There are few things I know for certain about the state of technology in today’s schools, but I’m pretty sure about one thing: Instant messaging by students generally is not allowed.

I know it’s not allowed because our eSchool News Online polling data tell me so. During the 2004-05 academic year, we conducted dozens of weekly online polls linked out of our “Tools for Schools” eMail newsletter. These polls are far from scientific, but they do give us a sense of what educators are thinking. And no poll in 2004-05 had more lopsided results than one that asked, “Are students allowed to run instant messaging programs on your schools’ computers?”

An astounding 96 percent of our voters said instant messaging activity is not tolerated in their school buildings. This was the third most popular poll we ran in the past year, attracting nearly 300 votes. Despite the diversity of voters, the message was clear–no chatting in school. It also showed that while most educators want to see more integration of technology in school curricula, putting more computers in front of students means having to pay more attention to how they are used.

The second-most lopsided poll of 2004-05 asked readers: “Is Bill Gates right in saying high schools are outdated and must be redesigned?” On this poll, 92 percent of voters answered “yes.” This is not only significant, but a little disturbing. If 92 percent of our readers agree that high schools are out of touch, then what on earth is still holding back their redesign? I can only assume that, even when everyone agrees change is needed, it is much harder to agree on the nature of that change.

Our 2004-05 polls revealed that users are early adopters who are bullish on technology. Just a few weeks after the release of the Mozilla Firefox web browser, 73 percent of poll respondents said they had tried it, and 20 percent said they planned to try it. Also, roughly 54 percent of our readers think that the majority of visits to libraries will take place online within the next five years, and 64 percent said they had taped television programs at home in order to share them with their students.

At the same time, some of our polls indicated that educators aren’t just interested in technology for technology’s sake. Asked, for example, if they were comfortable with ATMs in high schools, 79 percent said they weren’t. And asked if they were comfortable with having all state assessments administered online, some 57 percent said no.

Polls also showed that while many readers are enthusiastic about technology, they lack confidence in the people who make the ultimate decisions affecting their schools. We asked readers to rate, on a 1-10 scale, the degree of tech savvy in their top administrators. Nearly half ranked them a 4 or less, and only 10 percent said the top administrators were in the 9-10 range. Readers weren’t exactly big fans of federal policy makers, either. Asked if the No Child Left Behind Law should be left as is, only 8 percent said yes, and 31 percent said the law should be scrapped.

Ironically, the poll that drew the most response in 2004-05 had little to do with technology. It came in the wake of Education Secretary Margaret Spellings’ outcry against a PBS episode of “Postcards from Buster” in which Buster the cartoon bunny visited a non-traditional family with two mothers. Our poll question asked if readers objected to gay characters “in cartoons aimed at children.”

Sixty-one percent of respondents agreed with Spellings and objected, while 37 percent were OK with the idea. My personal favorite response came from a reader who asked how anyone could tell the sexual inclinations of a cartoon character. It made me realize that even if Spellings were up in arms over the issue, this was a rather silly subject to be debating. Still, it might have been the only time in 2004-05 when a majority of our readers agreed with ED’s side on an issue–at least that’s what our polling data suggest.

New content this month

The eSN Online Educator’s Resource Center series just keeps on growing with the addition of a new resource titled “Multimedia Creation Tools in the Classroom.” Thanks to financial support from TechSmith Corp., we have put together a collection of our best articles related to video editing, photo manipulation, sound mixing, and more. It’s a great companion to the Readers’ Choice Awards featured in this issue of eSchool News (see page 18). Check it out at: