(I split my response into three chunks because it was so long)
Last week, the New York Times published an article about Idaho’s new state initiative, which will give every student and every teacher a laptop, and make two online credits a graduation requirement for high school students.
At first blush, it sounds like a good idea. Kids need to be connected! Kids need to learn technological literacy! Teachers need to harness the power of online resources! Schools need modern tools!
But then the details of the program begin to sound irresponsible and dictatorial, rather than inspirational and helpful.
First, all this technology will be *required*. “Teachers are resisting, saying that they prefer to employ technology as it suits their own teaching methods and styles. Some feel they are judged on how much they make use of technology, regardless of whether it improves learning.” After all, the computer is not the teacher. And you know there will be older teachers who don’t understand technology, who will either forsake it entirely, or use it in an inefficient manner.
Two, with education budgets spiraling into freefall, Idaho will use tens of millions of dollars to provide the physical resources as well as the necessary training for the 15,148 teachers in the state. Idaho already has the 2nd lowest per-pupil spending in the nation. Is there really enough money to spare to focus so much on one aspect of school?
“Mr. Luna, the superintendent, said training was the most essential part of the plan. He said millions of dollars would be set aside for this but that the details were still being worked out.” Is it fair to divert money that could pay teachers a more livable wage (starting salary is now a mere $30,000, though there is another new reform called Students Come First, which attempts to increase teacher pay, including pay-for-performance) to instead pay for computers that may or may not be used to their best advantage?
TECHNOLOGY AND MISINFORMATION
To me, the most disturbing part is that the state leaders don’t seem to understand how school or students work.
“For his part, Governor Otter said that putting technology into students’ hands was the only way to prepare them for the work force. Giving them easy access to a wealth of facts and resources online allows them to develop critical thinking skills, he said, which is what employers want the most.
"When asked about the quantity of unreliable information on the Internet, he said this also worked in favor of better learning. “There may be a lot of misinformation,” he said, “but that information, whether right or wrong, will generate critical thinking for them as they find the truth.””
This frightens and angers me—that the governor believes students will magically acquire critical thinking just from having access to Wikipedia? When teachers around the country already fight a losing battle over internet-printed “essays” in all grades and subjects?
“Schulte (2002) reported the results of a Rutgers University study based on 4,500 high school students from 25 high schools around the country. The study found that 72 percent of the students admitted to “seriously cheating on a written work” and more than half had “copied portions of a paper from the Internet without citing the source.”
Donald McCabe, the founder of the Center for Academic Integrity, is quoted as saying that “…cheating is starting younger—in elementary school in fact. And by the time students hit middle and high school, cheating is, for many, like gym class and lunch period, just part of the fabric of how things are….What’s changed is technology. It’s made cheating so easy. And the vast realms of information on the truly, worldwide Web are so readily available. Who could resist?” (in Schulte, 2002).” (http://pareonline.net/getvn.asp?v=9&n=9)
Now think about how much the digital world has changed since 2002!
Now, to their credit, perhaps some of the Idaho teacher training might be about teaching responsible web use, to ensure students do not plagiarize, and making it clear that teachers will be able to catch them and enact appropriate consequences.
(I am very doubtful of that, however; as more and more it seems like parents feel like they have the right to defend and enable their children, regardless of the behavior; schools feel more and more pressure to bow to parents’ will rather than adhering to the code of conduct.)
Let’s hope at the least there is a state-wide teacher membership to Turn It In!
[continue reading Part 2]