Education Week, October 1, 1998, p. 23

As part of Education Week’s annual “Technology Counts” special issue, various authors profiled ten ways technology is being used to help reform schools. Here’s what they found:

  1. Basic skills. While “drill and practice” is the typical approach of most computerized instructional programs, theories are emerging that this is just one component of the important need to teach basic skills. Drill-and-practice methods often fail to convey underlying concepts or help students apply skills to other types of problem solving.

  2. Virtual tutors. Teaching algebra to troubled ninth graders in a mostly blue-collar Pittsburgh high school proved difficult until two innovative instructors introduced the “Pump Algebra Tutor,” a software program developed at Carnegie-Mellon University to mimic the help of a human tutor. Students spend half the week doing textbook drills and the other half on the computer. While some evidence shows the package has been effective, its initial cost of $25,000 per location makes it a tough sell for many schools.

  3. Students teaching students. At an elementary magnet school in Wichita, Kan., teachers don’t explicitly instruct children on how to use computers or technology. Instead, students are immersed in technology and told to seek help from their peers before asking the teacher for help. The result? Most third graders can surf the Web on their own, and most fifth graders can build Web sites — even though teachers spent little time telling them how. While this cooperative approach is not always appropriate, many schools find it’s an effective and efficient way to get students up to speed on the latest technology without over-burdening teachers.

  4. Real-world learning. Technology allows more sophisticated learning to occur in “authentic” real-world environments. For example, students at a Detroit middle school took electronic measurements of river water near their school and used computers to analyze the effects of pollution. Complicated tasks such as charting the relations between pollutants and oxygen levels in the river were quickly mapped out and understood by the students.

  5. Guidance instead of lectures. Computers are at the center of a recent trend to shift teachers away from the lecture podium into the role of guide or coach. The most dramatic advantage of this approach is that computers can be individualized to students’ different needs and skill levels. By guiding student research on CD-ROM and Internet applications, a teacher can give more freedom to advanced students and more assistance to less confident students.

  6. Online staff development. Schools are finding they can effectively train their teachers with much less money by enrolling them in online training seminars. The collaborative nature of online communities combined with their ability to offer training to teachers on their own time makes them a good option — especially since schools don’t have to pay for tuition, transportation, food, and the other high costs that accompany off-site classroom training.

  7. Reaching the home. A host of technologies can put schools in touch with parents. Such communication is often cited as one of the most significant ways to increase student achievement. The “Bridge Project” at a Phoenix elementary school, for example, allows parents to dial into a voicemail system and receive updates from teachers on classroom activities. Other more advanced approaches let parents log into a school’s web site to see lesson plans and the actual work their children are doing.

  8. Increased student motivation. Technology has a direct impact on the motivation levels of many students, especially “at-risk” children. A recent video equipment purchase by an alternative high school in Washington state has reduced absences and boosted morale. Students even arrive early and stay late to work on projects. The technology, especially video equipment, also has the advantage that it begins early career training. In addition, troubled students often get more individualized attention and instruction when they use interactive technology in the classroom.

  9. Assessment breakthroughs. With new technology called IMMEX (interactive multimedia exercises), educators in California can peer into the problem-solving thought processes of students. The software records every step a student takes to solve a problem from start to finish.

  10. Global connections. Single computers with Internet hook-ups allow remote or poor schools to link up quickly and dramatically with places in any region of the globe. For example, a school on a New Mexico Indian reservation was able to communicate with Australian Aborigines, Myanmar refugees, and Argintinean children.