Getting Back to Basics with Technology

We constantly hear about the pitfalls of rushing ahead with our students’ regular education and skipping the basics. We have seen the problems inherent with many new fads and trendy education theories. We all know the importance of teaching students to read, write and do mathematics first.

But why can’t we do this with technology?

I had a tour group of elementary students come through my classroom this year and I was appalled to find out that their school no longer teaches keyboarding because, as someone ‘explained,’ "Soon there will be voice recognition and we won’t need our keyboards." I was too dumbfounded to reply with a hearty "When will that be?" Later I did check around with some communication engineers about this, and they laughed- and said it was a long time coming before voice recognition will be to the point where we do a Scottie from Star Trek and say — "computer, run this program."

Our district is pushing for teachers to learn Dreamweaver to create Web pages. The reason I have a problem with this is that most of the teachers I see being trained don't know a thing about Web pages, servers or even how to save on the intranet. Teaching DreamWeaver now is like teaching a child Calculus before teaching them addition. Plus, DreamWeaver and a lot of those programs require special care to be compatible with text browsers — so we are again leaving behind the disabled and others who must use text browsers. I believe that is in clear defiance of the true meaning of No Child Left Behind.

Let's get back to the basics of technology.

What do I mean by that? To begin, if you are going to use a computer, you should know how to type. Beginning in kindergarten, when you teach students to write, start teaching them the correct fingering for the keyboard. I teach at a middle school where students use computers in ALL of their classes. In art, they research biographies and themes and then they write a report — all on the computer. In physical education, they research exercise and health benefits, then write a report — again, on the computer. In music class they use computer programs to view the notes, plus they research musicians, like Mozart — on the computer. In mathematics, my students have chatted to NASA engineers as they learned about slope and other concepts. It’s neat to relay chat with a professional engineer; but to do so you first have to know how to type.

#1 — teach keyboarding

I have seen many keyboarding software programs. After trying a bunch, and checking with the tech facilitator on his favorites — I vote for Ultra Key. And I’ve seen it used in ‘stealth’ mode. Our journalism teacher insists that her eighth-grade gifted students, most of them in our highly rigorous pre-IB academic program, learn keyboarding in her class, as most of them can't type. But many parents feel that taking the beginning computer class, which is the only keyboarding class in the school, is 'beneath' their children. The poor journalism teacher shakes her head in disgust — "how can I get through to the parents about the importance of keyboarding, when the school doesn't even require it?" So, along with teaching journalism, she uses the Ultra-key program as her bell-work. It works — and most are typing a minimum of 30 wpm when they leave her class.

There is so much I can say about Ultra Key! Here's just a little list of some of the program's features:

  • Realistic 3-D graphics model correct posture and typing technique;
  • Uncluttered interface minimizes distraction;
  • Voice supported instruction ideal for special needs and pre-readers;
  • Live classroom video and virtual reality demonstrate key concepts;
  • Automatic remedial help using the most up-to-date teaching techniques;
  • and a Wide variety of practice and test material is included.

Mavis Beacon is also acceptable, but, in my opinion, it isn't as good as Ultra Key for the multitude of levels presented in a school environment.

I am sure you can find many others — but the above two are my favorites.

#2 — teach computers as a tool

Computers are not going to save the world. They are not a reward. They are not a replacement for a teacher. And they are not a cure for any educational problem. But, they are wonderful time-saving devices. Think of computers as typewriters. Utlize them as your own personal media center. Use them as funny looking 'telephones.'

These are the three things that computers in a school do best: word processing, research and communication.

So, as a tool, first teach your students about word processing. It would probably be a great idea to go beyond using MSWord, too. Find other word processor applications and then compare and contrast them. Be aware that most schools use MSOffice, while most home computers use the non-compatible MSWorks.

Next, teach your students how to do online research. Do not expect them to know, or care what is correct. You have to teach them. I learned this lesson the hard way. Years ago I assigned a project about Mars. Many students told me they used as a research site. That’s the Mars company, which sells candy bars and cat food. The site doesn’t have a single sentence on the planet Mars. So, before I assign my first project, I take the time to teach my students how to research, how to differentiate between fact and opinion, and how to correctly cite sources.

Lesson on research

Teaching Students How To Do Online Research

Then, use your computer for collaboration or other sorts of communication. Don't be afraid of student email or student discussion board use. Find experts that will chat with your students. Work with other teachers on projects.

Student and Expert Communications

#3 — Don't forget that teachers need to learn the basics, too.

For example, before encouraging teachers to use advanced programs why not check to see if they understand the basics of that type of application. For example, before teaching DreamWeaver, teach what the purpose of a Web page is, how to create one using code, and how to determine if the final product can be used on ALL browsers — including text browsers.

The idea of the World Wide Web is that everyone has access to almost everything. What a wonderful boon to the poor and handicapped. The playing field is now a little bit more level. That is, until people start using products that only the newest and best can view. I teach my students to test their Web pages on all kinds of browsers, even a text-only browser, and to remember to create the Web page for less than perfect technology – a 56 Kb (or even a 33.6 Kb) modem, 640 by 480 resolution, and older versions of browsers. Remember, many handicapped users only use text browsers — and so do many professionals who don't want to be bogged down with useless graphics.

There are so many ways to use computers — but before they can be successfully utilized, the basics must be taught. Remember: #1 Keyboarding; #2 Computer as a tool (word processing, research and communication); and #3 teachers need to learn the basics before asking them to learn advanced programs.

Email: Rosemary Shaw