Thanks for the PC. What do I do with it?

Bringing technology to students is a noble goal, but unless teachers are shown ways to use that technology to achieve their teaching goals, it's much harder to make academic progress.

Tom Krazit Former Staff writer, CNET News
Tom Krazit writes about the ever-expanding world of Google, as the most prominent company on the Internet defends its search juggernaut while expanding into nearly anything it thinks possible. He has previously written about Apple, the traditional PC industry, and chip companies. E-mail Tom.
Tom Krazit
2 min read

CORONADO, Calif.--This probably doesn't come as a surprise to most parents, but plopping a computer down in front of a student doesn't necessarily translate into academic success.

Don Helfgott of Inspiration Software, Tom Greaves of Project Inkwell, and Jeanette Hammock of True North Logic (left to right) discuss technology in education. Tom Krazit/CNET News.com

We've heard a lot in recent years about the One Laptop Per Child initiative, and similar competing programs, which aim to improve educational standards in various parts of the world through computing power. But according to a panel discussion at the Future in Review conference, the computer itself isn't the issue; educators need to find meaningful ways to introduce computers into their day-to-day instructional process.

More than two-thirds of teachers surveyed in a recent inquiry said they were not getting any substantial improvements in academic progress from their participation in a one-computer-per-student program, said Tom Greaves, an education consultant and member of Project Inkwell. Project Inkwell was founded and is run by Mark Anderson, the organizer of FIRe and head of Strategic News Service, to help get technology into classrooms.

While that may sound dismal, last year it was even worse: only 17 percent of those surveyed said they were noticing substantial academic progress from one-to-one programs, Greaves said. The problem is that while computers are nice and all, they must be part of a teaching plan and a community's educational mission, and teachers need help figuring out the best ways to use the computers.

"Curriculum standards aren't written around having a computer" as part of the teaching process, said Jeanette Hammock, chief technology officer for True North Logic, which trains teachers on how to use technology in academically rewarding ways. There's a lot of pressure on teachers these days to follow lesson plans aimed at standardized tests, and it doesn't appear that many school districts have thought about how to integrate technology into those plans.

Don Helfgott, CEO of Inspiration Software, agreed. "It takes a teacher 5 years before they become facile in (a one-to-one) environment. (There's) hundreds of years of non-technology-based book curriculum that exists."

So while the debate over whether the OLPC should use Windows or the custom-designed Sugar interface is interesting, it obscures the real obstacle to technology-assisted learning.

No matter what technology they employ, teachers need support and training not just on how to use the computers themselves, but how to make them a useful part of the teaching process. That's not a technology question, that's an educational question.