“Meet George Jetson. His Boy Elroy. Daughter Judy. Jane his wife.” – Jetsons Theme Song, 1970
The question for today is: Why are we spending huge sums of money on hardware and software licenses for the classroom—i.e. SmartBoards, BlackBoard, Databases, etc.—when most of the Internet-based learning environments are open source and free? The total cost of this kind of technology setup roughly averages out to between $3500.00 and $10,000.00 per classroom.
Quick, do some math: $6,500.00, the average cost per classroom, times an average of 50 classrooms, equals $325,000.00 per school. Average of five schools per school district equals $1,625,000.00, times 125 districts, equals $203,500,000.00 for one move toward new technology. Remember, I teach design, so I might not be accurate.
Is this a “smart” way to be spending money? At first glance you will say, “Yes! I will spend anything to help my children learn better.” Well, what about the return on that investment? Are test scores going up? Are more students graduating? Are we still 37th globally in education? Why have these scores and ratings not gone up? After all, we are investing $200 Million dollars in technology.
My belief is because hardware and software alone have never solved a problem. I am sure we have numerous in-service classes to teach how to use these tools, but are they paying off? With some teachers I am sure it is, but what about the students? Are they learning more? Now I love technology, always have. I have been a science fiction nut my whole life. But are we the Jetsons or their not-so-bright neighbors?
I am fortunate to teach many international students and from what I can gather and see in videos from them we are a bit behind in our use of technology, from what I understand certain parts of Asia glow from space. Is this where Elroy and Judy are living these days?
We are in global race. We need all the tools we can afford. The question is: Are they paying off or are we just wasting resources? What incentive does someone have to improve his or her skill set? Why would anyone work overtime to make himself or herself better? You would hope it was a dedication to a noble professional with a strong moral outcome.
The real question is: Will it work on Elroy and Judy? Are they ready for it? Are they interested in it? How will we know before we make the investment? Well, according to reports, they do want it and they will benefit from it.
According to an article in eSchoolNews: “Today every student can access a world-class education with online courses taught by talented, qualified teachers at any location,” said Susan Patrick, president and chief executive of the International Association for K-12 Online Learning (iNACOL).
And it’s not one-size-fits-all. Ron Packard, chief executive of K12 Inc., an online-learning company founded in 1999, is quoted in the same article explaining: “But there’s a natural inertia and resistance to change in education, and we’re fighting that and trying to overcome the myths.”
“These myths persist even as technology-based distance education has grown, with enrollment jumping 65 percent from 2002 to 2005 and more than 1 million K-12 students taking online courses during the 2007-08 school year, according to studies cited in a recent report by the U.S. Department of Education,” states the story.
The eSchoolNews article goes on: “The same report also found that students who take all or part of their classes online may perform better than students taking the same course with only face-to-face instruction, and that the most effective approach might be a combination of face-to-face teaching and purely online instruction,” it reads.
“This ‘hybrid’ or ‘blended’ model is one of three alternatives that have emerged as popular and proven options for students, schools, and parents who aren’t interested in full-time virtual schooling,” it continues. “With the ‘supplemental’ approach, districts can buy online courses a la carte to supplement and fill gaps in the traditional school curriculum. And the ‘classroom solutions’ option allows schools to give students the benefit of online-course curriculum but present it, with the help of technology, in a traditional classroom setting.”
“There are a lot of myths out there, but we’re making good progress by offering these different options,” Packard said. “It’s a good mix.”
The difference may be in the fact that online lessons actually interact. Passive lessons or lectures are not going to truly impact these students of Gen-i. They need to actually interact with the lessons. They need to come to the “board” and figure out the equation. Well how do we get Elroy and Judy to do that? Well maybe we allow them to use the technology. Actually interact with the equation or chemistry or biology lesson. This can be done via the Internet and things like iBooks, in the classroom on an everyday level.
If you embed a Flash/HTML5 based animation into a blog or page and students can interact with that model or drag atoms together to form molecules wouldn’t this be more interesting? Would this be experiential learning in one-tenth the time and at one-hundredth the cost? No mess, no possible disaster, no cost, no cleanup? And they can basically have a chemistry lab at home. Plus, they can do it over and over again until they get it right. Also, this could generate a report that can be used for grading and later assessment instantly. Scan-a-tron on steroids!
Will all this cost more? Well does an iBook cost more than a traditional textbook? Imagine how much budget could be reallocated by simply using iBooks as opposed to traditional paper versions? Check out Smashwords.com and see. Is the content valid? Not yet, but it will be. I understand that it is not easy to turn around an ocean liner and that is what has to happen. Even for the textbook publishers. The teachers can only teach with the materials they are given, they have to follow state curriculum.
The overall point being that one expensive solution doesn’t solve all the problems. We need to bring this effort down from 50,000 feet right to the desktop. We need to implement basic homework and class work into this new initiative. The daily lesson needs to be done in a digital format. It is not that difficult to do. Once that information and structure has been migrated it needs to then be updated every year to go a bit further and include new content.
As the content materials become dynamic, so should the lessons. I recently talked to a student and they had no idea that you could search for information on the Internet. They just thought that it was for social media and funny videos. This was a sophomore in high school! I asked them to go online and gather content for a project. They had no idea what I meant. This is not preparing them for later learning.
If Seton Hill University in Pennsylvania (not Seton Hall) felt strongly enough to give out 2,100 iPads to all their students, don’t you think something is happening? Many private colleges are starting to embrace this new technology (I would imagine that is because they are not part of a major system.) Now Dell and HP are about to release their versions.
It is coming at us fast and furious. We cannot miss the boat on this one. Never before has there been this kind of leap, from paper to pixels in a semester.
Will we welcome it or will we shun it? It all matters on who we are and what we can absorb and embrace. Change is scary, but it is both necessary and inevitable.
Hey, George, I’m still waiting on the jetpack.
Patrick J. Aievoli is a full-time faculty member at Long Island University, C. W. Post Campus, and has been the Director of the Interactive Multimedia Arts graduate program since 1999. He has been a full time academic since 1989 when he left his position as Senior Designer, Promotion at the McGraw-Hill Book Company. In this capacity Patrick helped in the creation of McGraw-Hill’s first CD-ROM “Encyclopedia of Science and Technology” in 1987. “EdTech” is a new weekly feature on longislandpress.com. To read more of his work, go to http://patrickaievoli.wordpress.com.