Joseph L. Vigil, MS
School administrators, educators, parents, prospective employers and students are seeing the need and importance of technology. This new vision has made the subject of technology the main focus of various conferences across the nation. In Washington, D.C., earlier this year, the National Forum for Migrant Children and Youth integrated the technology issue as participants examined issues facing migrant families and suggested steps to improve their quality of education. The event's sponsor, the Interstate Migrant Education Council (IMEC), wants equal access to technology for migrant students and sufficient training for teachers and parents in technology in order to ensure the effective integration of technology into migrant students' learning.
As we enter the 21st century, the knowledge of technology will be a key to success for our students. They will need exposure to technology - even in fields that are outside the traditional office. For example, an occupation in mechanics will require the use of computers to troubleshoot automotive problems and to work with many of the new car models. Employers are asking schools to ensure that students learn how to communicate and work together more efficiently, appreciate and understanding technology, and be able to apply technology to solve problems or produce products.
The importance of technology learning is evident, but schools attempting to fulfill this need are finding barriers. Technology is more accessible in some schools than in others. Rural schools and schools with high minority populations typically have little access to technology tools. We must continue to foster an understanding of the importance of technology learning, and we must ensure that all of today's children are provided with the tools they need for tomorrow's successes in their education and careers.
Frequently Asked Questions About Technology in Schools
As I participated in the IMEC conference, I heard several questions that have been asked in other settings as well. Below are a few with some answers.
Will technology and the use of computers in my classroom enhance my teaching?
Technology and computers are additional tools available to teachers. The way new technology is integrated into the existing curriculum to enhance student learning is the key. Teachers who have been successful with integrating technology into their instruction look at what they are trying to teach the students and match the appropriate technology to that specific discipline. These successful teachers also have a good mentor support structure in place to see how other educators have used technology within their content area.
What if my students who know more about computers realize that I am not computer literate?
This is a great opportunity for teachers to learn from students. Students enjoy and gain self-esteem when they feel that they are the experts in an area. Students can serve as teachers for the teacher and other students, empowering students who may normally be shy and not engaged in learning.
I am a rural teacher with only one computer in my classroom. How can I compete with urban schools that have entire computer labs?
Do not try to compete. Make do with what you are actually fortunate to have. There are many classrooms with only one computer. Be creative with how you use the computer and circulate students in groups to use the computer, much like you would move groups of students through learning centers. A lot of work and thought can be done by students before they actually get to the computer station. For example, students can brainstorm their searching strategies before they get on-line. Once information is obtained, files and data can be downloaded and evaluated by students at their desks. (A great reference for teachers who have only one computer in the classroom is Great Teaching in the One-Computer Classroom, by David A. Dockterman)
Also, technology does not just include computers but also calculators, science and chemistry equipment, tape recorders, overhead projectors and even chalkboards. These forms of technology can be taken out of drawers and closets and be used by students to enhance their learning and experiences.
I am a teacher from a rural school who wants to be able to have access to new technology including computers for my students. What can I do to ensure that our school does not get left behind?
Administrative support is necessary for a school to acquire new technology including computers for instructional use. Principals and even superintendents often need to be persuaded that technology and computers are needed in order to provide quality instruction and experience for students. Administrators then must find a way to purchase the equipment needed. Partnering with local businesses is one example of how many districts are able to fund such an endeavor. Partnerships with NASA and others have also been used to supply equipment to schools that agree to participate in certain projects including weather studies. Initiatives such as Netday '97 have helped schools organize a day when systems and Internet access are installed in schools by community volunteers.
Are schools required to provide access to technology to their students?
Long ago, the U.S. Supreme Court recognized the lack of equity in teaching tools in schools and stated in Green County vs. School Board of New Kent County, Virginia, that school districts must actively work toward desegregation in every facet of school operation - racial composition, faculty, staff transportation, extracurricular activities and facilities. These have become known as the Green Factors. Since 1968, these six factors have been used by the federal courts as a basis for determining the degree to which equal educational opportunity and "unitariness" exists in a district under review by the court (IDRA, 1996).
Examples of Technology Use
Students should be encouraged to use technology as a multipurpose tool for communication and creative expression. The Internet is a great example of how students can improve their English and have an appreciation of their own culture while sharing ideas with students from other parts of the world. Schools can have a world wide web page created by students for their school that reflects the creativity and multicultural diversity found in their school. This enables students to learn to appreciate other cultures while appreciating their own.
One district in San Antonio has technology included in its portrait of what a graduate should know. The district's statement under technology reads, "Our graduates will effectively utilize today's technologies and adapt that knowledge to future applications for the enhancement of human capabilities and quality of life." The goals are that each student will do the following:
- understand the ethical role and impact of technology upon society,
- accept the responsibilities associated with living in this technologically oriented information age,
- identify when and how to use technology to solve a problem or produce a product, and
- use technology as a multipurpose tool for communication and creative expression.
In another example, technology can be used effectively as a teaching tool when working with monolingual students. Through its Desegregation Assistance Center - South Central Collaborative, IDRA is working with a middle school in Houston to provide consultation on integrating technology in instruction to enhance student learning for all children. Bosnian students arriving at the middle school were having trouble learning about geometric shapes in their math class. The computer helped by providing the students with three-dimensional drawings of the geometric shapes and allowed the students to construct these shapes themselves. The computer served as a universal approach to teaching math, and all students benefited from the computer's applications. The instructor was so pleased with the results of using the computer in his newcomer's classroom that he wants to integrate the computers in other subjects as well.
The new millennium is quickly approaching. All students need exposure to technology in their education in order to succeed in education and in the workplace. Some earlier articles to reference in the IDRA Newsletter include:
There are also resources, tips and case studies that are available via the Internet. Visit IDRA's world wide web site at www.idra.org.
All students - including migrant, limited-English-proficient, and English as a second language students - will benefit greatly from the appropriate integration of technology into the curriculum.
Dockterman, David A. Great Teaching in the One-Computer Classroom. (Watertown, Mass.: Tom Snyder Productions, Inc., 1991).
Joe Vigil, MS, is an education associate in the IDRA Division of Professional Development.
[©1997, IDRA. This article originally appeared in the IDRA Newsletter by the Intercultural Development Research Association. Every effort has been made to maintain the content in its original form. However, accompanying charts and graphs may not be provided here. To receive a copy of the original article by mail or fax, please fill out our information request and feedback form. Permission to reproduce this article is granted provided the article is reprinted in its entirety and proper credit is given to IDRA and the author.]