Author and longtime education technology advocate Alan November told educators and IT administrators last month that schools and colleges should reassess how they fund their ed-tech initiatives. Asking what teachers and students need, November said, should trump the persistent push for more technology staffing and equipment.
November, author of the book Empowering Students with Technology, spoke to about 100 school and campus officials during a lunch session June 30 at the National Educational Computing Conference (NECC) in Washington, D.C.
American students, November said, have fallen behind their international peers in nearly every facet of education, and policy makers must alter their technology planning if U.S. schools and universities hope to catch up to their counterparts.
"Asking how much staffing we need is the wrong question," said November, who lives in Massachusetts.
Despite the proliferation of internet access in U.S. schools over the past decade, November said, schools and colleges are often "technology rich and information poor," meaning students can use computers but lack the skills to find and use crucial information.
Using Web 2.0 technologies to see what international schools are studying would break the digital isolation that has harmed American education during the computer age, November said.
"Americans kids are just oblivious" to what is being studied in European and Asian classrooms and universities, he said, adding that U.S. students "could understand different points of view" through the web.
November used the 2008 presidential election as an example of how technological advances are affecting society, and how American students often lack the resources and curriculum to study the fast-moving technology revolution.
President Obama’s campaign announced in October that supporters could download the candidate’s official iPhone application, which was lauded in technology corners as an embrace of mobile devices in swaying public opinion.
The iPhone application included Obama’s position papers, campaign videos, and the latest news on the candidate. The built-in GPS system let the application identify local campaign events and the nearest volunteer efforts and recruiting centers.
The campaign’s iPhone application also highlighted user contact numbers from swing states such as Ohio and Florida, asking users to call people in those states and urge them to vote for Obama.
Even if students in U.S. schools and colleges were intrigued by the revolutionary use of a mobile device, November said, they wouldn’t be able to learn about it, because most schools are not nearly that advanced.
"Kids can’t learn the tools that helped win the presidency," he said. "Schools wouldn’t even think to teach that."
November offered two suggestions for how to boost technology instruction in American schools: Spell out the 10 most difficult concepts for students to learn and brainstorm solutions, and find out what students do outside school and find ways to engage them.
Creating an iPhone application similar to the Obama campaign’s, he said, would open communication between schools, campuses, and students who are increasingly migrating toward internet-enabled mobile devices.