The State Educational Technology Directors Association (SETDA) is claiming success in its first-ever “Imagine a Technology Blackout” event. Thousands of teachers and students took part in the program, which ran from April 20 to May 20 and confirmed for participants the importance of technology in education, SETDA said.

For one day, the group challenged students and teachers to switch off their televisions and their computers, their portable music players, DVD players, and, yes, even their cell phones–anything, organizers said, that incorporated technology into their everyday lives.

“For many of these kids, technology is so pervasive,” said SETDA Executive Director Melinda George. “It was an almost unimaginable experience.”

And that was precisely the point. Like water from the tap, George said, these devices have become so commonplace that people, and especially students, tend to take them for granted. That students and teachers might appreciate just how central a role technology plays in their lives, SETDA asked them to close their eyes, take a step back, and imagine a world without eMail, or the internet, or even–heaven forbid–American Idol.

As part of the event, more than 1,200 teachers nationwide logged onto the program’s web site–http://www.technologyblackoutday.com–and downloaded lesson plans meant to help their students visualize a world without technology. When all was said and done, more than 4,500 students reportedly wrote back to share their stories.

“We were thrilled with the outcome,” said George. “The student voices talking about the need for technology had a greater impact than anything that I could go and say or what anyone else might tell them.”

The specially designed lesson plans not only encouraged students to envision life without technology, they also asked students to think about their future and explain how technology might help them as they enter the workforce.

“These students told us that they rely on technology, that they need it,” George said–yet another reason schools need to be on the cutting edge.

Whether students aspire to be fire fighters, or scientists, or computer programmers, George said, one thing is clear: Technology will be crucial to their success.

“We don’t want schools to become the one place where kids don’t have access to technology … If we take away [the technologies] that are part of their daily lives, [students] might begin to see school as irrelevant,” George said.

The program also encouraged parents to take an active role by letting their children assign homework to them addressing the transformative nature of technology on the workforce. Hundreds of parents reportedly submitted their feedback on technology’s importance in their children’s future–as well as suggestions for how teachers can use technology to improve education.

“This event really struck a chord with the education community and gave students an opportunity to take a step back and appreciate the positive influence technology has had on their lives, and the lives of their families and peers,” George added. “It is truly a validation that modern technology has become a necessity for students in the 21st century, and unless students continue to have access to technology, it will be much harder for Americans to keep pace in an increasingly competitive global marketplace.”

The program also served to underscore technology’s value for teachers, she said.

“The concept of teaching without technology is as archaic and ridiculous as farming without tractors,” stated Reed Turnbow, an English teacher at Tabiona School in Duchesne School District in Utah. “Many parts of the curriculum, even in a subject as straightforward as English, are taught much more effectively using technology than old-fashioned chalkboards and handouts. I could never return to the old-fashioned approach to teaching modern students.”

Owing to the success of this year’s event, George said, SETDA is considering expanding the program next year by giving students a more active role in the planning process. SETDA also is looking to start the program earlier in the school year, she said, so that more students will have an opportunity to express their views and share their experiences with family and peers.

Links:

State Educational Technology Director’s Association
http://www.setda.org

Imagine a Technology Blackout Day web site
http://www.technologyblackoutday.com