Tuesday, October 19, 2010

K-12 Education Leads the Technological Way

My kids are in 4th grade and in 7th grade.  Two week ago we had “meet the teacher night” for the 4th grader and last week we had “meet the teacher night” for the 7th grader.  For the 4th grader, her education is centered around one teacher.  For the 7th grader, the day has nine separate periods—one is for lunch; the remaining 8, for 7 subjects since English has a double period of time.  For my middle school daughter, I followed her exact schedule, except each of the classes was substantially abbreviated.  What all the classes had in common (except for physical education), both in elementary school and in middle school, was that the teachers made extensive use of the smartboards in their room.  And this use was not just made to impress the parents; I know from my kids that the smartboard is utilized throughout their time in school.

My kids are both good athletes.  But when they are not involved in sports and when they have discretionary time, they are very into TV, the computer, the IPOD, the Wii, the DS etc.  They are very stimulated by technology, much more so than I was when I was growing up.  Of course, when I was young there were only seven TV channels, and when additional channels and the VCR arrived, those were considered major technological breakthroughs.

The norm in a college or university is not to have a smartboard in every classroom.  They tend to be available in the larger classrooms and less so in the smaller classrooms.  Is this lack of universal availability a plus or is it a minus?  I would not advocate for a smartboard in seminar rooms.  The interaction you are looking for in a seminar could be undercut by a smartboard which might be a distraction in this setting.  But what about the many regular classes that have between 25 and 50 students?  The visual display, the access to information, the ability to make the class notes available electronically (so that a student could just listen and watch and not have to take notes at the same time) are all tremendously appealing.  I know that an economics course could come more alive via a smartboard and I believe the same is true for other disciplines.

I am not looking for students to be addicted to a smartboard because in many real world setting, the boards will not be there.  On the other hand, more and more students are used to learning this way and it may be a more effective way to transmit knowledge and stimulate thinking. We need to test this hypothesis.  In addition, and this is simply a perception that may not at all be grounded in reality:  given that most colleges and universities have less technology in typical classrooms, does it give a sense to students and their families that in some ways this is not “higher” education. Is there a technology gap between many goods K- 12 schools and many good colleges and universities?

I am not ready to advocate for smartboards in every classroom but just as higher education looked carefully at the issue of requiring students to buy laptops and bring them to class, we should just as carefully study the smartboard issue.  We clearly have smart faculty and smart students: would a smartboard requirement make the picture complete?

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