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Why do our K-12 schools remain technology-free?

By Lisa Neal / October 2007

TYPE: OPINION
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The digital divide used to be about who had or didn't have technology. Business Week claims the digital divide is now about broadband access. Another take on the divide involves how early one started using technology: "Neo-millennial students," "gamers," "digital natives," and various other terms are used to describe people who grew up with computers in contrast to those (like me) who first used technology as an adolescent—or even later. Marc Prensky said that "today's students think and process information fundamentally differently from their predecessors" and even have different brain structures than digital immigrants. But no matter how you define "digital divide," the growing impact of technology on our daily lives is undeniable—as long as you stay outside the public K-12 classroom.

I went to three back-to-school nights in the past few weeks, for a third grade daughter and for seventh and 10th grade sons. Back-to-school night is when parents visit their children's classrooms and, in the case of the middle and high schools, attend abbreviated versions of each of their children's classes in order to meet teachers and hear about the curriculum. The most sophisticated technology I saw on my visits was a touch-sensitive SMARTboard used by the high school math teacher. A few teachers projected from laptops; for instance, a middle-school gym teacher displayed a school site with schedules for after school sports. Some provided paper handouts or wrote on a whiteboard. While I didn't see the mimeograph machines of my childhood, I did not see major technological transformations in these schools.

Outside of the classroom, many of these teachers, especially in the higher grades, use technology for homework-related communication. Some teachers assign homework to be done online. Students learn how to search and do research online, but they also develop non-technological research skills that include using libraries or, for example, examining the night sky with their own eyes-not through someone else's webcam-though they do know to look for data online when skies are overcast. There is a real fluency to their research skills, and they expect to find whatever they need online (and often do). Of course, there is also heavy use of technology for entertainment purposes.

Given that children in many parts of the world are digital natives, and given that technology and broadband access are widely available, why has the classroom itself changed so little from the classroom of my childhood? I think the real digital divide in education lies in the gulf between today's classrooms and those we'd like to see in our communities—classrooms that effectively integrate technology in a way that measurably improves learning.



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ADDITIONAL READING

    Lisa Neal
  1. Degrees by mail
  2. The Value of Voice
  3. Predictions for 2006
  4. Five questions...for Shigeru Miyagawi
  5. Five questions...
  6. Five questions...for Larry Prusack
  7. Five questions...for Karl M. Kapp
  8. Music lessons
  9. Learn to apologize for fun and profit
  10. Advertising or education?
  11. Of web hits and Britney Spears
  12. Predictions for 2008
  13. Serious games for serious topics
  14. Back to the future
  15. Predictions For 2003
  16. "Spot Learning"
  17. When will e-learning reach a tipping point?
  18. Q&A with Saul Carliner
  19. "Deep" thoughts
  20. The stripper and the bogus online degree
  21. Five questions...for Tom Carey
  22. Learner on the Orient Express
  23. Five (or six) questions...for Irene McAra-McWilliam
  24. Q&A
  25. Do it yourself
  26. Predictions for 2004
  27. Storytelling at a distance
  28. Talk to me
  29. Q&A with Diana Laurillard
  30. Online learning and fun
  31. Everything in moderation
  32. eLearning and fun
  33. The basics of e-learning
  34. Is it live or is it Memorex?
  35. Five Questions... for John Seely Brown
  36. 5 questions... for Richard E. Mayer
  37. How to get students to show up and learn
  38. Blended conferences
  39. Predictions for 2002
  40. Learning from e-learning
  41. Q&A with Don Norman
  42. In search of simplicity
  43. Five Questions...for Christopher Dede
  44. Want better courses?
  45. Designing usable, self-paced e-learning courses
  46. Just "DO IT"
  47. Senior service
  48. Formative evaluation
  49. Blogging to learn and learning to blog
  50. Predictions for 2007
  51. Not all the world's a stage
  52. Five questions...for Seb Schmoller
  53. Do distance and location matter in e-learning?
  54. My life as a Wikipedian
  55. Five questions...for Elliott Masie
  56. Five questions...for Lynn Johnston
  57. Five questions…for Matt DuPlessie