The State of IT Education
BackBy Lindsay Edmonds Wickman —1 | 2 |
Chalkboard lessons and teacher monologues are the mainstay of many of the nation’s classrooms. But can this environment really foster interest in information technology and develop the skills that are increasingly necessary in today’s workplace?
“In the 21st century, we’re still teaching the way we were in the 20th century,” said Isa Zimmerman, who was an educator for 40 years in K-12 schools and is a senior fellow at the University of Massachusetts Donahue Institute, the research and entrepreneurial arm of the President’s Office. “We’re not preparing kids for the world they’re going to work in, live in and communicate in. We [just] aren’t doing the job.”
The first problem is the technology itself. It is fairly outdated and at capacity in terms of what it can handle, said Robert Fenstermacher, head of global education marketing for Aruba Networks, a provider of secure enterprise mobility solutions. Also, the majority of schools still tuck computers away from the classroom in specialized computer labs.
But schools are looking to change this, Fenstermacher said.
“What we’re starting to see is [schools and districts] requesting funds either through bonds or E-Rate, so you have devices like laptops in the hands of the students,” he said. “Fortunately, there are funds that are coming available to help in [this] transition. [But] most districts would like to roll out technology more pervasively than they are right now. It’s just a vision of how to support that, so they have to take small initial steps.”
In Zimmerman’s opinion, the first step in integrating technology into the schools is to invest in the equipment.
“When I was a young administrator, I had an argument with a colleague because he kept saying, ‘Let’s have a plan and teach people how to use technology.’ I said, ‘We can’t teach them to use the technology unless they have it every day because they’ll forget what we taught them,’” she said.
“You can’t move to the next level without some significant infusion of money,” she continued. “Money buys infrastructure, money buys the time for people to learn, money buys the programs for people to use — and those are [all] big pieces of the puzzle.”
Keith Krueger, CEO of the Consortium for School Networking, believes that with respect to the first wave of technology — which deals with infrastructure, bandwidth and equipment — schools have made considerable progress. In 1997, only one-third of schools had Internet access, he said. Today, virtually all schools and 97 percent of classrooms are connected to the Internet.
But simply having the technology is not enough.
“It’s typically politically expedient to buy computers and call it a day,” said Charles Fadel, the global lead for education at Cisco Systems. “But it’s not pedagogically sound in most cases, and it doesn’t necessarily get very large returns on the investment. It sounds good because it gives the perception of a quick win, but it’s not.”
Once the technology is in place, teachers need to understand it and then integrate it into the classroom — and that’s where a lot of schools fail.
Fadel said information and communications technology can be incorporated into education in three layers. First, teachers must instruct students on how to use the technology to perform basic tasks such as word processing, e-mail and online browsing. Next, teachers must incorporate technology into their lessons; for example, they might use GPS technology during a geography class. And third, educators must teach students through technology — such as immersing them in virtual-world simulations — to create personalized learning experiences.
“By and large, in the best schools, we’ve only met the first two layers,” Fadel said. “Even the second layer is not systematically met across the board in all topics, in all classrooms, with all teachers.”
Fadel feels that schools are implementing the latter phases little by little.
“I’m not necessarily sure we’re doing it at the right speed, but we’re definitely on the right track,” he said.
Is Education Engaging?
Students are texting on their iPhones, networking with one another over the Internet and even blogging on their laptops. They’ve grown up with technology and are rarely disconnected from it. But their classrooms don’t reflect the world around them. In fact, many schools ban the use of Web 2.0 technologies.
“If we take a student perspective and you ask kids how they use technology in school versus how they use it outside of school, the evidence is very clear that the one-word answer would be ‘lame,’” Krueger said.
As a result, students might see little relevance in their education and become disengaged. Not surprisingly, this disconnection affects motivation, performance and dropout rates.
Further, without a firm grounding in the use of technology in a professional setting, students are graduating from high school unprepared for the real world and employer expectations.
“Colleges are telling us we’re not preparing our high school kids well enough, and the businesses are telling us we’re not preparing our college kids well enough,” Zimmerman said.
For these reasons, organizations in Massachusetts are trying to make competence in technology part of the licensure requirements for educators.
“Everybody — shoemakers, snow-plow drivers, the physicist who gets the Nobel Prize, the manager who runs a Fortune 500 company — has to know how to use technology,” Zimmerman said. “It isn’t just the scientists or the technicians.
“That’s exactly why the state of technology in schools is so distressing because every youngster needs to have easy access and competence in these new instruments. [And] we need the people in our schools, our educators, to find it just as easy as the kids so that they can use the technology with the kids.”
The IT Shortage
The lack of access to technology in schools also is impacting the number of professionals who enter IT fields. If students don’t have access to it, how can they ever consider it as a career?
“If you’re in a very poor district and you don’t have access to these things, then it will automatically limit your ability to even think of them as a potential career,” Fadel said. “But it’s hard to judge how large [the impact] is and to quantify it.”
Zimmerman believes it has a big impact because students start dreaming about their careers when they’re young, and access to technology can plant a seed for the future.
“The state of technology in some public schools is woeful, and that’s where it starts. It starts with the little kids,” Zimmerman said. “Somebody once said, ‘A Ph.D. starts with kindergarten.’ It’s true. If we don’t get kids interested early on in all the STEM subjects [science, technology, engineering and mathematics], then we lose a lot of potential employees and researchers who will produce for the greater good.”
To illustrate her point, Zimmerman shared an anecdote about when she was a superintendent at one particular school.
“[There] were kids who were way ahead of their teachers [in terms of technology],” she said. “They would help teachers find things on the Internet that they could use in their classes. They would help teachers troubleshoot a problem.”1 | 2 |