Teachers Make the
by Alan Zisman (c) 2003 First published in VESTA News
October 2003 Technotes column
What is it that makes a real difference in using technology in schools?
Teachers make the difference when it comes to computers.
Back in the early
1980s, the idea was that everyone would have to learn computer
So some schools
taught students the BASIC programming language. Others, LOGO. Or maybe
the secret to success. Now, programming has fallen from fashion. It’s
useful skill, but it’s now mostly taught to those wanting a career
using it. And
few would-be software developers learn either BASIC, LOGO, or PASCAL.
hardware wars. Schools bought Commodore PETs or C-64s or Amigas. Or
Apple: Apple IIs or Macs. Still others opted for IBM-style PCs, first
later with Windows.
More recently, we’ve
survived fashions for brand-name software packages. If your school
X, you got everything you needed. Not only a complete curriculum, it
was so easy
to use that even an adult could use it!
Or maybe the
secret was how your computers were connected or where they were
with networks were ‘high tech’ claimed the 1998 corporate-sponsored
Report’. Or maybe the answer was a computer lab. Or a few computers in
classroom. Or pods in the library.
successive technology fad, too many schools spent thousands of
education dollars on hardware, software, and networks but ended up with
expensive systems that either rarely got turned on or were used more as
systems than learning tools.
many teachers, parents, and administrators have become cynical about
of technology in education. Computers in schools can all too often seem
the new-age equivalent of that old joke that asks ‘What’s a boat?’,
answer ‘A hole in the ocean that you pour money into’.
OK, so what makes
a real difference in using technology in schools?
A computer without
a teacher is a game system. A computer with a teacher is a tool for
It takes some
work, some thought, and some planning. That shouldn’t be a
educational practice involving computers or the Internet isn’t any
than anything else we do in the classroom. An effective lesson
technology isn’t all that different from any other effective lesson.
to be clear goals and clear ways to evaluate student learning.
Computers and the
Internet can be tools to help with literacy and writing, with
and math concepts. They can be used for research and for learning to
evaluate information. They can be used to create visual art,
music. But in all cases, they are just one more tool to help students
And as with any tool for learning, they work best when there’s a clear
comfortable using these new tools, they are often surprised how much
already know; as with any tool, there are techniques to learn, but the
remain the same. Saving files on a hard disk is a different technique
organizing files in folders in a filing cabinet but ideas of organizing
searching the Web is different from using a school library’s catalogue.
reading for understanding, organizing information, and transforming
data into knowledge are the same whether pages are on screen or in
Teachers will be
discussing technology issues and ideas at the annual Horizons
Conference put on by the provincial Computer Using Educators PSA,
October 23 and 24th at Surrey's Guildford Park Secondary. Info at cuebchorizons.ca/horizons2003.