My family has a shared interest in education. Today I am interviewing my sister, Tara Mason, who is a doctoral student in special education at Texas Tech University. As part of her five year doctoral program, she is planning to minor in educational technology. Previously, Tara served as a special education teacher at the Texas School for the Blind and Visually Impaired as well as an English and art teacher at a small private school in Austin, TX. In addition to her doctoral studies, Tara currently observes and evaluates first year teachers in their K-12 public school classrooms all over Austin. Her primary areas of study are student learning, effective instruction, and incorporation of technology in the classroom.
The topic of educational technology is receiving a great deal of attention. For the sake of todayâ€™s discussion, we have decided to focus on three primary areas of concern with the understanding that there are many challenges related to the effective use of technology (to be discussed in another interview, perhaps!).Â So to beginâ€¦
The first issueâ€¦
Question: Is technology being used effectively in classrooms to meet all the needs of all learners? If teachers have technology to implement, are they doing so and do they feel confident using the various tools at their disposal?
Taraâ€™s Answer: When looking at the Texas STaR Chart for 2010, 30.4% of teachers report that there are 5-9 students per computer in their school with 50% access to the internet in each classroom (Developing Tech & Infrastructure). The â€˜Target Techâ€™ goal for Texas classrooms includes descriptions such as: campus wide support and competitive grant funding for one-on-one instruction, on-demand access to technology and internet for all students. In addition, the teacher serves as a facilitator, co-learner, and mentor with students accessing on-demand activities that are seamlessly integrated across all content areas. The number of Texas teachers who identify with this level of technology integration is reported as 0.9%. That means that only 73 of the total 8,087 educators surveyed across Texas believe their classroom is currently meeting the â€˜Target Techâ€™ goal.
There are numerous reasons why we are so far from the target for technology integration but when measuring feedback from teachers on the front-line, it is clear we have a long way to go. The STaR Chart presents questions such as: What technology is available? How much district or school infrastructure support is available? How confident are teachers in implementing this technology? The responses indicate that technology is not available, districts and schools may be at a â€˜moderateâ€™orâ€˜developingâ€™ level of support, and teachers are not confident as to how they should implement technology effectively.
The second issueâ€¦
Question: What are the best, or worst, uses of technology in classrooms and how are teachers learning about what is new and available?
Taraâ€™s Answer: While I personally feel schools should be ahead of the curve with regards to new technology tools, it seems as though they are generally far behind the curve and actually moving backwards in some districts. In response to challenges in enforcing respectful and ethical technology use, some schools are resorting to rules that dictate a â€˜no cell phone campusâ€™ or â€˜no computers or electronic devices in the classroomâ€™. Although these restrictions may seem like a wise option for some classrooms, they severely limit the tremendous opportunity we have to expose students to valuable technology tools that could improve their learning environment.
For instance, the use of a handheld computer, aka a smart phone, for less than $100 per student could allow some classrooms to make significant strides in leveling the playing field for students who may not otherwise have access to the entire world of the internet, digital planning and work products. In addition, these devices can provide an endless stream of applications that can teach, organize, and modify content across the curriculum. Bottom line, by better leveraging these tools properly in the classroom, we have an opportunity to help close the digital divide between the full spectrum of districts, schools and students. My hope is that we can alter our paradigm here; instead of â€˜burning the booksâ€™, how about we teach students how to â€˜read themâ€™?
With regards to educators learning how to use technology, the STaR study indicated that only 57 teachers out of 8,087 reported that there are regular technology-supported projects in addition to online resources available (Target Tech & Educator Preparation).
The third issueâ€¦
Question: What professional activities are taking place to address the lack of technology implementation and educatorsâ€™ability to leverage these tools?
Taraâ€™s Answer: This issue is primarily related to professional development and university certification programs that attempt to address the issue of technology integration in K-12 classrooms. In light of the fact several schools and districts seem behind in embracing technology, one would hope that PD and certification programs are picking up the slack and addressing the need.
However, I have not seen evidence of this. Instead, I have had very little exposure to innovative technology as a participant of continuing education sessions and tech-related certification programs. If I have to sit through one more professional development or university level course that highlights the latest pen palprogram as the hallmark of advanced technology integration I think I will scream! Pen palling with students from other countries is a wonderful multi-cultural project and practical exercise to help students think about being world citizens instead of xenophobes. However, e-mailing or writing letters in Word and mailing them to a distant location only scratches the surface of what technology has to offer!
Closing Thoughts: What are the opportunities and where can we go from here?
Students should be engaging with technology on a daily basis to reinforce core curriculum in the classroom. They could be writing classroom books and publishing them in an online store that will fund a new set of computers for the school. Beyond that, students could leverage technology to share articles, music clips or movie shorts on YouTube and engage with other students in Second Life for a debrief presentation. Student should be innovating, designing, experimenting and learning through the rich platform that only our latest and greatest technology can provide.
Through technology, students have the ability to discover new ways of learning and developing curiosity for the world at their fingertips. In order for students to believe that schools have something to offer them, I believe our learning institutions need to be at least as engaged in the use of technology as our society is; otherwise students will lose interest quickly. Who could blame them?
In response to this interview, we are curious to hear the opinions of other educators out there who may have similar frustrations or alternatively, success stories from their own district, school or classroom.
Please respond to this post and share your thoughts!
“Texas STaR Chart.” Texas STaR Chart. Texas Education Agency. Web. 21 Feb. 2012. http://starchart.epsilen.com/