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Apodaca: Keeping schools plugged in increasingly hard

September 01, 2012|By Patrice Apodaca

A few months before his untimely death last October, Steve Jobs was visited by his longtime business rival Bill Gates.

The two technology giants talked for hours, at one point discussing their visions of what schools of the future should look like and their mutual disappointment that the educational establishment had failed to fully embrace the computer age.

This small but telling anecdote was mentioned in Walter Isaacson's excellent, exhaustive biography of the Apple cofounder.

If these sentiments are true, it begs the question: What is holding us back?

As with many complex issues, there are no easy answers. Debates about the best ways to fuse technology with education have persisted since the 1960s, and have gained momentum and urgency as personal devices such as laptops, smart phones and tablets have grown ubiquitous, and the Internet has transformed the way we communicate.

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To a certain extent, educators can claim that they've assimilated to those advancements. Virtually all schools across the country had Internet access by 2010, government studies show.

The increasing use of technology is evident in Newport-Mesa, where parents like me — I've had at least one child in local schools since the mid-1990s — have witnessed the changes over the years. I now fill out registration forms and check grades on-line, while my son can file homework assignments and get classroom, club and school sports information electronically. This wasn't always the case.

Yet throughout the nation, technological capabilities vary tremendously from district to district, school to school, and archaic teaching methods often prevail. Keeping up with fast-moving innovations has proven challenging, to say the least, particularly in a glacial sector like education, where change is often implemented only after decades of studies.

Meanwhile, many educators struggle mightily to grasp how technology can be utilized in ways that actually help students learn. In a larger sense, it's tough to implement promising new techniques and ideas in a system that remains stubbornly old school; where kids still lug around massive dog-eared textbooks and daydream during long-winded lectures.

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