Perspectives on Technology in Education

Perspectives on Technology in Education
November 1, 2000

George A. Clowes

George Clowes is a Heartland senior fellow addressing education policy. He served as founding... (read full bio)



Computers in the Classroom: A Net Positive?

The federal government is spending in excess of $4 billion a year on the E-Rate program to connect all schools and libraries in the nation to the Internet. Three-quarters of the nation's public schools have applied for funds from the program, as have nearly half of the nation's public libraries and 15 percent of the nation’s private schools.

Nevertheless, questions continue to be raised about the educational value of these connections and whether the impact of using computers in the educational process is a net positive.

According to recent reports from the U.S. Department of Education, only 1 percent of public school teachers did not have access to computers at their schools last year, and only 16 percent did not have a computer in their classrooms. More than one in three teachers said they felt comfortable using computers and the Internet to teach.

The greater the number of minority students in a school, the lower the likelihood of having the Internet available in the classroom--even though disadvantaged school districts received almost 10 times as much money per student from the E-Rate program as did other districts.

Do computers help children learn? Several groups, including Learning for the Real World in California, question the assumption that computers should be the primary tool for teaching reading, math, and other subjects. In his book High-tech Heretic, astronomer and former cyber-sleuth Clifford Stoll warns against using computers too much in the classroom because "they don't give understanding, can't demonstrate what it means to do science, won't inspire the curiosity necessary to becoming a scientist."

Another critical study, called "Fool's Gold: A Critical Look at Computers in Education," was issued recently by the Alliance for Childhood. The report argues that, instead of being helpful, computers in fact are hazardous to children's health, causing problems such as eye strain and obesity. Of course, classrooms are still a long way from having a computer for every student, so the amount of time a student can spend working at a school computer is necessarily limited.



Online Purchasing = More $ for Students

During the next five years, San Francisco-based Simplexis Corporation wants to help America's schools put $10 billion more into the classroom--but they're not asking for a tax hike to achieve that. Their plan is to save money for schools by automating the educational purchasing process, and then put the resulting savings back in the classroom.

On October 3, Illinois' Rockford Public School District became the first in the nation to implement such a system, with an online purchasing system fully integrated with the district's financial software.

"For schools moving their purchasing online, e-procurement promises to reduce the average cost of processing purchase orders from about $150 to $50 per order," notes Peter Stokes, executive vice president of Eduventures.com, a research firm that tracks the education technology industry.

On the front end, an Internet-based eProcurement system from Simplexis links the school district to its suppliers. School professionals can comparison-shop online, combine orders to earn bulk discounts, and electronically solicit prices from vendors. The link between this module and the district's back-end accounting system is another Simplexis module, SimpleLink, which in Rockford's case was customized by integration services provider Kirtley Technology Corporation. With that link, the school system can generate and place orders, transfer payments electronically, and account for the transactions--all with a few mouse clicks.

"The fully integrated Simplexis system enables us to electronically manage every stage of the purchasing cycle--from creating requests for proposals and obtaining approvals, to transferring funds and account reconciliation," said district Purchasing Director Casey Ramas.

"We helped the district eliminate manual processes such as budget checking and purchase order entry, while increasing its financial controls," said Kirtley President Rich Kirtley, whose company is the integration provider for nine of Illinois' largest school districts.



Students Increase Internet Use At Home

While the attention of educators has been focused on connecting the nation's schools and students to the Internet, another huge wiring project has been taking place to hook up the nation's homes to the Internet.

According to a recent survey, more than half (52 percent) of the households in the U.S. have a personal computer, and roughly three-quarters of those homes have access to the Internet.

In homes with Internet access and students, more than two-thirds (67.9 percent) use the Internet to compete school work. In Internet homes with middle school and high school students, that rate soars to five out of six (84.0 percent); in homes with elementary students, the rate drops to 52.7 percent. This information is contained in a new report, "Students and the Internet," from Interactive Data Corp. (IDC), a technology research and forecasting firm out of Framingham, Massachusetts.

"The Internet is clearly reshaping the education of K-12 students," said Raymond Boggs, vice president of IDC. "Students are going online to get assignments, get the information they need to complete assignments, and, of course, check the lunch menu."

Communicating with teachers and administrators is the most common online school-related activity in households with children of elementary school age, reports IDC. In households with children of middle or high school age, the most common use is to get class assignments, with the student rather than the parent usually gathering that information.

"The Internet is also poised to become a key force in community building between schools and the home," said Boggs, noting that a variety of activities already are being performed online. He predicted Internet use would grow dramatically "as teachers and administrators expand their use of the technology."



High-tech Help for ADHD

A metronome certainly helps musicians improve the timing and pacing of their playing, but can a metronome help restless children unable to focus their attention on anything--children with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder?

Surprisingly, the answer is yes, thanks to an innovative application of personal computer technology developed by James F. Cassily.

Cassily's Interactive Metronome® (IM) provides a series of interactive training exercises using a personal computer married to the principles of a traditional musical metronome. The computer produces a visual cue of a particular musical beat and the trainee attempts to maintain hand-claps or foot-taps in time with the computer-generated musical beat. Feedback is provided through headphones and foot sensors to help the trainee synchronize his or her movements with the rhythm of the computer. During the 15-hour program, the system progressively challenges trainees to improve their motor planning, sequencing, and rhythmic timing.

"IM training improves planning and sequencing skills which can help self-control, attention-span, listening skills, and sensory integration," says Mira Halpert, educational director of 3D Learner, Inc., a center for hands-on, visual learners in Coral Springs, Florida. "We see handwriting changes almost immediately, and the children seem more composed and better able to learn."

Studies show that "natural timing" is critical for the development of planning and sequencing skills on which other learning is based. Field research has shown that IM training can result in significant improvements for children with learning disorders. In a recent controlled clinical study, IM training significantly improved concentration, motor planning, control of aggression, language processing, and reading in boys with ADHD. The peer-reviewed study will appear in an upcoming issue of The American Journal of Occupational Therapy.

"Attention, learning, and problem-solving depend on the ability to plan and sequence actions and ideas," said child psychiatrist Stanley I. Greenspan MD, one of the study's authors. "The IM helps children improve basic motor planning and sequencing capacities."

Interactive Metronome, Inc. is based in Weston, Florida and offers its patented Interactive Metronome® training only through a growing network of clinical therapists, child psychologists, and educational therapists throughout the United States.


George A. Clowes is managing editor of School Reform News.

George A. Clowes

George Clowes is a Heartland senior fellow addressing education policy. He served as founding... (read full bio)