In 1989, a box arrived at the school. Inside the box was a 1200 baud modem. This, we were told, was our gateway to the Information Superhighway.
The Mac Classic in the library could now communicate with other schools around the world! This seemed absolutely amazing, especially given that we were still paying long distance charges on calls to the next town.
This piece of incredible technology had the promise to change the way schools worked. Students could have pen pals in Saudi Arabia! Questions could be sent to scientists anywhere in the world! The possibilities were endless. Classes would flock to the library to connect to the world. The place was bristling with excitement.
A dedicated line was installed in the back of the library office. Going online meant unwrapping a very long phone line all the way out of the office, over the circulation desk, and finally to the lone computer. It didn’t matter that twenty-five kids would attempt to huddle around the Mac Classic and try to catch a glimpse of the cryptic writing on the tiny screen. It didn’t matter because this was cutting edge technology.
Everyone listened with anticipation to that distinctive sound of the modem– the phone dialling, followed by a series of screeches, scratches, and buzzes. It was the sound of the future.
And then . . . the sound of a busy signal. The Data Pack port to the internet was shared by four schools. That social studies teacher up at the high school must be online again.
“Sorry, kids,” the librarian would say. “We’ll have to try it again later. Maybe we’ll have better luck.”
And, subsequently, whenever the librarian would do a demonstration of this amazing technology, fingers would be crossed, Hail Marys would be mumbled as everyone held their collective breath, hoping the technology would actually work.
It didn’t take long for teachers to give up. For the time, energy, and hassle, using the technology wasn’t worth it. The promises of educational technology were not fulfilled. At least, not for now.
Fast forward twenty-five years, and schools have obviously made huge progressive leaps in access to technology. Logistics have been streamlined. Teachers have become more technologically literate.
Still, in spite of these advancements, teachers still face many of the same fundamental challenges in incorporating technology into curriculum to enhance instruction.
Boiling the issues down, three fundamental questions must be asked when a technological innovation is being considered for implementation in a school:
- Does the technology address curriculum goals?
- Is the technology practical to use?
- Does the technology enable students to learn in a way that is not possible without the technology?
The same three questions apply to those designing educational products for classroom and school use. Without carefully addressing all three questions, products in the realm of educational technology are doomed for a place on the shelf right next to that 1200 baud modem all covered in dust.