In their seventh annual review of technology in US schools, Education Week says that America has fallen behind when it comes to Internet availability and student computer use. <insert panic here> We’re number one in terms of the ratio of computers to students (tied with Australia and Latvia of all places) but are way back in the world pack in the numbers of those computers connected to the Internet. US schools also fall behind other countries in the percentage of students who use computers for "instructional learning".
Translation: we have lots of computers in schools but not many of them are being used to help students learn. Why? I haven’t read the whole report yet but it shouldn’t be hard to figure out what it says. I would imagine the writers will blame lack of teacher training, technical problems, old equipment and not enough money to upgrade/replace them. I have another theory, however.
Teachers for the most part are not making good use of computers in their daily classroom activities because they have no compelling reason to do so. The teachers I know are, for the most part, a very practical group. They use the tools that work. Good teachers already have those tools. But good teachers are also open to change if it is clear that the new technique is better than what they are already using. (Poor teachers, on the other hand, will not change for anyone.)
So, the lack of computer use is to some degree due to teacher training. However, the larger issue is that we’ve put too much emphasis on learning the mechanics of using a computer instead of taking a long, hard look at what we want kids to know and be able to do (remember the curriculum?) and then seeing how computers can make teaching those facts, concepts and skills easier, better or faster.
This quote offers a good example of this lack of context:
Although US schools are behind in offering Internet availability, they’re actually first in the percentage of 15-year-olds using the Internet at school several times a week. "But we’re not sure what they are using the Internet for," says Bushweller. "They could be using it just to surf in very basic ways or using it for sophisticated tasks."
I’m betting on the surfing.