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Kindling Innovation

Technology can be a learning resource, but it is turning into an accountability monitor.

As a young teacher I saw the mind of every student as a fire to be kindled. Early on I came to see technology as a key resource for kindling to inspire children's creativity and enable them to publish their ideas, promote interaction with other students and teachers no matter where they live, help students quickly and easily master basic skills, and make learning

more participatory and fun.

Early software wasn't good aesthetically or technically. Teachers wrote much of it, but

maybe that was the key. They weren't professional programmers, but they were driven by a

desire to help students learn, giving their software a certain educational quality, despite its

quirky functionality. Now, don't get me wrong. I'm not saying teachers should be writing

software. By and large, they shouldn't. Today's software, particularly publishing and

creativity software,is more powerful and comprehensive than ever. Web-based content is

rapidly improving and access to it has never been easier. Software developers have more

resources than ever.

SO WHAT'S THE PROBLEM? Frankly, the problem is not with the technology; it's with us. In our rush to accountability and our intoxication with standards, we're underselling the

educational power of technology and short-changing students. Standards mania and testing

hoopla were in full bloom at this June's National Educational Computing Conference. It's a

great show-the king of education technology shows-and it was invigorating to experience

a renewed energy there among both vendors and educators. For the first time since 9/11,

people seemed happy to be at a show. Almost no one expressed apprehensions about

traveling. Hope aplenty was in the air. But something was missing. A few years back, the hottest product at NECC was Kid Desk, a piece of quasi-administrative software. It allowed

kids KINDLING INNOVATION Technology can be a learning resource, but it is turning into an

accountability monitor 64 August 2002 District Administration to "personalize" their desktop

environment. Students selected from a range of desk motifs, each of which came complete

with a functioning calendar and calculator, a pretend answering machine and an application

organizer. Kid Desk was really nothing more than an application launcher with some

associated tools and accessories, but it was fun. It had personality, or rather, it gave

students some opportunity to express theirs. It offered minimal power with regard to teacher controls and security, but it engaged students in organizing and using a personal "library" of software applications.

"IT CORRELATES WITH STANDARDS" At this year's NECC, there was far less software buzz about what students could make or do. I didn't think it would evolve this way, but the emphasis now is clearly on assessment and on correlating with standards. Let's be honest; most software vendors (and probably most of us) would be hard pressed to demonstrate how any particular piece of software correlates with any specific standard, yet we all trumpet the phrase, "And best of all, it correlates with standards", as though that were some magical selling point or proof of educational validity. Worse yet, there seems to be an emerging emphasis on software that allows us to monitor student activity. I sadly watched a demo hawking software that enables parents to "log in" via the Internet, to see where Johnny was at 9:05. "If he skipped class, you can know instantly." Whoop de do. Surely the power of the Internet inspires us to more than that, doesn't it? If parent involvement is the goal, why not give every student access to AIM, and have them interact with mom or dad three times a day. The student could use his or her parents as academic resources or just share some news from school. At least then we'd be inviting parents to participate conversationally in the school experiences of their children, rather than positioning them as just another cop to

make sure the kids are in line and marching to the tune of the standardized school drum.

The promise of technology has never been greater. It can be used to invite students to be

active participants on a range of academic adventures; or, it can be used as achievement results. The vendors will produce whatever we ask; we have to direct their development. My advice: When you think about technology in education, think like a kid.

Daniel E. Kinnaman,, is publisher.