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