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.

SNES, Nostalgia, & The Lion King

This past fall, I went to the theatres with a few friends to see the re-release of The Lion King when something interesting happened. All these amazing childhood memories came flooding back, but then during the scene in which Simba sings “I Just Can’t Wait to Be King” and jumps around on giraffes’ heads, I felt a deep stab of rage as I flashbacked to playing The Lion King game on Super Nintendo in the late 90s. I still remember every stage I had difficulty with; it wasn’t just the giraffe heads, there was also the waterfall level, the elephant’s graveyard, and the stampede. Here is a short introduction to the game, which shows part of the giraffe head level that I talked about:

You can also find many other videos of this game on Youtube.

Just watching that video again brings back the anger that has evidently built up from hours of frustration I experienced as a nine-year old. I still remember the sad, pitying music that played when you lost all of your lives. The screen would fade to black and Simba would curl up on the floor and die. I don’t think I ever even finished the game; instead, I watched as my brother beat the increasingly hard levels and eventually the entire game.

It’s kind of interesting now to see how concepts we learned in class apply to this horrible game. I obviously wasn’t motivated enough to get through the entire game since the challenge level always seemed to be just beyond what I could reach, but my brother was able to overcome each increasingly difficult level. Apparently, my optimal level of challenge is a lot lower than his. He also spent a lot more time playing than I did, and where I only experienced failure, he experienced success (hey, Gee’s Practice Principle!).

On the drive back home from the movie, I mentioned how I used to play The Lion King game and was surprised when two friends immediately said that they did too and expressed their hatred of that same giraffe heads level. It’s not just me; this game pissed off 90s kids everywhere! Does anyone else remember this infuriating effing game?