upon thousands of instances of educators, parents and students using technology on a personal level as a solution to overcome barriers and problems.

For example, there's the story of a father who very much wanted to attend a major presentation his son was delivering at school, but he had a time conflict with his work and could not be there. His son was disappointed but understood. Fortunately, the school had the capability to deliver videoconferencing, and the father had a setup for videoconferencing at work. The result: The father was able to view his son's presentation through the power of videoconferencing technology.

There is also the Student TECH CORPS program (www.studenttechcorps.org), which is typical of the range of programs designed to have students come to the rescue of educators in the use of technology. It trains and certifies middle and high school students who then run help desks that provide technical support in their school buildings.

Sir Winston Churchill once said, "A pessimist sees the difficulty in every opportunity; an optimist sees the opportunity in every difficulty." I think we can all agree that technology offers us the great potential to see the opportunity in every difficulty.

Bernard Percy (former editor-in-chief of Converge magazine) is a noted educator, author, producer and Senior Fellow at the Center for Digital Education. Contact him at bcpercy@sbcglobal.net.

This article originally appeared in the 01/01/2004 issue of THE Journal.

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