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Teaching with Technology

Teaching with Technology
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One-to-One Computing
by Prof. Jim Lengel, Boston University College of Communication (http://www.bu.edu/jlengel and http://www.lengel.net)

Two weeks ago in this space we discussed the growing trend toward laptop computers for teachers and students. We considered the growing trend of high school and college students bringing their computers in to the classroom and lecture hall. Many people have told me that this development is serving as a strong force to bring technology into the classroom. But not everyone sees this as a necessarily positive movement.

At the Institut für Wissenmedien* at the University of Tübingen in Germany, when this idea was broached among a group of teachers and researchers, most immediately praised this new trend. How wonderful, to have immediate wireless information access from your seat in the lecture hall or from your desk in the classroom. But a few of the more reflective types wondered aloud about the educational value of this trend. What happens, they asked, to the ability of the teacher to capture students' attention in the lecture hall, or to control the nature of learning in the classroom? What happens to the authority of the teacher when students have access to information that might contradict the teacher's pronouncements? Are we sure we want this to happen? Are teachers ready for this? Should they be?

These are good questions. Picture your classroom with each student armed with a connected laptop, with which they can access the Internet, find answers, raise questions, watch movies, and IM with their friends, whenever they want. The implications of one-to-one computing for our profession are profound.

We mentioned in last week's article the initiative in the State of Maine, where every student in the seventh grade gets a laptop computer as a matter of course. And so do their teachers. To follow up on this report, I asked Larry Frazier, the director of technology in one of those Maine school districts, to summarize what difference it has made to his schools. Larry works in Yarmouth, a small town near the coast in southern Maine. Larry reports:

Over the last 15 years, Yarmouth's vision of technology has grown from using technology as a tool to using technology to do things we've never been able to do before. Yarmouth has long had an extensive staff development program consisting of summer courses, before and after school workshops, release days, and "just in time" sessions. We created computer labs in every school and established a 3:1 student to computer ratio. The results were dramatic, but not transformational. Teacher newsletters began to rival commercial ventures, and incredible slide shows were created for parents and school boards. Students learned to do their work using technology, but their work did not change much. Papers were written by high school students and, though they were very well researched using the Internet and they looked very professional, much of the student work remained simply word processing. More and more teachers began to use technology in new and exciting ways with their students, but learning and teaching didn't change as much as I had hoped it would.

Then, in the fall of 2002, the Maine Learning Technology Initiative provided Apple iBooks to all 7th grade students and teachers in Maine. In September 2003, the program was extended to cover eighth graders as well. All of a sudden, technology was available to students and staff 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Everything changed. With continuing staff development from the state and local districts, more and more teachers began to realize that technology could transform teaching and learning. Providing information to students who had the entire world of knowledge at their fingertips was no longer the role of a teacher in the 21st century. Instead of fighting the future, they embraced it. No matter where I go, no matter which classroom, I see teachers and students exploring new ways to use technology. A science class may be experimenting with recording data on Pasco probes, downloading the information into their iBooks, and evaluating the data graphs. A math class might be exploring interactive web sites to illustrate a concept. A language arts class may be taking digital photos to illustrate their poetry. A social studies class might be video taping commercials for their American colony in the 1770's to post on their classroom web site.

Having 1:1 technology available all the time and in the classroom learning environment has changed the integration of technology into instruction from incremental to transformational. We are seeing the beginning of a revolution in teaching and learning, and I'm pleased that Maine has been a leader in this movement.

So as food for thought we have these two points of view, from either side of the Atlantic. Sooner or later, this laptop issue will raise its head (or it's cover) in your school, whether through the natural trend of students buying their own computers, or from a public policy initiative. Either way, one-to-one computing will change how our students learn, and how we teach.

* I didn't know what this meant, but at the time I was connected wirelessly from my laptop at the dining room table, and so I could call up the online translator that told me this was Institut for Knowledge Media. I could also connect to their web site at http://www.iwm-kmrc.de/ and learn (from the English version of their site) that they call themselves the Knowledge Media Research Center.

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