The Difference Between the Ideal and the Reality of TECH in our Schools

 A critical review of an interesting article:
By Ben Kamisar
December 4, 2013 6:00 AM
 
During a recent Library Sciences class, we spent a great deal of time discussing the huge potential that technology holds for education and the future of students as they develop their skills and knowledge in the world. The focus on tools for learning and collaborative development, the virtual world of education and the library in particular, and the promise that can be nurtured into power when students are given every imaginable resource is an inspiring ideal. The ideal learning environment where collaboration and collective learning replaces guided instruction and modeling learning targets becomes the norm.
This article by Ben Kamisar is in the Education Week Blog in the Digital Education Page and it is both exciting and in some ways frightening. On one hand, it is amazing and miraculous that individuals with wealth beyond comprehension would choose to share it with young people in our country to help provide the Internet access needed to fully realize the potential of the technology available in our time. But when you look closely, you may notice a something chilling about the $9 million being put up by the Gates Foundation and Mr. Zuckerberg – that money is going to private sector non-profit start-up companies: “The recipient of those investments, EducationSuperHighway, will use the money to help train schools to use and manage broadband connections while cutting down on costs…. Most recently, the organization joined with Gates’ foundation to lead $4 million in seed funding for Panorama Education, the Cambridge, Mass.-based company which creates and analyzes surveys for K-12 schools.” So who is the real beneficiary of this philanthropy? That is a question we all should consider. Does the benefit to students justify the benefit to the investors and the future return on that investment that they are counting on. These non-profits will not “profit” by way of cash or financial gain in this transaction; the real profit will come from the positioning that will result and the increased leverage as these companies lobby the Federal Government for faster broadband across the country and easier and cheaper access to it.
Regardless of the financial in’s and out’s of bringing real technology solutions and infrastructure to our schools, two particularly chilling points come to light as a result of the research done in preparation for Gates’ and Zuckerberg’s seed money.  From the blog post:
1)  Based on information it has gathered through partnerships with 26 state departments of education, the organization’s research found that more than 70 percent of public schools lack the bandwidth required for digital learning.

2)  While interest in 1-to-1 student-to-digital-device programs and other digital-learning efforts continues to grow, education technology experts estimate that 40 million students lack sufficient broadband access in their schools.

 

Doubling the FCC E-rate program funding (currently at $2.4 billion) is another option for increasing the connectivity in our nation’s schools, but this funding is discretionary for school sites with little oversight and few standardized guidelines for universal tech spending. Schools spend it in what ever way they believe will work best at their school site – the opposite of good connectivity planning. The essence of the Local Control Funding Formula is one of the biggest pitfalls for student outcomes.

So while we have looked at the ideal of amazing possibilities of technology in the library and the limitless roles of the school librarian and physical and virtual learning commons that can be the heart of learning within a school, the reality is that for 70% of schools in the U.S. having a well-appointed school library and a well-trained and valued librarian ready to meet students where they are and help them find the resources that will open the doors of their mind may be the real ideal for right now.

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