Integrating Technology Throughout Education

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We in technology and education certainly are getting mixed messages these days. Consider the following points: First, a goal of the No Child Left Behind (NCLB) Act is that all students will be technologically literate by the end of the eighth grade. The definition of “technologically literate” is left up to the states, and there is no requirement for states to report their progress on this goal. Second, the NCLB Act requires states to show how they will ensure that technology is integrated throughout all of their curriculum and instruction by Dec. 31, 2006. States are not required to report on the extent to which they are meeting this task; thus, obviously, there are no sanctions when they do not meet the requirement. Finally, the House Appropriations Committee has approved a $91 million cut to the Enhancing Education Through Technology program, the only program in NCLB with dedicated technology funding, for the next fiscal year. Well, perhaps the message is not so mixed, at least from the U.S. House of Representatives.

At the state level, state departments of education are still reeling from tight budgets; budget cuts; and in some cases, such as Texas, the complete obliteration of their technology departments. But as Marc Tucker and Thomas Toch indicate in “The Secret to Making NCLB Work? More Bureaucrats” in the September 2004 issue of Phi Delta Kappan, the states - not local school districts - “are responsible for reshaping their education systems to produce higher student performance” (p. 30). Yet the states are not set up to do that. Bill Insko of the Kentucky Department of Education is quoted in the same article as saying, “We’re set up to handle tens of schools ... NCLB is requiring us to work with hundreds.”

So states are understaffed and unprepared to deal with the most pressing part of NCLB: getting underperforming schools up to speed. Those at the top of state departments of education have little time or inclination to be concerned with technology requirements that do not even need to be reported to the feds. Despite these mixed messages and budget difficulties, there are enormous and promising efforts going on:

  • State technology staffs are struggling to do good things, as was shown in our July issue with the State Educational Technology Directors Association. They do see the importance of technology in education and are working to implement meaningful projects.
  • ISTE, CoSN and SIIA are lobbying to restore the proposed cut mentioned above.
  • The Partnership for 21st Century Skills is working with the industry, teacher organizations and others to define 21st century skills and work them into standards nationwide.

Couple these efforts with a compelling commentary by Frank Levy and Richard J. Murnane in the Sept. 1 issue of Education Week, which is based on their book The New Division of Labor: How Computers Are Creating the Next Job Market, and you get continuing and growing rationale and evidence for the importance of technology and education. The authors, both economists, explain that every job requires processing of information, whether the information is words, numbers, sounds, etc. Computers do well with tasks that are clearly and consistently defined by rules, and these tasks are also the easiest to send overseas. They go on to discuss three types of workplace tasks that cannot be carried out by simply following rules: (1) identifying and solving new problems called expert thinking; (2) complex human interactions, including teaching, marketing, etc. called complex communication; and (3) physical activities in the service sector such as custodial work, restaurant work, etc. The authors point out that computers have taken care of a lot of the jobs in the rule-making area, and the jobs that have increased in the last decade or so have been at either end of the wage spectrum - service sector and expert thinking. The key to student success for this new job distribution is to increase students’ abilities in expert thinking and complex communication. They do not support adding new courses in these areas; rather, they advocate that the core subjects emphasize solving problems and that communication skills be augmented. As to technology’s role in all of this, they believe that the “access digital divide” has largely been eliminated - a point with which I do not agree. They say that the higher digital divide facing us now is between those who can use computers to do “valuable work” and those who cannot. The authors believe that our curriculum must be altered so all students can use computers to do valuable work.

All this argues for integrating technology throughout all of schooling and administration, not just in curriculum and instruction. Furthermore, the curriculum we need in today’s schools should not be an outdated, 19th century, lockstep curriculum that assesses knowledge and skills solely through multiple-choice tests. Hank Becker has research showing that when teachers have significant access to technology and are provided high-quality professional development on using technology with students, they are more likely to be teachers who use constructivist (not a term you hear about a lot lately) approaches to teaching and learning. This style is highly consistent with student-centered methods of learning, one of ISTE’s 10 essential conditions for using technology effectively in schools. We need to realize that technology affects all of education, much like a rock thrown into the calm surface of a pond ultimately affects the entire surface of the pond.

One thing we must do is revisit our state and national core content standards for students and teachers. Can we have science standards with no mention of technology when scientists rely so heavily on technology to do science? Can we have English/Language Arts standards with no mention of technology when most anyone who writes a sentence in his or her job uses word processing, and anyone in the business world doing research g'es to the Internet for information? We need to bring our curriculum up to 21st century reality. We need to assess our students’ knowledge and skills in a way that is consistent with how that knowledge and those skills are used in the real world. This is the context in which we should be integrating technology throughout all of curriculum and instruction.

This article originally appeared in the 10/01/2004 issue of THE Journal.

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