Archive - Nov 24, 2008

Penny wise and Pound Foolish

As I write this, the Connecticut General Assembly is working out ways to address the budget deficit. Currently, they are considering Bill No. 7601- An Act Concerning Deficit Mitigation..

What are the key points of the bill? Cutting three million dollars from the State-wide Energy Efficiency and Outreach budget. Another two million dollars are being cut from the Clean Diesel Buses program and four hundred and fifty thousand dollars from Biofuels. They are also cutting five million dollars from bus operations. In education, they are cutting two million dollars from school safety.

As our economy falters, it seems particularly foolish to cut funding to efforts to reduce our dependence on foreign oil, through promoting mass transportation and use of alternative fuels.

At least the two million dollars for the Bushnell is safe. Too bad I won’t be able to take a bus there to see a musical rendition of ‘Legally Blonde’. It might be more entertaining than the show at the capitol.

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Dad, Can You Give Me the Phone? I Want to Take a Picture?

The other day, my seven-year-old daughter asked me, “Dad, can you give me the phone? I want to take a picture.” My only hesitation was whether the cellphone or the digital camera would be best for the pictures she wanted to take. In the end, I handed her the digital camera and she walked around the room taking pictures.

This afternoon, I will go to a meeting at our public school library to add my input into our district’s three-year technology plan. The State Board of Education provides a very useful template to help schools develop their three-year technology plans. I’d encourage everyone to find out about the technology plans in your district, and how you can get involved in helping shape them.

I mention my daughter’s question first because I believe it illustrates quite nicely Marc Prensky’s article Digital Natives, Digital Immigrants. Mr. Prensky’s article was published in October, 2001, the month my daughter was born. Not only does my daughter “represent the first generations to grow up with this new technology”, she is part of a generation where educators have been talking about the difference between digital natives and digital immigrants.

Yet not all educators are thinking about how significantly “the arrival and rapid dissemination of digital technology in the last decades of the 20th century” has changed our children. Many continue to lag behind even first graders when it comes to understanding digital technology.

Perhaps no one understands this better than Julie Amero and the people that have followed her case. Ms. Amero was a substitute teacher in Norwich, CT. Four years ago, her classroom computer started popping up pornography sites. She did not know how to handle it and some of the students saw the pictures. She was charged, and convicted of four felony counts of endangering minors. It became a nationwide cause celebre, as experts around the country weighed in and deplored the travesty of justice. If anything, the liability should be the school districts for not having properly installed anti-spyware software.

On Friday, with her health deteriorating, Ms. Amero agreed to a plea bargain where she would plead guilty to one misdemeanor of disorderly conduct, pay a $100 fine, and lose her teaching license. According to Rick Green’s column, “New London County State's Attorney Michael Regan …remained convinced Amero was guilty and was prepared to again go to trial.” I join with many people who question whether or not State Attorney Regan is fit for office, but that is a whole different issue.

School districts may be tempted to write defensive three-year technology plans to protect themselves, their students, teachers and administrators from fiascoes like the Amero case and I worry that the technology plans in Woodbridge may be too restrictive for numerous reasons.

Yet the template provided by the State Board of Education takes a positive approach to technology. It quotes the Connecticut State Board of Education Position Statement on Educational Technology and Information Literacy, 12/4/04, which says,

Literacy in the 21st century requires more than the ability to read, write and compute. The State Board of Education believes that every student must develop strong technological skills and continually use them in order to function adequately in our 21st century world. Connecticut schools must ensure that technology resources are integrated across the curriculum in PK-12 and become part of the fabric of instruction.

It goes on to quote the Connecticut Association of Public School Superintendents Technology Position Statement, 12/14/01, saying, “technology must be a vital link among the staff, students, parents and the expanded community”.

It seems as if that link, talked about a couple months after my daughter was born and after Mr. Pensky’s great article on digital natives was published, is not yet as vital as it should be in many school districts. Cases like the Amero case, if anything, may have weakened that link.

So, how do we re-establish technology as the “vital link among the staff, students, parents and the expanded community”? Perhaps we start by giving our seven-year-old daughters our cellphones, so they can take some pictures. Perhaps we go beyond that and help them set up their own radio shows online.

My daughter’s interviewing skills still need a lot of work, but if people want to talk about technology and how it could be used to meet the goals of Connecticut State Board of Education and the Connecticut Association of Public School Superintendents, they could call Fiona’s Radio Show Sunday’s at 6:30 PM.

If you have other ideas, join the discussion. Drop me an email. Add a comment here. Set up your own Internet based radio show. Let’s work together the strengthen the technology enabled links within our communities.