(submitted in response to the July 4, 2000 Plain Dealer editorial “Computers in education”)
July 4, 2000
Many of the facts and conclusions presented in the July 4, 2000 editorial “Computers in education” are at best dangerously misleading and at worst erroneous.
You reported that “many teachers have little knowledge of how to use computers for personal lives, much less how to use them for teaching” based on “a recent federal survey [finding] just 33 percent of teachers felt ‘well-prepared’ or ‘very well-prepared’ to use technology in class” and concluded that “some standards for the teaching of technology to teachers are overly daunting.”
A Market Data Retrieval September 1999 survey did indeed state that only 39% of teachers “felt well-prepared to use technology for teaching.” This, however, does not mean that most teachers are unfamiliar with computers. In fact, a June 1999 report from Market Data Retrieval shows that 46% of all public schools reported that the majority of teachers have reached the intermediate skill level of technology use (up from 43% in 1998) and an additional 8% indicated that the majority of their teachers were at the advanced skill level or were innovators.
Larry Cuban, in an August 4, 1999 commentary in Education Week, described what he calls “The Technology Puzzle” in education—70-80% of teachers occasionally or never use computers in the classroom while 70% of these same teachers regularly use computers at home or outside of the classroom.
While there are undoubtedly some teachers who are unfamiliar with computers, the vast majority obviously knows how to use computers. However, the key is that many are not sure how they or their students can use computers effectively in their classrooms.
Given this information, your question “should technology be a mandatory part of every teacher candidate’s preparation?” must be seen in a different light. Technology has always been a part of a teacher’s preparation—whether it took the form of chalk, opaque projectors, ditto machines, filmstrip projectors, or computers. Even fifteen years ago, I had to demonstrate proficiency in using the aforementioned tools as well as splicing 16mm film, using a laminator, cuing a cassette tape recorder and VCR and booting an IBM PC and Apple IIe computer for my required Media and Materials course.
What needs to emphasized in this technology debate is that teachers, already burdened with greater responsibilities due to larger class sizes and increased pressures to meet state accountability standards, need more training on effectively integrating technology within their schools’ curricula, not just training on how to use a word processor or perform a web search. There simply is not enough time in the school day for most teachers to experiment with using technology as a pedagogical tool under conditions where they often have little support and few rewards. Most simply continue using computers (on their own time) as a tool for preparation, communication, and research. Far from being technophobes, teachers are pragmatists.
An educator once commented, “If you see a business man with a laptop and a cell phone, you probably think to yourself ‘He’s professional and on the ball.’ If you see a teacher with the same tools, you probably think ‘What a waste of money.’” Your paper’s implicit conclusion that investment in teacher training would be a waste serves only to perpetuate in the public’s mind the malicious stereotype of teachers as unprofessional luddites. This not only does little to advance the cause of educational reform, but in the end hurts those who are in the most desperate need of help and who deserve the best educational environment possible: our students.
Milton Alan Turner