Opinion: Keeping pace with technology | PostIndependent.com

Opinion: Keeping pace with technology

Dan Dougherty
Free Press Opinion Columnist

If you do a Google search on the Top 10 challenges facing public education today, technology will likely be in the top half of the list. Technology and its rapid rate of change are also among the top challenges facing industry today. Just how are schools currently managing our technology needs?

First, it’s helpful to keep in mind the quantum leap forward in technology since landing a man on the moon. That was the penultimate technological feat of a generation. It was “one giant leap for mankind.” It took from the dawn of the modern era to 1969 to land a man on the moon. There were rooms of huge computers. Now, a scant 45 years later, we have more computing technology in our smartphones than NASA had in their operations hub. It took the telephone 75 years to reach 50 million users. Radio took 38 years. TV took 13 years. It took Facebook three-and-a-half years. Angry Birds in Space? 35 days.


In a nutshell, schools started including technology for instructional use in a step-by-step fashion. Chalkboards were replaced with dry erase boards. Dry erase boards have been replaced with “smart boards.” Smart boards allow teachers to project content digitally, but also write on boards like dry erase boards. It was a huge step for many teachers to receive televisions in their classrooms, which allowed teachers to show education videos, then DVDs. Then, another giant step forward occurred when teachers received desktop computers, then laptops, and now tablets.

Textbooks are not just books anymore either. Teachers have multimedia content guides that can include a book, videos, interactive DVDs, web links, online quizzes, and electronic exams. Schools used to budget and buy textbooks that lasted for about 10 years and cost around $150 each. Now, we’re paying a subscription fee of $15 a year each and the content auto updates each year. Think about the change in learning speed that this permits.


Student technology has remained the biggest challenge because students are the most numerous variable in education. Schools started by having computer labs. The lab idea shares small banks of computers with all students, managed by class schedules. The computers in labs went from desktops to laptops, to tablets. Labs then popped up in middle schools and elementary schools. Now, we have added multiple labs and mobile labs within buildings, all in an effort to take steps to have lower computer-to-student ratios.


When I was a student, I went to the library to look up an answer to what I didn’t know. I learned Dewey Decimal, navigated card catalogs, and explored vast libraries, then read through volumes to find an answer. Today, we type a question into a search engine, blink, and six zillion results are presented. In minutes, I have the knowledge that previously took hours. With access to such a huge volume of information, we have to learn how to evaluate the quality of responses we review. The Colorado Department of Education likes to call this “Information Literacy.” It is an essential 21st Century skill: How to find and cite reliable information found online. Consequently, libraries are evolving into media centers that look like a coffee shop without the coffee. Kids work together in teams, discuss project and concepts, look up materials online, and source electronic books instead of shelved books.

Some may ask, why must schools keep pace? What I learned in school was good enough for me, and I didn’t have all this fancy gear. But, today’s kids do. From video games to their own devices, they have greater access to information than any previous generation. And, it’s presented in exciting, digital ways, with sound, motion, graphics, and animation. Teaching them in an analog fashion lacks relevance and fails to connect with them. Perhaps, an old proverb says it best: Don’t limit your child to what you know, for they were born in a different time. To advance as a society, we have to prepare students for their futures, not ours. The technology frontier of the Information Age requires more fully integrating technology into the learning process itself. We must stop seeing it as an “add-on,” but rather foundational. Technology will become as transparent to the learning process as pencil and paper. Computer language will be taught alongside other “foreign

Free Press columnist Dan Dougherty is director of communications for School District 51: Mesa County Valley Schools. Comments and feedback are welcome at dan.dougherty@d51schools.org.

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