Digitizing the Status Quo

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    Digitizing the Status QuoMark Gura

    Walking the very extensive vendor floor at this past Junes NECC (National

    Educational Computing Conference) I was struck by the undeniableconfirmation of a disturbing trend that has been asserting itself for some

    time. Instructional Technology has been hacked! Like the very technology it

    relies on, my field has been infected by the viruses, Trojan horses, and

    pernicious worms of institutionalized mediocrity.

    One wouldnt draw this conclusion from the workshops, panels, papers, or

    poster sessions presented at NECC. There, inspired educators still represent

    an intoxicating antidote to the stultifying way that the business of traditional

    education is done in our schools. Many of these sessions offered glimpses

    into an alternate reality in which teaching and learning are fueled withexcitement, wonder, and magic. It was heartening to see that the movement

    to harness the awesome power of technology to ignite young imaginations

    and offer a brand of education in sync with the digital generation is

    flourishing, at least in the fertile minds of some educators.

    On the sales floor though, something else is afoot. Those short answer

    quizzes that we educators have long since ceased to value? There back! But

    now they run on PDAs and have a data engine to help teacher figure quickly

    how her class faired. No need to rely on traditional chalkboards to supportteacher-centered lecture-style lessons, now, we have virtual white boards to

    establish a superficial 21st

    Century corollary for pre-twentieth century

    instructional methodology.

    It isnt simply this simple minding me too, weve got a digital version for

    every hackneyed outmoded public school ritual, that sets my teeth on edge.

    Rather, its a sense of loss. That we had something so special within our

    grasp and now it has been co-opted by the forces that fight for the status quo.

    We hardly got a running start on digitally re-defining the spirit and

    methodology of education for the new millennium through the infusion of

    technology, and powerful forces have commandeered our movement,

    cheapeining it and robbing it of its core mission.

    Eclipsing technology that is put at the service of those elusive magical ah

    ha teachable moments of pure inspiration, one sees purveyed instead

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    Student Information Systems, sophisticated software to handle all your vital

    records: attendance, test data, programs, etc. Great! But the Harry Potter

    generation craves the wizardry of instructional content delivered by Java,

    Flash, and Virtual Reality.

    In conversation after conversation, sales reps enthusiastically demonstrate

    how technology supports educators in making data driven decisions,

    issuing youngsters bar coded ID cards, automating calls home to parents to

    inform them of their offsprings tardiness. They show endless varieties of

    software to help with that onerous NCLB compliance bugaboo. Meanwhile,

    our youngsters are smuggling game boys, video enabled cell phones, pocket

    GPS units and DVD players into class in their backpacks.

    Technology to support the administrative functions running schools is

    winning an increasing amount of attention and available dollars.Unfortantely though, in addition to the intended advantages that these

    resources offer educators, they just may be compromising the greater of

    putting technology at the service of education. We are just now at the point

    where a good many of our decision makers are beginning to notice

    technology for education in ernest. What a pity it would be if the majority

    conclusion was that once you have your SIS in place, have moved to online

    purchasing, and have provided district personnel with email and information

    through a district website, that youve done technology! Nothing could be

    further from the truth. The administrative aspects of technology for school

    administration represent just a tiny fraction of technologys potential topositively transform education. Its scary to think that the powerful

    uninitiated will settle for an easy to swallow appetizer without checking out

    the menu of main courses and deserts.

    Upstairs in the meeting rooms, my colleagues were sharing the remarkable

    work they had done using technology to:

    And to be fair about it, back down on the sales floor there were companies

    selling:

    Paradigms do not die hard.