Gary Stager on Effective Ed Tech
Last month I shared my frank assessment on the health of school technology use. The following are some novel suggestions for getting more bang for your buck and enhancing the education of today's students.
Go laptop Even if you cannot afford to provide a laptop for every student (clearly desirable), you should never buy another desktop computer. The educational advantages granted by portability far outweigh any benefits of chaining computers to furniture. Companies like eKat (www.ekat.com) can help you organize financing, insurance and implementation.
Buy extended warranties Schools should buy hardware like savvy consumers. When a computer breaks, a professional should repair and return it to service ASAP.
Expect less from computer companies Hardware companies should deliver high-quality products at reasonable prices and then go away. Educators should lead professional development and curriculum redesign.
Stop planning The same tech committee that has failed to get teachers to use computers for 25 years is now capable of predicting the future? Why not look at what children can do and plan for what you would like them to be able to do next?
Use tech standards to prop up the short leg on your data projector The legacy of ISTE's NETs is likely to be an escalating standards-based arms race in every state. I'll see your tech standards and raise you 300 pages!
Save your pennies for full-featured computers There is a psychological factor involved in asking any funding agency to buy one of something for everyone. If you guess wrong, it is very hard to go back to the well. Kids need and deserve multimedia computers capable of realizing their goals.
Focus on overlooked curriculum areas Shift your emphasis temporarily to the use of computers in the arts, music, science or P.E. Who knows what sort of innovation will inspire the rest of your staff?
Free the computer lab! If you must maintain a computer lab, the least you can do is to eliminate the questionable "lab" curriculum. Make the computer lab an open resource any kid can use whenever they need to use a computer in school.
Use what you've got already Rather than hunting for new software to buy and learn to use, why not invest effort in finding creative ways to use the software that came with your computer?
Less is more Constructive software like MicroWorlds EX Robotics (www.microworlds.com) can be used across the curriculum to create simulations, draw, animate, control robots, make presentations, explore powerful ideas and publish interactive Web sites. Best of all this kind of software grows with students and allows them to create more sophisticated projects as they gain fluency.
Build upon fluency If students do indeed possess tech fluency, it is incumbent for you to build upon it. Teaching keyboarding to students with servers in their bedrooms is an insult to their intelligence and a waste of potential.
Mr. Superintendent, tear down that wall! The bad news is your teachers are terrorized by irrational policies made unilaterally by megalomaniacal network administrators. The good news is that tenure rules rarely apply.
Buy more computers Do I have to say more?
Trust kids Trusting students will reduce problems and keep more computers functional more often. Programs like Gen Tech (www.genyes.org) teaches students to provide high-quality tech support in an educational context.
Consider free software There are all sorts of free, open-source and shareware software available across platforms. Bulletin board software, SWIKIs (minnow.cc.gatech.edu/swiki), instant messaging software and calendar software are all available for free and moderate fees and can meet many, if not all, of your need to collaborate and communicate. Google Gimp, OpenOffice, Inkscape, Squeak, Cyberduck, Scribus or Finale Notepad to see the possibilities.
Embrace the spin zone Shameless self-promotion is the sincerest form of school reform. Use your digital video camera, computer and editing software to create DVDs sharing the wonderful work of your students and teachers. Leave these in local video shops and libraries for the information of the community.
Gary Stager, firstname.lastname@example.org, is editor-at-large and an adjunct professor at Pepperdine University.