A Look at Technology in Schools

A Look at Technology in Schools

When I was 13, my middle school decided to buy a set of Palm Pilots (remember those?) for the eighth grade class to share. We used these new-fangled devices to take exams in science class. I still remember my teacher Mr. Cousino standing in front of our class, telling us that PDAs were the future of test-taking in schools.

Obviously, he was wrong. Within the next couple of years, it became more and more apparent that cell phones would replace the short-lived hype over PDAs, meaning that my middle school wasted money on an obsolete product. And I have yet to take an exam not on paper since. My school took a gamble on getting what was innovative technology at the time but didn’t get the payoff they had intended. We talked in class about the pros and cons of using technology to aid learning; my school’s experience would be an example of a con. Technology changes and improves so fast that every investment a school makes is a risk.

The Present

Right now, however, laptops seem like a safe bet. Both my middle school and high school had them, and it looks like now even elementary schools are using them. I volunteer at Burns Park Elementary for one of my other classes, and I see Macbooks in every classroom. All the teachers have Apple laptops and the students write essays, play games, and do other activities on the classroom laptops.

Frankly, I’m surprised they would shell out money for such expensive products—and on five to ten-year olds! My school district got Dells. But then again, this is Ann Arbor. What’s more disturbing, however, is the school’s overreliance on technology. A kindergarten teacher I work with got in trouble with administration for taking attendance on paper instead of going through the computer system. More emphasis is put on teaching students to type than teaching them how to spell. The presence of spell check on computers further inhibits students’ spelling skills, such that when they do activities off the computer, they have no idea how to even sound words out. Learning to type is important, but so is having basic knowledge and skills, spelling being one of them. We can’t have young students learn that it’s ok for computers to do the thinking for them. I also learned how to type in elementary school, but I learned to spell too.

The “Future”

The last two examples talked about how technology is just an aspect of schools. But what if the whole school was technology-based? In Philadelphia, there is a place called Microsoft’s School of the Future, where there are no textbooks and everything is paperless. Each student is issued a laptop to take notes and exams on, and the physical school itself is a brand new technologically advanced building. The principal, teachers, students, and parents all communicate and collaborate via the IT infrastructure in place, and all assessments and evaluations are done online. Although the school boasted a 100% graduation rate in 2010, with all seniors going on to higher education, it has also been rife with controversy and criticism, among them poor wifi connections, students’ unfamiliarity with the technology, and inexperienced educators. More criticisms can be read here and here.

Schools seem to be becoming increasingly open to using technology to improve education, although there appear to be problems on both the technology side and educators’ use of it. But even with all the problems, technology is here to stay in our schools.


1 Comment (+add yours?)

  1. elton1
    Apr 04, 2012 @ 11:42:59

    I think this problem may have more to do with the budget/planning of budget that these schools are given. Between the high price of laptops, the switch/upgrade into new IT systems, the upkeep of the IT system (think about how big UM is and think about how shittastic CTools is… seriously, you’d think a school this big could afford a technology upgrade from 1999), who has the money to commit to good training?

    I think Jon Stewart puts it best. Money is only good as something which brings value. If you provide a classroom with OLPC laptops (which are low power, low resolution, netbooks) with proper training, that classroom would outperform a classroom filled with 2012 MBPs with no proper training.

    With that in mind, I think that perhaps these programs should invest in a holistically successful training program instead of the money-toss that I would assume is going on here (Microsoft is definitely guilty of money-throwing)


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