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enhancing education through technology

As a middle and high school math teacher for 14 years in the Norman (Okla.) School District and Dallas (Texas) Independent School District, Cathleen Norris at first thought the idea of using cell phones in a classroom was absurd. “Are you kidding?” she asked. “Would I want that distraction? That would make me crazy.”

As cell phones—with ever-expanding possibilities of texting, Web browsing, and game playing—have multiplied in recent years among teenagers and even preteens, so have the concerns of teachers and administrators about the distractions these devices can cause. A survey of students and parents earlier this year by the group Common Sense Media found that almost 70 percent of schools around the country ban student cell phone use during the school day.

No textbooks are to be found in this honors biology class at Empire High School in Vail (Ariz.) School District.

Giddings, Texas, is a small town located in the middle of a very large and rural state. “We’re pretty much an agricultural, oil and gas type community,” says Michael S. Kuhrt, superintendent of the 1,900-student school district.

In early March, as he addressed the U.S. Hispanic Chamber of Commerce in Washington, D.C., President Obama spoke at great length of the reforms he believes will give Americans “a complete and competitive education, from the cradle up through a career.” The proposals he laid out for improving early childhood education, K12 standards and assessments, graduation rates, teacher quality and college funding will be debated for months to come by thousands of school administrators, teachers, parents and politicians.

The development of the first personal computer in 1971 began a process that has led to a computer reduced in size, weight and cost, which makes it increasingly popular in education—the netbook. Initially caught flat-footed by the concept, major manufacturers are scrambling to produce their own models, sometimes working with district leaders to test them.

In the digital world we live in, being a “viewer ” is past. Web 2.0 tools—social networks, wikis, blogs, voicestream, YouTube, Google Docs—allow users to be participants. Instead of creating isolated users, such technologies foster community and collaboration.

Even if the intention exists to strengthen teaching and learning through technology, accomplishing it is not easy. For school leaders and teachers pursuing technology professional development, a number of factors can easily thwart their success: