With about 90 percent of public schools now wired for internet access, the question of whether educators can use technology in the classroom has been decided. Author Lisa Guernsey explores the more compelling question that will be asked in the future: What are we going to do with this opportunity?

Although some education researchers question whether young children really benefit from access to computers, the author finds that many educators are using computers in exactly the way that experts say is most effective: as the basis for projects built on the unique skills and interests of each individual student.

In a visit to a public school classroom in New York City in which 70 percent of the children qualify for free lunches, the author finds the members of an eleventh-grade English class intently working on their online projects, while their teacher works one-on-one with a student. The teacher points out that eMail adds greatly to his ability to communicate with students as individuals, instead of taking control of the classroom as the disseminator of generic information.

At a school in Las Vegas, Guernsey again finds anecdotal evidence of the value of integrating computers in education. In this school, Advanced Technologies Academy, every senior passed the state’s proficiency exam—an accomplishment that teachers and administrators attribute partly to computers.

However, the author points out that hard evidence that technology is improving education or that teachers are qualified to use the new technology is hard to come by. She cites a study this past fall by the National Center for Education Statistics, which found that only 20 percent of teachers described themselves as trained to use technology in the classroom. A Milkin Exchange on Education Technology study completed last spring found far fewer than half the nation’s college-level education classes use technology on a regular basis.

The U.S. Department of Education is undertaking studies to document the effectiveness of computers in K-12 classrooms, with a goal of identifying how teachers can maximize the benefits of computers, according to Linda Roberts, director of the department’s Office of Educational Technology.