Educators' Acceptance of Computer Technology?
The use of technology as a tool in education for instruction and management is now accepted. But, I remember my own experiences as director of instructional systems and technology for the Philadelphia School District many years ago, when technology was thought to be a frill. Every year, when budgets were submitted and items needed to be eliminated, we had to justify our use of technology. Finally, the superintendent decided to eliminate the programs requiring technology in favor of football and other sports activities. I'm sure other school systems were similarly affected. I met the superintendent many years later, after I resigned, and she admitted she might have been wrong.
Now that technology is accepted in schools, the search for new applications and justification for spending on those applications, hardware and professional development is ongoing. Many conferences, workshops and meetings are held on these topics. At the Florida Educational Technology Conference held in Orlando last month, more than 200 educational sessions and about 500 exhibits provided opportunities for attendees to learn what was happening in Florida, as well as in other locations. I had an opportunity to ask a number of attendees why they were enthusiastic about using technology. In addition to helping them do a better job in teaching and enabling students to be better learners, the following reasons were most often expressed for why they were so passionate about using technology in the classroom:
The need for professional development is recognized and ongoing. Students are using technology effectively, but its use is not universal. Drastic changes in methodology are needed as technology is incorporated into the curriculum. In a survey conducted in the spring 2001 semester at Southwestern University, 97 percent of students said they owned at least one computer and were connected to the residential network. Also, 23.8 percent reported computer use was an integral part of their high school learning most or all of the time, while 31.5 percent said they rarely or never used a computer. Students generally come to the university with word processing and Internet skills. However, they lack the understanding of Internet structure and databases; what a computer can and cannot do; as well as the skills and knowledge to understand and use information technology.
Increasing availability of free resources. Many companies such as National Geographic and Encyclopedia Britannica offer free resources. AOL@SCHOOL is a free online service for K-12 educators. It offers six online learning portals that provide Web sites chosen by educators for professional development, administrative help and resources, as well as the ability to search for subject and age-specific lesson plans. The Regional Technology in Education Consortia (R*TEC) is located in 10 regions of the United States. They provide leadership assistance for K-12 schools and offer a range of technology support, including professional development, assistance, technology planning and guidance in using new technology. The U.S. Department of Education's Office of Student Financial Assistance Programs has launched a new Free Application for Federal Student Aid Web site at http://fafsa.ed.gov, making the application process for student financial aid faster, more efficient and more accessible.
Standards are becoming available and usable. The International Society for Technology in Education, funded by the Education Department, has prepared National Educational Technology Standards for students, teachers and administrators. The Technology Standards for School Administrators (TSSA), published in November 2001, specifically defines what administrators need to know and do to implement systematic reform through the use of technology. Thirteen institutions collaborated on this document, including the American Association of School Administrators, the national associations for both elementary and secondary school principals, and the National School Boards Association. You can find the TSSA standards online at http://cnets.iste.org/tssa/framework.html.
Partnerships and cooperative efforts. Teams of individuals - i.e., administrators, faculty, students, IT staff and parents - are working together to implement technology. Institutions are seeking help from, and partnering with, those that are more advanced in technological implementations. For example, Cabrini College, a small liberal arts college outside of Philadelphia, is partnering with Drexel University, also in Philadelphia, which is noted for its technological innovations. Drexel's program was initiated in 1983 when all of its students were required to have access to a computer. Drexel was also one of the first universities to become completely wireless. Both Cabrini and Drexel staff members will support Cabrini's IT needs, including faculty development and integration into the curriculum. In addition, Drexel has the opportunity to maximize its resources and assist Cabrini at a cost considerably less than using outside vendors.
Partnerships between businesses and educators are also increasing to make technology more available to students and teachers. Last December, Maine signed a four-year, $37.2 million contract with Apple to supply laptop computers to the state's seventh- and eighth-grade students. Apple plans to equip 33,000 students and 3,000 teachers with books, wireless networks, training and technical support. Georgia's Gov. Roy Barnes announced a partnership with AOL last November, which was a statewide initiative to provide school systems throughout the state with AOL's service. In addition, both hardware and software companies are now providing consultants to work with educators. For example, NetSchools Education Services provides consultants for coaching, to review lesson plans, to help teachers diagnose student problems, and to offer strategies for better performance.
Increased use of the Internet. The 2001 Market Data Retrieval report states that 80 percent of schools offer some form of dedicated Internet access. Instructors at all levels find assignment listings, lesson plans, communication with parents, etc. of great assistance. Online courses are also part of the curriculum offerings. For six years, the University of Central Florida (UCF) distributed learning programs that compared student and faculty issues on the use of the Web. About 75,000 UCF students from Web courses - both fully online classes, as well as courses that feature a combination of face-to-face and online integration - have been involved. They have found courses that feature both the Web and face-to-face presence produced the same or superior success rates when compared to similar face-to-face or fully online courses. It has become extremely important for educational institutions to serve residential students as well as those who cannot come to campus. However, despite this increased use of the Internet, we have not yet begun to understand how to use the Web most effectively in education.
Government, state and local support is expected to increase.The "No Child Left Behind" 2002 education school budget is forcing schools to be accountable for their students' learning through mandatory annual testing that will require the assistance of technology for both testing and instruction. Districts in which 15 percent or more of their students come from low-income families will have more flexibility in how they spend Title I money. But, big cities such as Chicago, which gains 29 percent more in Title I allocations, tend to gain the most.
Many states are also involved with statewide initiatives on the use of technology. For example, the Florida Department of Education provides financial support in incorporating schoolwide technologyas part of the school improvement process. Local school systems, in their desire for reform, are spending more on technology with funds from local referendums, businesses and parent groups.
However, money for research in education has declined. U.S. universities and colleges conduct about 48 percent of all basic research in the country, with the federal government funding nearly half of that. In the past 10 years, the majority of increases in federal and state support have been in medicine and the life sciences. For the physical sciences, computer science and engineering, basic research funding has declined more than 20 percent over the last decade. It is also interesting to note that President George W. Bush's fiscal 2003 budget boosts IT spending by 15.6 percent over fiscal 2002, as the country wages war on terrorism. This increase is in sharp contrast to the 1 percent increase in IT spending last year. Educators have also requested a 1 percent increase from the fiscal 2002 budget of $574.7 billion to $580.3 billion in the fiscal 2003 budget. An agency-by-agency comparison of 2003 IT funding is posted on Federal Computer Week's Web site at www.fcw.com/fcw/articles/2002/0218/how.pdf.
As educators, we must keep with technology, which is moving so quickly it becomes obsolete before we have a chance to understand its implications and applications.
This article originally appeared in the 04/01/2002 issue of THE Journal.