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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
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  5. Online learning and fun
  6. Everything in moderation
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  8. The basics of e-learning
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  10. 5 questions... for Richard E. Mayer
  11. My life as a Wikipedian
  12. Five questions...for Elliott Masie
  13. Five Questions... for John Seely Brown
  14. Five questions...for Lynn Johnston
  15. Five questions…for Matt DuPlessie
  16. Do it yourself
  17. Predictions for 2004
  18. When will e-learning reach a tipping point?
  19. Q&A with Saul Carliner
  20. "Deep" thoughts
  21. "Spot Learning"
  22. The stripper and the bogus online degree
  23. Five questions...for Tom Carey
  24. Learner on the Orient Express
  25. Five (or six) questions...for Irene McAra-McWilliam
  26. How to get students to show up and learn
  27. Blended conferences
  28. Predictions for 2002
  29. Learning from e-learning
  30. Q&A with Don Norman
  31. In search of simplicity
  32. Five Questions...for Christopher Dede
  33. Want better courses?
  34. Designing usable, self-paced e-learning courses
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  36. Senior service
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  38. Blogging to learn and learning to blog
  39. Predictions for 2007
  40. Not all the world's a stage
  41. Five questions...for Seb Schmoller
  42. Do distance and location matter in e-learning?
  43. Degrees by mail
  44. The Value of Voice
  45. Predictions for 2006
  46. Five questions...for Shigeru Miyagawi
  47. Five questions...
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  52. Advertising or education?
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  54. Predictions for 2008
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  57. Predictions For 2003