Negative exposure?

So there I was, minding my own business at a major education conference, when someone spotted my press badge and decided I was a ripe target for complaints about the media’s coverage of the ed-tech landscape.

“You’re all so negative,” this person said. “You report the bad news about technology in schools, but you don’t pay the same attention to good news. These stories make it harder for everyone. Why do you dwell on them?”

To be honest, I really didn’t have a response. For I believe that, despite such criticisms of the media, at least eSchool News’ coverage is truly “fair and balanced” when it comes to the ed-tech world. I know this because most people who approach me at conferences are eager to tell me how much they appreciate our work. I also know it because, for every complaint like this one, there is another accusing us of being unabashed cheerleaders for the ed-tech movement. If we’re hearing contradictory criticism from both sides of a debate, then we must be doing a good job.

But what about the larger mainstream media? How do these newspapers and web sites portray the evolution of technology in schools? I have a pretty good idea, because each day I post links to three off-site news stories in our eSN Online “Around the Web” feature. I don’t look for stories that show bias, just interesting ones. Their relative popularity can be measured by the hits to our “Around the Web” page.

So I decided to do some research. I went back through the first several months of the 2004-05 school year to see which news headlines from other sources drew the most attention at eSN Online. And I found that, while negative headlines do contribute their fair share of “Around the Web” traffic, they do not have a monopoly.

Consider these five very hot subjects of recent “Around the Web” stories:

  • An educational toy that prepares very young children to deal with time-management issues related to standardized tests;
  • A high school student who rigged his teacher’s computer to log all keystrokes the teacher made in the hope of stealing test questions;
  • The detection of two major security holes in Microsoft Windows;
  • A survey that found U.S. math scores are lower than those of 39 other nations; and
  • Penn State’s IT staff asking students not to use Microsoft Internet Explorer owing to security concerns.

All of these stories could be seen as having a negative “spin,” or angle, but their popularity is hardly evidence of any media conspiracy. And I would argue that these stories resonated with our readers in particular because they revealed fundamental flaws or vulnerabilities that our readers–as conscientious school technology leaders–wanted to learn more about, in order to avoid or correct the situation in their own districts.

The next five subjects on the “Around the Web” hit list remind us that readers had other choices, too. Consider these stories:

  • A Texas technology-immersion program gives teachers in 23 schools the opportunity to instruct in new and exciting ways;
  • A high school on Long Island uses technology as part of an overall program that has produced some of the nation’s best science students;
  • The excitement generated by a wave of high school robotics classes has given many teenagers a renewed interest in their education;
  • Technology has enabled young children to learn keyboarding skills years ahead of previous generations–which has engaged them in learning in new ways; and
  • The Maine laptop initiative’s expansion into ninth-grade classrooms–a reflection of the state’s faith in the one-to-one computing model.

So, maybe it’s time to give the media a break. Positive stories really do get covered. If you still don’t believe me, keep an eye on eSN Online’s “Around the Web” feature:

New content this month

The eSN Educator’s Resource Center (ERC) continues to grow. This month, with financial support from Serious Magic, we’re pleased to add an ERC topic titled “Video in Schools.” Our editors culled through several years’ worth of eSN content to highlight the many different applications for video in education. Be sure to check it out at:

In May, we’ll also unveil the eSchool News Conference Information Center for the National Educational Computing Conference. With help from the very supportive folks at the International Society for Technology in Education (ISTE), we’re excited about making NECC 2005 the standard by which all future conference coverage is judged.

Don’t miss our NECC coverage at eSN Online:

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