By Marie A. Christensen Karr


In the last two decades, technology--namely, the personal computer--has taken education by storm.  Billions have been spent, credential requirements have been rewritten, entire departments have been created, and mountains of research papers and books have been written and published (both on and off the Web).  And what, precisely, do we have to show for it?

Absolutely nothing conclusive.  While the pundits--both pro (McKenzie--see and con (Oppenheimer--see Atlantic Monthly "The Computer Delusion" [1997] or
The Flickering Mind, his book) continue to take extreme positions, those educators in the trenches (and observing the trenches) have noted with growing concern that rosy predictions of a technology-driven educational system is simply not coming to fruition.

We believe that a very limited view of what good teaching actually is, is at the root of the problem.  A
great teacher--and every school should be lucky enough to have a few of these geniuses--will use every available resource to augment and improve their instruction (even creating and financing resources as needed, including computers and educational software, as well as peripherals and every other gadget they can get their hands on).  Good teachers, on the other hand, work with what they have, which means a quick mind, a caring heart, and the stamina to get through an extremely grueling day/year/career--if they also find time to master some educational technology programs that would benefit their lesson plans, all to the good.  But it's not a priority.  And bad teachers (of which there are too many)-well, we leave that to the conscience of the unions, the administrations, and the school boards.

When 45 percent of teachers in the US use computers in the classroom for less than 15 minutes per week, and over 25 percent never use the Internet (
Technology & Learning, 2/2004), the paradigm may have to change once again.  The 'early adopters' are still adopting, but the rest are simply not interested.  Good teaching does not require a computer, and it's a darned expensive attendance/grade book, if that's all it's used for.

Let's stop using educational technology as a cure-all, a cudgel, a band-aid.  Allow good teachers to opt out for now, give great teachers every electronic toy they need, bring back the concept of computer labs for basic skills instruction--no student should get to high school without keyboarding, word processing, database, and minimum multimedia skills (although they do all seem to know how to alter screensavers).  Cut the expensive tech crews/coordinators/advisors/administrators and train the kids to do the work--it's not brain surgery.  Provide, at the secondary level, access to professional grade equipment for work experience.  Be flexible, practical, open to new ideas…

But, most of all, recognize that 'teaching and learning' is about people helping people, as it has always been, and honor that most basic connection.