In our country, the basic model of education has changed little in the last hundred years. Sure, as in every other facet of our society, the Federal Government has nosed in, handing down dictates and requiring testing and minimum competency, but the classroom environment has remained fairly static: teacher at the blackboard, students at the desks and a textbook for everyone. That's all changing...and how.
The New Classroom
Over the last 20 years, the shape of classrooms has been changing. The old layout of six rows of desks, blackboard and teacher at the front has been giving way to a newer, decentralized model. The new look is most prevalent in the elementary, but is making inroads into high schools as well. Tables replace rows of desks and rather than being a focus, the teacher's desk is shoved into the corner like an afterthought. The layout reflects a different understanding of how kids learn: as much from each other as from the teacher. Students are encouraged to look to fellow classmates for solutions and to work in groups and in some cases the teacher becomes more of a partner in than a leader of the process. And into this decentralized classroom, amidst hype normally reserved for religious icons and cures for deadly diseases, has come a new learning tool...
Blackboard Jungle 2000
or: Teaching the Teachers
Walk into any school and ask who is the resident computer expert. It might be a teacher. At some schools it might be the Information Systems Director. More often than not, however, it's a fourteen-year-old student who everyone turns to for answers about the strange new visitors of which everyone seems to expect so much and yet know so little: Networked Computers.
For many teachers, these (often unwanted) visitors are a source of dread. They are expected to use and to teach the uses of a system of machines they know next to nothing about. They know that they should, but are often given little in the way of training or support. And while they might understand how to use their own PC, network protocols and practices and the Internet can be totally beyond them. The result, more often than not, is a hefty addition to an already shrinking school budget that returns little in the way of measureable benefits and lots in the way of staff and administrator headaches.
Fortunately, there is help....
A Short Detour
or: What If I Don't Want to Go Anywhere Today?
Before the subject of what to do is addressed, it might be helpful to wonder a moment if it's really worth the trouble. "Traditional" educational means produced the fabled Captains of Industry and most of the folk who are running successful businesses today: Is all this computer foolery just an unproductive dead-end?
For a short form answer, let's look at the typical entry-level skills that are required in today's job market. More than simply knowing how to turn on and operate a computer, today's employees are increasingly expected to be able to save, open and transfer files across a network, to rely on e-mail for intra-office communication and to integrate their work with that of other departments.
Corporate America has seen the future, and that future holds a lot of people sitting in front of lot of computers that are all tied together. As network experience is something you can't usually pick up at home, the schools will need to provide it.
The Bootstrap Effect
Humans seem to have a tendancy to tell you what they have done and how they did it, and, fortunately, educators and students seem to be no exception to this rule. Through Internet mailing lists and (of course) the Web, those wondering about nearly every facet of the role of new technology in the educational process can find the answers. Since new answers (and questions) are being produced daily, the Internet is your best bet for the best information.
If you have an aptitude for sifting through lots of information, you'll find Usenet newsgroups a great way to communicate with those facing similar challenges.
If you don't fancy newsgroups or want to SEE what others are doing, a drive down Web66 is probably in order. In addition to a complete listing of K-12 web sites, Web66 offers a wealth of information designed to help you do everything from "cruise the web" to evaluating internet server platforms and setting up a server.
If you're seeking more of the northern Michigan slant on networked computers, you might want to head up to the UP to read John Love's guide to getting you and your class online.
or: My English Teacher Taught Me I Had to Have One of These
At this point I'd like to state something that probably should have appeared at the beginning: The company I work with has a contract to help maintain an educational network and teach students and teachers how to use it. In closing, I'd like to tell you the same thing I tell them:
"Computers and, more importantly, computer networks are going to change the way we teach and the way we learn. They aren't going to do it alone, though. The future of education requires us to think more about how we're going to learn than what we'll be learning. When a 'computer professional' walks in and starts talking in a language you don't understand, make them tell you (with a minimum of acronyms) how this is going help you to teach or to learn. You might not be a computer expert, but you are an educational one.
v 1.1: ISP's, Montage and Twin T's
v 1.2: Christmas Wishes
v 2.01: Can I Have Another Cookie?
Andrew McFarlane is the editor of the Northern Michigan Journal and the webmaster for Leelanau.Com as well as a number of other northern Michigan web sites.
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