From Now On
|Vol 11|No 1|September|2001|
Please feel free to e-mail this article to a friend, a principal,
Citing data from two different studies of Internet usage, Ms. Harmon notes a decline in surfing and an increase of more routine visits to a smaller number of sites. According to one study, fewer people are beginning their online time with search engines.
Some of us have been arguing the need for scaffolding, direction and structure for several years now, as the weaknesses of search engines and the disorganization and the lack of reliability of the Net have made it less than attractive to many reluctant and late adopting teachers. (See "Scaffolding for Success," http://fno.org/dec99/scaffold.html)
Some of us have also been pointing to the ongoing need for strong library programs, library collections and librarians even while some heralded the end of the library and replaced library staff with aides and technology teachers. (See "A Brave New World of Padlocked Libraries and Unstaffed Schools? http://fno.org/feb99/padlocked.html)
The New York Times article is one more sign that the hype and exaggerated promises of the dot com and technology cheerleaders outpaced the needs, interests and wishes of the consumers. The cheerleading assigns blame to those who do not immediately climb aboard the bandwagon, charging that these laggards are shortchanging today's students and arguing the need for technologically savvy employees. But the cheerleading becomes a kind of unquestionable digital tyranny - that new technologies are always good, always better, always preferable.
In another recent article, the highly touted advantages of electronic books were shown to have disappointed rather than pleased, with actual sales and consumer acceptance falling well below expectations.
One perceptive letter to the editor pointed out that electronic books rely upon scrolling - a technology actually older than printed books.
Smart schools and smart teachers will be very careful about pressures from the outside arguing for technological literacy and 21st Century skills - unless those literacies and skills include the ability to make wise choices when selecting tools and technologies. The wise consumer and the wise student will make discerning uses of new technologies and shrug off the marketing pressure to use the latest gadgets and gizmos. Why read a book on the tiny screen of a hand held device when a printed book may provide a much better reading experience? Why surf the Net for information when several brilliant thinkers have collected that information into a carefully balanced and synthesized book with focus, depth, quality and reliability?
21st Century skills should include a healthy and well informed skepticism regarding the products, the promises and balance sheets of companies eager to sell a brave new world of education to schools.
Schools could make wiser choices when making purchases of new technologies if they had more reliable assessment data indicating which tools and which strategies might actually make a difference in student performance. Unfortunately, there has been too little investment in objective, reliable program evaluation.
When we shop for a refrigerator or a car we turn to Consumer Reports (http://www.consumerreports.org/main/home.jsp) to find out which brands and models have good track records for repairs, longevity, quality and service. We can find out energy efficiency rating and typical gas mileage.
We can even use Consumer Reports to check out the battery life of laptops. What they don't tell us is the impact of the equipment on student reading, writing and thinking.
When schools shop for new technologies, they need independently collected performance data to guide them toward programs that will make a difference in student learning. The line between vendor data and marketing is very thin.
(see "The Research Gap" at http://fno.org/oct00/rg.html)
The question is not "Which laptop should I buy?"
The question is "How can we best use laptops with software like Inspiration to improve student writing?"
Credits: The photographs were shot by Jamie McKenzie.
Copyright Policy: © 2001, Jamie McKenzie, all rights reserved. Materials published in From Now On may be duplicated in hard copy format if unchanged in format and content for educational, nonprofit school district and university use only and may also be sent from person to person by e-mail. This copyright statement must be included. All other uses, transmissions and duplications are prohibited unless permission is granted expressly. Showing these pages remotely through frames is not permitted.