Why Technology Integration Will Soon Be Second Nature In K12 Classrooms

As technology becomes as ubiquitous in the classroom as it is in the workplace, the push to “integrate technology into the classroom” will become a vague memory.

Retiring the Catch Phrase

As far as students are concerned, 10 or 15 years may as well be 100. They’ve never known a world without computers. We adults, however, still have vivid memories of yesteryear, when a mouse was a small rodent, an address included a ZIP code and news was delivered hours or days after it happened, rather than seconds or minutes later.

When we were tots, walking and talking and tormenting our younger siblings was second nature. For today’s children, technology has been added to that list. Children of the 21st century listen to lullabies on MP3 files, read along with their favorite fairy tales on CDs and decorate their own studio on Barbie’s interactive Web site.

For a decade, educators have been hearing the catch phrase that implores them to “integrate technology into the classroom.” But since technology isn’t second nature to most grownups, that’s easier said than done. Technology is a native language to children, so it’s easy for them to adapt to the constant flow of new inventions and upgrades. But how can teachers who have been raised and educated in an offline world keep up?

Let’s not fool ourselves. It’s hard work. Even technology professionals struggle to keep pace. But lifelong learning is a core principle for any educator, and technology forces us to put it to the test in a way we never imagined as we sat through Education 101.

In the early ’90s, integrating technology into the classroom meant walking students to the computer lab to key in their book reports. Today, technology needs to be as much a part of the classroom as it is part of the corporate office.

Today’s workers use word processing and presentation software to prepare reports, spreadsheets to record finances, databases to capture information, the Internet to conduct research and e-mail to communicate with clients and colleagues.

Technology is an essential part of life in the 21st century, and to succeed in the future, teachers need to learn new tools and develop critical thinking skills that will help them evolve with changing technology. Their students are already natives of this new technology-rich world. They think differently, and their thought processes require a new order of stimulation.

For that to happen, technology must become second nature to teachers so that they don’t need the constant reminder: “Integrate technology into the classroom.”

Use Imagination to Spark Imaginations

Flip around on the TV and chances are good you’ll come across a show with perfectly coiffed police detectives kneeling beside yellow crime-scene tape to examine the carpet or dusting picture frames and drinking glasses for fingerprints.

If crime-scene investigation shows can capture students’ attention during the prime-time hours, why not during school? Such logic has inspired schools around the nation to create forensics classes to teach students a variety of skills, from math and chemistry to physics and law.

At Springfield High School in Springfield, Pa., for instance, students walk into science class to find a chalk outline of a body. It’s up to them to solve the crime. (See “Solving Imaginary Crimes ” on p. 69.)

Students aren’t focused on solving a math equation or a chemistry formula. They’re intent on solving a crime. Such projects capture students’ imaginations, make learning fun and give them experiences—and, in turn, skills—they will remember for years to come.

Technology can bring just about any subject to life with a little creativity and perseverance. Just as teachers strive to train students to use their imaginations, it’s up to teachers to imagine new ways to engage those students. Educators can come up with new ideas for lesson plans, or they can find scores of best practices and tips online, in education magazines and at professional development seminars and conferences.

Be Prepared for Obstacles

When Reid Ellison set out to break into the faculty-only portion of his high school’s network, he found several ways in, with relatively little effort. Fortunately, Ellison’s network attack was part of an approved school project at Anzar High School in San Juan Bautista, Calif. (See “Foiling Student Hackers ” on p. 55.) But it illustrates how vulnerable schools are to threats—both inside and outside their walls.

As computers become more pervasive in education, schools must address the issues that go hand in hand with technology, including IT security, teacher training, maintenance and teaching cyberethics to students.

With tight budgets, it’s easy for schools to place security tools—including firewalls, intrusion detection programs and antivirus software—low on their priority lists. But such tools are increasingly affordable and critical for every enterprise.

It’s hard to preach the need for new software to teachers who are holding classes in rooms the size of closets or using textbooks that still locate today’s independent nations together in the U.S.S.R. There’s no way around it, technology costs money, and that money is often not available to schools. But with some ingenuity, schools can find ways to cut costs and keep pace.

For instance, many schools are turning to what’s called “self-maintainer programs” in which technology vendors reimburse schools for making their own repairs. (See “Putting the Teen in IT ” on p. 34.) Schools like Lausanne Collegiate School in Memphis, Tenn., are stretching the savings from self-maintainer programs even further by involving their students. By teaching classes in technology maintenance, schools get extra help with repairs, and students learn valuable skills while earning class credit. With its students’ help, Lausanne earns about $1,500 in reimbursements a month by doing its own repairs, says Stewart Crais, director of technology and media services.

Some school districts have entered into partnerships with government to create networks that can be used by the school district and municipal offices. (See “Bring IT On ” on p. 31.) The community fiber network in Vero Beach, Fla., provides every classroom in the Indian River School District with high-speed Internet access. Indian River students use streaming video and Webcasts to ask questions of experts at the Harbor Branch Oceanographic Society in town or to go on virtual field trips.

By exploring different funding sources, many schools are finding ways to bring more computers into the classroom. Thanks to one-to-one computing—a growing trend in which every student is equipped with a notebook, Tablet PC or personal digital assistant in class—students use technology to complete their coursework and solve everyday problems. (See “A Computer for Every Child ” on p. 50.)

One-to-one computing is blurring the boundaries between education and real-world skills. With their own computers, students conduct research online, just like doctors. They design visual artwork using graphics software, just like artists. They turn in their writing assignments via e-mail, just like reporters.

Chances are you won’t be hearing that phrase “integrate technology into the classroom” too much longer. My guess is that as educators continue to find new ways to use computers in their classrooms, technology will become second nature to them, just as it is to their students.

As that happens, the words “integrate technology into the classroom” will likely fade into obscurity, along with day-old news.

Chris Rother is vice president of education sales for Vernon Hills, Ill.-based CDW•G, a leading technology provider to government and education. She is a passionate advocate for enhancing the educational experience with technology.

Oct 31 2006

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