Thursday, September 3, 1998

OK, time for my “daily column”…or “couple-of-times-a-week column”, as it seems more likely to be. Tell me what you think of the new underlining highlight thing.

Just read a fascinating little story over on Yahoo! News. Seems Brandon Beussink, a student at Woodland High School in Montana, wrote up a webpage that ridiculed Woodland HS’ webpage. Ignoring the fact that this critique was neither hosted on school computers nor written on school time, the school promptly suspended him for a full ten days, effectively failing him for an entire semester.

What concerns me is that this isn’t the first time I’ve heard of schools putting down their technologically more knowledgeable students. A good online friend of mine got shouted at by a teacher who was trying to convince my friend, among other things, that “The internet is PART of the web!”

Why is this? Well, for one thing, the schools are afraid to admit that their students really are more technologically savvy than they are. The adults are afraid of the technology, while the kids are jumping into it with zeal. The teachers fall far behind, and are too proud to ask their students for help.

Besides the fact that the administration doesn’t know how to deal with the net; rather than bringing their school together with the internet (as some schools are doing), they want to restrict it to a “teacher tool.” I’m sorry, the internet isn’t a one-way medium.

In my personal opinion, the public schools are also on unsteady ground because of the exploding home school movement (yes, it’s still exploding), and to a lesser extent private schools. All of a sudden there’s a practical alternative to public schools, and people are flocking to that alternative. Never minding the fact that there may be valid reasons why people are abandoning public schools, public school administrators feel they have to show up how much power they have, so that their students don’t go home and complain. Quash the serfs if you want peace.

So how do we fix this whole technology issue? It’s actually simple, to my mind: create a “technology team” of half a dozen students (or whatever number, as appropriate for the size of the school), which report directly to the administration and to whoever is in charge of technology (the manager of the school’s LAN or internet connection or whatever). Require them to help out technologically, writing webpages, answering e-mails, and so forth, and to provide a quarterly report to the administration, in person, on the technological status of the school. Allow them to implement and administrate (under certain supervision) technological solutions and new technologies that will let students communicate. These will be the “geekhead” of the school. They’re free labor, they’re autonomous, they’ll know and learn faster than you can believe, and it’ll provide fantastic experience for their working lives.

Besides this, there are numerous technologies to facilitate learning that can be installed now. The high school of another friend of mine hosts newsgroups for every class, so those having a problem can post questions, and those that passed and answer them. Wouldn’t it be wonderful if teachers (or, heck, students) could maintain websites about their classes, including links? Rather than assigning reports, assign webpages for students to write; same content, more for the student to keep balanced and work on (suddenly s/he has to worry about images, links, and so forth).

People have been worrying for years about the technological “have”s and “have-not“s. If the schools get aggressive about integrating technology with the curriculum and everyday school life now, we won’t have this problem in the future.

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