The Good and The Bad of High-Tech in Classrooms

Readers with a passion for high-tech classrooms will find these recent examples of ICT (Information and Communication Technology) use in U.S. schools and classrooms both familiar and pleasing.

*In Crystal B. Corn’s high school Spanish class, students don’t spend time conjugating verbs on paper or memorizing vocabulary lists. Instead, Corn uses her interactive whiteboard every school day to allow students to have hands-on experiences.

Her students at Forsyth Central High School in Cumming, Ga., use a stylus at the whiteboard to match pictures and vocabulary words, they use it to visit Web sites that feature news from Spanish-speaking countries, and they even made a music video and played it in class on the whiteboard. This school year, Corn plans to use the interactive whiteboard to hold videoconferences with classes in other countries.

“They would be bored to tears if it was just me standing up in front of them lecturing,” Corn says of her students. “This is their native language. They speak technology.”

In fact, every classroom in Georgia’s 30,000-student Forsyth County school district now features an interactive whiteboard.

*Every student at Lilla Frederick Pilot School in a low-income neighborhood of Boston has a laptop. All classwork is done on Google Docs and specialized software and students send assignments to electronic “drop boxes” on the school’s Web site. No textbooks in sight. At Frederick, students work at different levels within the same English and math classrooms. The computers follow students varied achievement levels giving teachers the chance to fit their teaching to differences among students. Parents can chat with teachers on instant messaging software and talk about both students strengths and weaknesses.

* Florida Virtual School is a state-funded organization that offers more than 90 courses over the Internet and serves over 65,000 public school, private school, and home-schooled students (2008). The Florida Virtual School, founded in 1997, whose motto is “anytime, any place, any path, any pace,” has relieved overcrowded schools in fast-growing Florida districts and met demands for advanced courses throughout the state’s many rural districts. Experienced teachers oversee student progress and are available to students by telephone or e-mail.
These examples—and I could just as easily have mentioned breathless descriptions from news anchors about students with Palm devices recording pond data and articles torn from yesterday’s newspaper praising teachers for using laptops creatively–would have brought smiles to the faces of most advocates of ICT in schools. These examples are the Clint Eastwoods of The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly.Clint

But there is The Bad also. Villains are those school vendors who peddle ads for products directly to students– remember Zap Me, the company that gave free desktop computers to schools in the late 1990s in exchange for running ads as students used the machines–and companies that make exaggerated claims about effectiveness of software programs to raise both standardized achievement test and SAT scores by 200 points.

Lee Van Cleef

Commercial intrusion into schools is, of course, nothing new. From the Campbell Soups company urging teachers to use their free lessons on nutritious meals to Channel 1 news programs running ads on free TVs given to school districts to school athletic facilities sporting commercials, the struggle to keep school children sheltered from commercial exploitation has been persistent.

So here is The Good and The Bad of high-tech classrooms, the next post will deal with The Ugly.

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