Technology & Learning's Special 25th Anniversary Poll asked readers to tell us which ed tech problems they'd most like to see solved. The following rather eclectic mix of topics reflects the issues most commonly reported. T&L's editors and contributors offer a range of solutions and a look at what educators might expect to see a few years down the line.
- The Multimedia Classroom
LCD projectors, interactive white boards, document cameras, and other display technologies are beginning to change the face of today's classrooms.
- Customized Content
Using technology to mix and match content from different sources is no longer an instructional pipe dream for educators.
- Sustained Funding
What do you do when the grant ends, the philanthropist finds a new cause, and the bond expires?
- One-to-One Computing
Emerging tools are making one-to-one computing, or something like it, more attainable for school districts.
- On-the-Spot Assessment
The days of waiting months or even hours for test scores or evaluative feedback are gone. The Internet and a range of mobile solutions are empowering educators and students with the ability to receive instant responses.
- Resource Sharing
The Internet offers a multitude of grassroots ways for educators to collaborate, simplify lesson planning, and support one another in what can sometimes be a very lonely job.
- Corralling Digital Natives
From text messaging to the Internet, today's students have ingenious ways to circumvent traditional school and classroom rules. Educators need the tools and awareness to keep them in check.
- 24/7 Wireless Access
Schools working with communities to provide 24/7 wireless connectivity to students and citizens could help overcome the digital divide.
- Integrating Games into the Classroom
Experts say real learning occurs when students immerse themselves in new worlds where unfamiliar terms, conventions, and cultures require them to employ a host of higher-order thinking skills.
- Making the Case for Technology
With a strong message, due diligence, and a little luck, your technology wishes may come true.
Tom McHale is an educator who teaches in New Jersey.
Susan McLester is editor in chief of Technology & Learning.
Amy Poftak is executive editor of Technology & Learning.
Peter Robertson is former CIO of the Cleveland Municipal School District.
Former principal Michael Simkins is creative director of the Technology Information Center for Administrative Leadership (TICAL).
Kathy Schrock is the administrator for technology at Nauset Public Schools in Orleans, Mass., and the creator of Kathy Schrock's Guide for Educators (http://school.discovery.com/schrockguide).
Matt Villano is a California-based freelance writer who specializes in educational technology.
David Warlick is an educator, blogger, podcaster, author, programmer, and public speaker.
1. The Multimedia Classroom
By David Warlick
The best way to integrate 21st century literacy into student learning is to teach in a 21st century information environment. That means using digital and networked information and teaching from the vast reserves available on the Internet. Some schools are implementing 1:1 initiatives to put access directly into the hands of students. But many others are addressing the problem at the classroom level.
Someone recently asked Nicholas Negroponte (director of The Media Lab and evangelist for MIT's $100 laptop project, see "News and Trends") if mobile phones weren't the solution to education in the developing world. He said, "You can't teach children about the world through a keyhole." If educators can provide students with a picture window on the world, they can approximate the media-rich experiences that are increasingly part of the world outside the classroom. As prices for LCD projectors fall, more and more educators are teaching students with text, images, animation, and video from the seemingly bottomless Internet — or with media they produce themselves.
Perhaps the best thing about classroom display technologies is that they can so easily be integrated into the classrooms teachers are accustomed to. Of course, perpetuating exclusively teacher-centered classrooms is not what we're about, but change takes time. As educators are challenged to develop research and validation skills, media development techniques, and appreciation for information design, they are becoming increasingly literate in the digital networked world. Hopefully, these skills become integrated into the work their students are doing.
Integration also surfaces in these information-rich classrooms from an entirely different direction. I frequently ask teachers what the impact of new technologies has been on their classrooms, and almost without exception, those with projectors and interactive white boards describe their students interacting with the information. They come up to the board and move the information around, selecting, organizing, ranking, and assembling knowledge with the points of their fingers.
LCD projectors cost between $800 and $4,000.
Birmingham Grid for Learning
National Clearinghouse of Educational Facilities
National Interactive Whiteboard (U.K.)
Official Scottish advice
2. Custom Fit
By Peter Robertson
Good teachers have always customized content. Their "instructional management system" has typically been a kitchen table strewn with dog-eared textbooks, handouts, student work, and other assorted materials they pore over to prepare future lessons.
Moving from the kitchen table to the computer screen means replacing piles of books and papers with databases of content that can be catalogued and interconnected. Groups like SIF, SCORM, and IMS have developed standards that allow content to be catalogued and shared across systems. Adoption of these standards has been slow, in part because vendors struggle with striking the right balance between legitimately protecting and indiscriminately expanding intellectual property rights in the digital context.
For do-it-yourself educators, though, customized content is already here. With the click of a mouse educators can repurpose materials from free sites like the Federal Resources for Educational Excellence (FREE), the National Science Digital Library, or the World Lecture Hall. They can harvest materials from Google, provided they comply with copyright and fair use guidelines. If they're really enterprising, they can set up RSS feeds to channel new content right to their desktops.
For those educators needing more guidance, there are burgeoning commercial options. Several vendors offer customizable assessment and intervention tools, for example, and many offer Web sites where teachers pick and choose supplementary activities based on the standards they're teaching. A few textbook publishers even let educators use online "course pack" tools to build a custom set of readings from journals and other resources that are then printed and delivered.
To see the real future of educational content, go to Google News and click on "customize this page."
If it's possible to build a personal newspaper this good, why not personalized textbooks for each student based on their assessment scores and learning styles?
Note to textbook publishers: resistance is futile.
Costs range from free for public domain sites to thousands of dollars for premium databases. Ultimately, electronic textbook content will cost no more than traditional content.
Advanced Distributed Learning
Copyright and Fair Use Guidelines
Federal Resources for Educational Excellence
IMS Global Learning Consortium
National Science Digital Library
Schools Interoperability Framework Association
3. Keep the Bucks Coming
By Michael Simkins
Funding technology has always been a challenge. Typically, schools have relied on government grants, philanthropy, and special bonds to underwrite the costs of installing infrastructure, purchasing equipment, and training staff. The money is great while it lasts, but funding sources like these are short-lived.
The place to start reversing this trend is in your school or district technology plan. The better the planning process, the better your chances of achieving sustained funding. To begin with, be strategic in selecting who will be part of the planning team. These people will be your advocates when it's time to convince those who hold the purse strings to fund your plan. Try to include people with clout in your community!
The planning process should include identifying as many revenue sources as possible. Don't just create a budget and leave it to someone else to figure out where to get the money. By forcing yourself to consider funding sources when you create your plan, you will also be doing a reality check: If you can't identify where the money will come from for a key element of your plan, it may be time to scale back the plan, establish priorities, or develop a phased-in approach.
As you scan for possible funding sources, look for unique local possibilities. For example, the school board in one California district was convinced to dedicate the interest earned on its emergency reserve fund to support the technology plan.
Once you've identified funding sources, allocate them for the right purposes. A good rule of thumb is: Invest one-time funds in durable goods. For example, use grants to purchase equipment or for professional development. Likewise, use general fund revenue to pay for ongoing expenses like maintenance agreements and technical support staff.
Unfortunately, there is no magic wand you can wave to sustain technology. The answer is careful planning and convincing results.
Cost depends on whether districts use existing staff or hire outside consultants.
Funding Strategies for Education Technology
Grants and Funding Opportunities
Matching Expenses To Different Funding Streams
Obtaining and Sustaining Funding
The Sustainability Challenge: Taking Edtech to the Next Level
4. Mobile Dreams
By Kathy Schrock
In a perfect world, all students would have their own mobile computers. With the help of the Internet, students could write, draw, create, present, communicate, and collaborate. In the classroom, teachers would harness these mobile tools to promote higher-order thinking and problem solving.
Research suggests that students in laptop programs exhibit higher levels of engagement and improved writing skills. The data about standardized assessments is less definitive. But one-to-one programs are still young, and many experts believe it's only a matter of time before they demonstrate a positive effect on student achievement.
One-to-one means providing a laptop or tablet PC to each student. For districts with infrastructure issues, space constraints, little IT support, and tight budgets, this model is not feasible. Handheld computers are one alternative. These pint-sized devices have become more powerful in recent years, and schools can purchase four handhelds (with wireless Internet and a stripped-down Office suite) for the price of one laptop. Hundreds of handheld applications are suitable for education.
Another low-cost approach is USB storage devices, which students can use to carry large files between home and school. Even better, students can use audio players that double as storage devices. Creative Labs, for instance, offers a 256 MB player with FM radio and voice recorder that allows computer programs to run directly from it and stores and plays data and music files for only $70. These kinds of devices (Apple's iPod Nano and Shuffle can handle many of these tasks with the right software, too) allow students to word process, create spreadsheets, surf the Web, and develop presentations at home or the library and then transport their files. Taking audio notes, taping class lectures, and, of course, listening to music are added bonuses.
Laptops and tablet PCs may provide the most robust one-to-one experience, but with a little creative thinking districts could narrow the digital divide today. Wouldn't that be nice?
Laptops cost about $1,200. Software and network maintenance can add hundreds of dollars to the per-student total. Handheld computers cost $250-$400 per student, and MP3 players cost $70-$250.
Center for Education Policy, Applied Research, and Evaluation
iPod Shuffles for Data Storage
Laptop learning research
Palm Education Solutions Guide
Support for handhelds in the classroom
5. On-the-Spot Assessment
By Susan McLester
The ability of today's technology to facilitate assessment through instant response is central to its power in education. Among the many iterations this can take are Web-delivered artificial intelligence for essay scoring, such as Vantage Learning's MY Access!; real-time tutoring; online offerings that customize feedback for students on high stakes and benchmark tests, now broadly available from ETS, Kaplan, Bridges, and others; and programming packages like LOGO, which allow students to see immediately if their commands are producing the desired results in computer game characters or objects.
In the past few years the focus has been on hardware and software applications that offer mobile data delivery, effectively helping to streamline such tasks as teacher observations, reading readiness assessments, IEP creation, and gauging student understanding of concepts while a lesson is in progress.
In the next few years, look for cell phones, iPods, and other personal technology tools to broaden their range of utilities and classroom uses.
$1,500-$8,000 for a set of personal response systems.
Austin Sky Technology (TESA)
eLearning Dynamics LearnTrac
GoObserve and GoKnow
GTCO CalComp's InterWrite PRS
Houghton Mifflin Learner Profile
iRespond, Reveal Technologies
Scantron Achievement Series
Technology & Learning: Assessment Unplugged
Texas Instruments TI-Navigator
Wireless Generation mCLASS
6. Great Minds Share Alike
By Michael Simkins
Teachers are prisoners of time. There is always more to do than time in which to do it. So the less time spent reinventing the wheel, the better.
Developing lesson plans is a case in point. Educators everywhere are writing lesson plans that address the same standards in the same subjects. Sharing the plans — and sharing the work of creating them — can yield significant time savings and improved results.
Collaboration can take many low- and high-tech forms. E-mail is the most fundamental. Plant the seeds for a network of educators by sending a colleague or two an e-mail with one of your lesson plans attached. Invite them to share one of theirs and let your "co-op" grow from there.
While e-mail is ideal for two-way communication, it becomes cumbersome when the group of communicators grows. As more teachers become involved, you'll probably want to use an online discussion tool. For example, Yahoo! Groups (http://groups.yahoo.com) is a free service that allows you to bring together colleagues through a Web site and e-mail group. It also offers a place to store copies of lesson plans where everyone in the group can access them as needed.
Don't want to start your own lesson plan exchange? There are many sites on the Web where you can download other teachers' lesson plans and post your own in return. A to Z Teacher Stuff (http://atozteacherstuff.com) is just one example.
Feeling adventurous? Like to work collaboratively? Then check out wikis. Tools that allow multiple people to coauthor the same Web page, wikis have great potential as a platform for exchanging ideas and developing lesson plans.
Regardless of whether you initiate your own personal teachers' co-op or join in an ongoing national project, technology can help you streamline and refine your planning process. It's about time.
Apple Learning Interchange
Microsoft Education's lesson plans
Online lesson plan builders
7. Taming Technology's Temptations
By Tom McHale
The Internet, PDAs, graphing calculators, MP3 players, and cell phones have made cheating, and getting away with it, easier than ever. Don McCabe at the Center for Academic Integrity found that of the 18,000 high school students he surveyed, "over 70 percent of respondents... admitted to one or more instances of serious test cheating and over 60 percent admitted to some form of plagiarism."
Good preventive software and Web sites can help with Internet plagiarism. Some of the more popular are TurnItIn.com, MyDropBox, the Glatt Plagiarism Screening Program, and the Essay Verification Engine (ESE). These sites and software search the Web and huge databases of papers to look for similarities. Of course, searching conspicuous phrases on Google has long been an effective no-cost method.
Newer forms of technology are more difficult to deal with. As cell phones and other handhelds get smaller and smaller, students can easily tuck them under their desks or up a sleeve and receive answers through text messaging, Internet browsing, or digital pictures of answer keys. iPods and other MP3 players play class notes as easily as they play music. Confiscating or banning these devices and clearing graphing calculators before tests are some common measures that may be taken. The use of C-Guard, a device which interrupts cell phone signals within a 262-foot area, is a more high-tech and high-priced way to secure a testing area. Smaller and more affordable handheld devices that detect mobile device signals are under development in Korea.
Researchers at the Center for Academic Integrity have found that educating students about plagiarism and cheating and instituting a strict academic honor code can significantly reduce cheating. The center's Web site has links from member university and high school honor codes that have served as models for educating students on the rewards of following strict codes of conduct and the consequences for violations.
Antiplagiarism software and services vary widely in price.
Antiplagiarism Strategies for Research Papers
The Center for Academic Integrity
C-Guard Cellular Firewall
Glatt Plagiarism Services
Plagiarism Stoppers: A Teacher's Guide
Wired's "New Toys for Cheating"
8. The Connected Community
By Matt Villano
For most K-12 districts, offering wireless access to users on campus is a given. But what about schools that want to provide Internet access to the entire community, building connections between school and home?
Manteca Unified School District in Manteca, Calif., is building a network so powerful it will give students and teachers the ability to connect wirelessly anywhere in the surrounding community. According to Michael Dodge, assistant superintendent for business services, the $1.6-million effort starts with radio towers from Proxim that will sit atop each of the district's 27 schools. Down the road, with help from Motorola, the district will build a wireless canopy on top of its network to connect the entire community.
While Manteca plans to sell wireless access and create additional revenue streams, access will be free for students and teachers affiliated with the district. To make this happen, every Manteca user will be given a wireless encryption protocol (WEP) key to access the network from home. With these keys, qualified users have as much wireless access off campus as they do at school, and they can use personal wireless laptops for just about anything, including a thin-client login to individual folders on a centralized terminal server.
Dodge estimates that the Manteca canopy will go live sometime later this year. He adds that this is Phase 1 of an even bigger project to run wireless VoIP across the district and eventually to the entire community.
For schools and districts that would like to emulate Manteca, help might be on the way. This fall, Google announced intentions to provide free wireless to San Francisco, while AirTegrity unveiled plans to offer Wi-Fi access in Reno, Nev. Philadelphia also planned to foot the bill for similar services. See www.phila.gov/wireless for more details.
The Manteca USD effort cost $1.6 million, funded largely with e-rate funds, money from the general budget, and dollars it saved from eliminating hard connections to its schools.
9. Got Game?
By Susan McLester
When the Bloats took over Zoombini Isle and began "stealing profits, canceling holidays, and piling on homework," the Zoombinis knew it was time to take a hike. But overcoming obstacles like sneezing bridges and demanding trolls can prove challenging. Motivated by a compelling narrative, colorful animation, and surprises around every corner, players dig into solving tough puzzles involving graphing, data analysis and sorting, statistical thinking, pattern recognition, set theory, and more.
Definitely ahead of its time, Logical Journey of the Zoombinis, first published by Broderbund in 1997 (now available from Riverdeep), was embraced by some educators and rejected by others. It asked kids to think critically, but it didn't fit the classroom activity mold. Learner-centered, investigation-based, time slot-unfriendly, and defying traditional assessment, it pretty much broke school rules all around. But in fact the Zoombinis model is very similar to many of today's commercial video games, which inspire players to spend inordinate amounts of time solving very difficult problems in pursuit of fantasy goals. Of course, this speaks to the primal power of fun.
In a November interview with Game Developer magazine, James Paul Gee, author of What Video Games Have to Teach Us About Learning and Literacy, says, "The problem the game industry has — how do we get someone to learn something that's hard and complex — is the same problem that schools have. But the game industry is arguably better at solving it than schools."
Epistemic is the word that MIT Education Arcade researchers and others use to describe the experience of being immersed in new and unknown worlds where players must learn rules, social structures, language, conventions, and behaviors. Evangelists for the use of games in schools don't see why education can't package physics, health, economics, and other disciplines into the same format as glitzy consumer offerings like Firaxis's Civilization III and Microsoft's Age of Empires.
Although a few education leaders ahead of the curve are plunging both game playing and game creation into the regular curriculum, the negative reputation of video games, the need for a clear assessment tool, and time and integration constrictions of traditional school settings remain among the hurdles sure to prevent widespread adoption in the foreseeable future.
Retail multiplayer games cost $30-$60.
Game Developer's Game Career Guide
MIT's Education Arcade
Marc Prensky, educational game expert
10. Making Your Case
By Amy Poftak
You know your heart's desire. Whether it's online training, video editing software, or an iPod, you're convinced it will enliven teaching and learning. Now how do you get your higher-ups to share your vision, and more important, pony up for the funding?
In most districts, moving ideas up the bureaucratic ladder can be daunting. The curriculum department wants to scrutinize them; the IT staff needs to ensure technical compatibility, and so on. Another consideration is established practice. According to Market Data Retrieval, 40 percent of districts only purchase instructional software backed by scientifically based research. And 69 percent limit purchases to a preferred vendor list.
Making your case, therefore, requires careful planning and perseverance.
At the St. Michael's Country Day School in Newport, Rhode Island, director of technology Beth Holland supports her purchasing recommendations with a written analysis of how the technology supports school objectives. She also "works the numbers" by supplying total cost of ownership and return on investment calculations.
Helping educators like Holland polish their arguments is the goal of a recent ISTE initiative. The organization's free Advocacy Toolkit offers tips for preparing an effective 30-second pitch (You never know when you're going to bump into your superintendent at the supermarket). ISTE also proffers a list of questions to tackle before presenting your ideas. Among them: What does current research show? What are key indicators [of success]? What kind of professional development is required?
Of course, often the best way to get support for new technology is through the back door. Tim Stahmer, who works as an instructional technology specialist for a large Virginia district, says he relies on teachers already experimenting with the technology who can testify to its effectiveness. "Sometimes that means teachers outside the district but often they are in our own schools, having flown under the radar to try something new," says Stahmer, who cites interactive white boards as one technology that came to be embraced by his district in this manner.
There's no price tag on good ideas; however, building the case takes time, and as they say, time is money.
ISTE Advocacy toolkit
What Works Clearinghouse