Today was the first day that I was required to go to school. It was for some prep work we're doing to ensure our 1:1 computing initiative doesn't fall flat. Last year I worked on a grant writing team that met numerous times throughout the year to draft a proposal for a $250K grant given to schools with a solid plan to improve middle schools. We got it and with it we bought 300 laptops for our middle school. Funding it otherwise would have been impossible, but the mission of the school demanded that we get to this point somehow. This mission was part of the reason I signed on with this school- it involved preparing students for work and college and using technology to do it.
My opinion on the use of computers is anything but lukewarm. I wrote a master's thesis last year dealing with a related topic. To save you from reading the terribly boring manuscript, an important piece can be summed up as:
Students know how to use computers to communicate informally via things like facebook, myspace and AIM. This is an issue because they develop no skills that are academically or professionally pertinent. Generally students use these technologies to talk about themselves and to entertain themselves. Formal instruction on how to use communicative technology is absolutely necessary if our students are going to develop the skills they need to be successful.
Using laptops in the classroom can certainly be a headache. Sometimes I feel like I'd rather set the laptop cart on fire than get the things out only to deal with a thousand questions about why Windows is closing word documents because it thinks that it would be funny if you lost half an hour of work and why it's sending warnings that a virus is about to leap through the screen, kill the user and then destroy the world. To say the least, teachers who use laptops often know very well that troubleshooting problems on the computer can take up a great deal of time that should be devoted to instruction. The older the equipment gets, the worse the problems get.
In spite of issues with computer use, it has become the duty of teachers to incorporate it into widely and diversely into curriculum. I feel this is especially the case in the core classes. If the students do not learn in school how to communicate appropriately via social-networking and communicative, technology they generally don't at all. Because of the way they know how to use technology (see my post on sexting), NOT teaching them to use technology appropriately is actually hurting them far more than simply not giving them applicable skills in the work force.
Funding is a major problem when it comes to getting reliable technology into the classroom. The only reason we were even able to get so many laptops was because of the grant we received. During my thesis defense a couple professors backed me into a corner when I implied that both great teachers and up-to-date technology are the most important things to concentrate on getting for our students. I turned red and admitted that I had no answer to the question as to how we get both. Great teachers have to come before great technology, but the lack of money in education is the reason that there is a lack of great teachers. It's going to take a lot more money and public investment in the education system to get better teachers and technology. In spite of those difficulties, I firmly believe that getting technology into the classroom is imperative to our students' success.
Today's Wine: Chianti Ruffino, whose distributors hails it as a major reason people even drink Chianti today. It made me drink the wine, anyway. We served it at the restaurant I worked at back in Kansas. Chianti is produced in the Tuscany region of Italy.