The Need for Technology-Based Tools (and Funding) in All Schools

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Dr. Geoffrey H. Fletcher, Editor-in-ChiefWenatchee, Wash., is a small city — about a three-hour drive from theSeattle area — located through a snowy pass, over the Cascades anddown the eastern side into the Icicle Valley. Miles and miles of wheatfields are to the east, the foothills of the Cascades are to the west, and groves of appletrees just starting to blossom are everywhere. As I walk down the main street of thisfarming/ranching/tourist town in my speechmaking clothes, I feel as if I’m back inTexas with everyone in jeans, cowboy boots and 10-gallon hats.

I’m in Wenatchee to speak at a conference for architects, facilities plannersand school administrators. My topic, “Enhancing Student Learning via EmergingTechnologies,” is up against others such as “School Design With Security in Mind,”“Sick Building Syndrome” and “Facilities, Program Needs and Local Culture.”Fortunately, my session is full. During the Q&A period following my talk, the range ofquestions and comments reminds me of why we in technology need to go to conferencessuch as this. I mostly fielded the typical questions and comments: How do we getteachers to embrace technology? Are school people serious about wireless technology?What would you require regarding technology for a new middle school that will be inuse for 50 years?

But then an individual queried, “My wife teaches special-education students. Theydon’t need all this technology, do they?” I looked at the questioner; he was serious andsincere. I quickly checked to see if I had become slack-jawed with my eyes buggingout. Luckily, my experience as a bureaucrat with legislators had been good trainingfor unexpected questions like this. Mentally, I immediately dismissed a few possibleresponses such as the sarcastic, “No, they don’t need pencils or books either,” and thedismissive, “Yes, they do. Next question?”

What I should have done was touch on a variety of topics from the philosophical tothe research-based to the practical. On the philosophical side, I should have said that allstudents must have the appropriate tools to do their jobs, just like all of us need tools— often technology-based tools — to do our jobs. For instance, a carpenter friendof mine makes lists on a PDA so that he is able to e-mail lumber and parts orders. Ishould have talked about the assistive technology research that Dr. Ted Hasselbringis doing at the University of Kentucky. I should have mentioned a few of the practicalthings technology can do, such as enlarge text and provide audio for people withimpaired vision. What I will do is provide a copy of this month’s T.H.E. Journal to thequestioner in my session, because this issue addresses how I should have responded.

Practical Uses of Technology

This issue begins with the philosophical assumption that all students and teachersmust have access to the appropriate tools to help students learn. Wang provides a review of the literature associated with using technology to teach languages,especially as it relates to acquiring a second language. Then Weir describes theresults of interviews with disabled students who are taking her online classes. Based on thisfeedback, as well as research in the field, the author provides tips for people developingonline courses to ensure students with disabilities will have easier access to the technology.

On the more practical side, Bowerman describes how she sets up the technologyand conducts her classroom of diverse learners in an Arizona school. Our applicationsstories also share three uses of technology to accomplish specific goals. St. Barbara Schoolin Santa Ana, Calif., chose technology to help it communicate with its large populationof ESL students, while the Texas School for the Deaf uses whiteboards to assist the teachingand learning processes among its deaf and hard-of-hearing students. Finally, CharlesCounty Public Schools in Maryland describes its rigorous process for selecting a programto take over much of the tracking and administration of special-education programs soteachers can spend more time working with their students. So, as you can see, this is a greatissue to put in the hands of people asking questions about technology for all students.

Standing on Your Own

As you’ve probably heard, U.S. Secretary of Education Margaret Spellings has directedthe Education Department to create new rules on the testing of special-education students.These rules, expected out this summer, will provide additional flexibility andoptions for states and districts. We can only hope that this new-found — and sensible— approach will carry over into a more logical funding strategy for NCLB’s EnhancingEducation Through Technology (EETT) program. On a similar note, be sure to read allof this month’s The Final Word column by Jon Bower, CEO of Lexia LearningSystems, titled “Why We’re Better Off Without EETT.” Get past the title and I think youwill find he makes a number of good points. One major quarrel I do have with his argument,however, is pitting “traditional materials” (whatever they are) against technology.This over-simplified dichotomy may be to make a point, but I would argue that we needboth “traditional materials” and technology. If there is a “fixed pie” budget, then each stateand district must have the flexibility to purchase what it needs from year to year.

The underlying question Bower raises — when, if ever, do you wean yourself fromdedicated funding and “stand on your own” — is a good one. President Bush’s budgetraises that question with technology. As always, if you have a different answer than thepresident, let your representatives and senators know.

This article originally appeared in the 05/01/2005 issue of THE Journal.

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