Each spring and fall I volunteer my time at a local school to help the teachers set up their computers and other technology related devices. The county school system claims to be a leader in 21st technology, but I can see some huge holes in their claim. The two primary problems are the equipment itself and the lack of technical literacy among the teachers.
Just this past week, I was connecting an ancient IBM desktop PC complete with an old CRT monitor, and a printer connected through a serial connection (serial ports haven’t been put on printers for at least the past ten years). When I fired up that old dinosaur of a system, I was surprised to find beautiful wallpaper stating “21st Century Technology for 21st Century Schools”. So according to this, the 21st century began in 1998! I know this is splitting hairs, but school administrators need to realize that 21st century technology is not only hardware, but also software and cloud-based technology.
Schools can have tons of advanced technology in a classroom, but it is useless if the teachers don’t have the skills necessary to use it. A few years ago when I was teaching, I would hate going to technology training sessions because in a two hour class, the first hour was usually used to show teachers how to turn on the computers and log in. When you have teachers that lack basic computer skills, how can you expect them to use technology to its full potential in the classroom?
Furthermore, school policy also limits the huge potential of technology in the classroom. When I was teaching, I did not have system admin or even power user status. The meant that if I found a free piece of software that I wanted to use in my class I would need to put in a work order and wait for sometimes months before it could be installed.
Also, many great free tools are blocked because of arcane internet usage policies. For example, I wanted my classes to create blogs to use as an online lab journals. However, to use Blogger, the students needed to create Gmail accounts, but all of Google was blocked by our school system’s internet filter and even if it was not blocked, creating anything other than an "access.k12" email address for students was strictly prohibited. Students are missing out on educational opportunities because of highly restrictive, outdated policies.
In closing, we do have some teachers that make the most of the technology they have available to them, but they are few and far between. It is my opinion the “21st Century Technology for 21st Century Schools” is merely nothing more than a taxpayer-funded facade covering an antiquated 20th century system. 21st century technology is more than hardware, it lives in the cloud, but more importantly, it is the people that utilize it. If teachers are unable to grasp even the basic computer skills of the 20th century, how are they able to use and teach 21st century technology?