Not too many years ago, quite a few school teachers were threatened by the emergence of the computer and other digital tools, while most of their students were anxious to embrace them. Youngsters quickly saw, for example, the personal computer as an exciting way to learn, communicate, and have fun in and out of the traditional classroom.
The rest is pretty much history. In 1994, only 3 percent of public school instructional rooms had Internet access. By 2005, that number had jumped to 94 percent.
In 2005, the ratio of students to instructional computers with Internet access in public schools was 3.8 to 1.
But there is room for considerable improvement, as getting on a computer often still requires a trip to the computer lab or a competition for a couple of tired machines in the rear of the classroom. Microsoft, Apple and others are seeding schools with many more computing stations by getting single computers to power many more terminals.
As of June 2008, the number of personal computers in use worldwide hit one billion, while another billion is expected to be reached by 2014.
The personal computer has revolutionized society, and its use has been incorporated in most everywhere in the school curricula. Labor markets and the global society demand much more from graduates than just basic skills. The personal computer and state of the art technology are essential, requiring the classroom teacher to be a facilitator and tutor, as well as a provider of knowledge.
There is a pressing need to provide education that goes beyond teaching basic literacy and numerical skills, and new approaches must be introduced and refined to survive and lead in the international competition. A greater use of modern computers and technology is at the core of sound elementary and secondary education.
Teaching writing digitally
Thus, the National Writing Project, Phi Delta Kappa, and the College Board joined forces to shine a light on the opportunities and challenges of using digital tools for teaching writing across the subject areas. Through a diverse set of teachers came timely observations, ones that the sponsoring organizations thought to be representative and relevant.
According to Joel Malley, an English Language Arts teacher from Cheektowaga High School, Cheektowaga, N.Y.:
“You can be a great teacher with a piece of chalk and a chalkboard; you can be a great teacher of content. But I do not know if you can be a great teacher of skills without using technology.
“Video is important because you are combining print with music, speaking, voices, images and the facts. I think the multi-modality and combination of all these different mediums allows a deeper learning.”
Katherine Suyeyasu, a history and language arts teacher from ASCEND School, Oakland, Calif., said she uses the computer as a tool, “and all the work that I give to my students I generate on a computer.
“If my students leave my classroom having been exposed to the expected content, but not engaged as learners, then I will have done them a disservice.
“Ultimately, I see education as access, and I want my students to be able to enter any situation and analyze it in a way that will allow them to participate meaningfully.”
A Title I reading, writing, and technology teacher from Ruffner Elementary School, Charleston, W.V., Paul Epstein believes that writing and using a keyboard are “necessary 21st century skills.” He asserts:
“Writing in a digital age is where every person is a movie maker. Every person can put a script together and have images to go with it.
“Every computer is a TV station capable of broadcasting to the whole world.”
Technology not an extra
According to Paige Cole, a U.S. history/social studies teacher from Apalachee High School, Winder, Ga., too many people see technology as an “add-on,” and that clearly is not her view. “They get so much more out of (digital learning) than just some of the traditional classroom kind of modes.”
“School does not look like the rest of the world. School looks like school. But if school is supposed to help us in the rest of the world, shouldn’t school look like what’s going on in the rest of the world.
“You can get computers and use them poorly. You can use them as worksheets and you can use them as test prep — or you can explore true digital literacy, which is a whole other animal.”
Alejandro Sosa, a social studies teacher in World Journalism Preparatory, a College Board School, Queens, N.Y., regards technology as an effective way to communicate with students and parents. He said:
“I’m a high-end user of technology now, and I’ve seen what it can do and how it’s changed my entire work life.”
“The fact that we have professional development every single week for two hours is huge. It’s teachers teaching teachers, and I can tell you that makes a big difference.”
David Brown, who teaches English as a second language at John H. Webster Elementary School, Philadelphia, Pa., explains that “it was one thing to have them write out their work, but the kids had a different feeling, a different look on their faces, when they saw their work typed up and printed out. That got me into the technology part.” He further stated:
“I want lawmakers to know that we all need schools of the future, and we needed them five years, ten years ago.”
Erin Wilkey, an English Teacher at F.L. Schlagle High School, Kansas City, Kan., especially likes placing emphasis on digital access on teachers She explained:
“First, they are expected to oversee and implement the curriculum in new, interesting, and digital ways. Secondly, they must use online tools to manage and evaluate student learning.
“If they (my students) don’t have access at home, they’ll walk to the corner and find it … or they’ll get in their car and drive two blocks and sit in their car.
“It’s one of our academy goals that all students use technology tools for different types of writing: persuasive, personal, informative, creative and reflective.”
Jennifer Woollven and Alina Adonyi, English teachers at Eastside Memorial Green Tech High School, Austin, Tex., offered interesting insights.
“It’s their gate to the world,” Woollven said.
For both Woollven and Adonyi, new teaching methods that integrate technology and highlight its function in every day life is “a wonderful reason to teach in the 21st century.”
“At Green Tech High, I feel like I’m really a part of a movement,” Alina declared. And that movement means full access to technology in the classroom.
“We have to realize that things are changing and that students are going to have different sorts of jobs,” Jennifer added.
To meet the challenges of teaching and learning in the digital age, the study, titled “Teachers Are the Center of Education: Writing, Learning, and Leading in the Digital Age,” recommends:
• Every student, at all levels of education, needs one-to-one access to computers and other mobile devices in the classroom.
• Every teacher, at all levels of education, needs professional development in the effective use of digital tools for teaching and learning, including the use of digital tools to promote writing.
• All schools and districts need a comprehensive information technology to ensure that the infrastructure, technical support and resources are available for teaching and learning.
The debate about the need for digital skills is history; the issue now is whether our society has the foresight to demand the very latest in technology tools and teaching techniques. “Global competitors like China and India are not hesitating” says Gaston Caperton, President of the College Board.