Looking beyond the digital divide

At a previous point in my career, I benefited from professional development, autonomy in my classroom, and a superb technology infrastructure to become a connected, inspired and effective educator. Now, with the current climate in the field of education in the U.S., I fear that other teachers will lose, or never even experience, similar opportunities. As an education technology advocate interacting with teachers in a variety of settings, I see that our students are receiving vastly different types of education. This divide trickles specifically down to the educational technology experiences our students are receiving in schools, too.

Gov 2.0 Expo 2010For approximately the past 20 years, I’ve mainly worked in urban educational settings ranging from a Catholic elementary school to inner city neighborhood schools to a highly successful independent school. Not only have I seen the predictable imbalance of resources in these schools, but I have also seen distinctly different sets of educational values. Experiential education is an important part of independent school culture, but in some of the other schools I’ve come across, the focus is entirely on test scores.

In the independent school where I once worked, third grade students receive hands-on, inquiry-based science instruction two times a week from a dedicated science teacher; the students also attend a computer science class once a week. In contrast, I know of an urban public school that stopped all science teaching in third grade so that students could participate a computer-based arithmetic drill program. Data had informed the administration that these third graders were behind in their ability to compute.

I suspect this isn’t the first or last situation in which a school seeks the silver bullet solution to low test scores, but this example alarms me for two reasons. First, the students are deprived of science education, which is already traditionally low on the priority list in many schools. Secondly, I question the value of using computers for test taking and rote drills. It seems such a waste of powerful technology that could be utilized in classrooms in much more engaging ways.

Clearly, each school mentioned above had different priorities, probably based on perceived needs of its students, and the underlying issues at hand are complex. Yet, I continue to wonder why our society continues to ignore the education apartheid that is going on in this country. I want to see us focus on student engagement and empowerment while not losing sight of continued improvement and accountability. I believe that it’s possible to achieve balance, and technology can play a vital role in this.

In my contributions to this blog, I hope to expand on these thoughts and concerns in relation to educational technology. If we are going to seriously look at how educators and students are leveraging the tools at hand, we must look at the bigger picture, too.

To get started, I’d like to recommend an article that I recently found via Stephen Downes on Twitter. In this piece, Henry Giroux expounds on the importance of public school teachers and I agree with him in that, “Teachers are no longer asked to think critically and be creative in the classroom. On the contrary, they are now forced to simply implement predetermined instructional procedures and standardized content, at best; and, at worst, put their imaginative powers on hold while using precious classroom time to teach students how to master the skill of test taking.”

I’m pondering Giroux’s observations in relation to educational technology. How are we going to expect teachers to leverage the potential of technology in their classrooms if this is the culture most are experiencing right now?

tags: , ,