A common scene at the beginning of the school year is one of teachers sitting in a room waiting for their next technology in-service.
"Why do I have to do this? I'm too old to learn to use a computer."
"I haven't checked my email since the beginning of the last school year."
"Why do we do this? We don't have in-services on how to use a pen."
This is the reality that R.W. Burniske and Lowell Monke address in their book Breaking Down the Digital Walls.The authors tackle the old issue of dealing with new technology in context of the personal computer and the Internet. They began to address these questions in an informal atmosphere of two friends having lunch together while working at an international school in Ecuador. They came from different backgrounds and disciplines "Mr. Burniske teaching English and history, and Mr. Monke math and computer science," but with similar goals as a teacher. Their lunches allowed them to ask hard questions of themselves and each other. Burniske and Monke explored and prodded their own and the other's preconceptions of the world, education, and technology.
At the center of their book is the knowledge that the student is a person. Students are not future wage earners nor consumers. Computers are always analyzed with this vision in mind:
How is computer technology going to help my students develop those inner qualities, such as insight, creativity, and good judgment, which education at its best has always sought to inspire? To put it another way, Is there a way to harness the power of computer technology to serve my students' search for meaning in their learning and in their lives?
This is the key question facing teachers today. How will technology enhance my teaching? How will it enable me to educate my students? Are computers something which students need to learn how to use in order to get a job. This last question is part of the "vocation-oriented approach to education today" that the authors decry. They sought ways in which utilizing computers can assist in "shaping human lives and sensible, sensitive persons."
This is not a book full of lesson plans, and "can't fail" activities to plug into the classroom. It is part memoir, guide to activities, and a declaration of what Burniske and Monke believe to be important to education and technology's role in education. These teachers worked to stay connected both personally and professionally. They were pioneers in working with technology teachers and incorporating computers and the Internet into their lessons. They integrated the technology into their classroom instruction to assist their students in the development of critical thinking skills in a multicultural, global society.
The authors are equally up-front with their failures and their successes. They discuss the technical problems and their human problems (key pals failing to return messages and partner classes dropping out of the projects). They developed lessons that encouraged students to look beyond the flash and dash of the Internet to the substance offered. While Monke and Burniske developed their units at the secondary level the guidelines are beneficial to all teachers and students.
Burniske and Monke do not see the use of computers as the zenith of education (Mr. Monke has stated he does not support younger students becoming computer savvy), neither do they make excuses for teachers shunning computers.
So with the readerís indulgence, I shall utter a few absolutes in the hope that they will help teachers set aside familiar crutches:
These would-be obstacles provide a convenient excuse for resisting innovations or failing to conduct experiments of one's own.
If teachers select one professional book to read during the coming school year it should be Breaking Down the Digital Walls. You may not agree with everything the authors say, but you will find the discussion thought provoking.