Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Part VI Digital Fix ~ "Level Horizon"

Level Horizon

“We See computers everywhere but in the productivity statistics”
Robert Solow

A couple years back I took my family on a weekend camping trip which is a challenge when considering I was accompanied by a decidedly urban wife and four children ranging in ages 5 to 14. The campground was remote and few people stayed there but I knew this particular site held a secret treasure and I could not wait to share it with my kids as my Dad had done with me. That first night I revealed my plan to the five eager faces huddled around the campfire and as expected, enthusiasm ran high. Not so the next morning at 5:30 a.m. when my teenage son chose sleep over adventure. Undaunted, I set out with the family minus one to see, what I believe to be, the most spectacular sunrise in the Western Hemisphere. A mile into the trek, spirits began to sag and by mile two, I was faced with an all out mutiny. Despite my pleading that our destination was just over the next horizon, my wife, 12 year-old son, and 5 year-old daughter lost interest and headed back to camp. Only my 10 year-old, Allison, stuck it out to be rewarded with an experience I am certain she’ll cherish for years to come. Why did she persevere? Was it trust in her guide or perhaps curiosity? Maybe it was because she had invested a great deal of time and energy in the endeavor and turning back would only minimize loss. Seeing the journey through to the end was the only way to gain.

Over a decade ago, the roll out of Microsoft Windows and the widespread use of Web 1.0 brought about an unprecedented level of support for the integration of technology in the curriculum. School administrator’s expectations were high and some hoped that this could be the right tool to finally fix our public education system. Others in academia were not as enthusiastic. In an article from Phi Delta Kappan entitled Black Magic, the author suggested technology is a false prophet, driven by greedy corporations, and more than moderate use of computers by kids results in lower test scores (Robertson, 2005). Despite these charges, public school administrators should maintain a positive outlook. Not because someone has already seen future academic success just over the horizon but because past experience tells us that in order to realize true gains, there is a natural cycle from innovation to profitable integration (David, 1990).

Noted economic historian Paul A. David first introduced this interpretation of lag time in his 1989 essay, “Computer and Dynamo: The Modern Productivity Paradox in a Not-Too Distant Mirror”. He illustrated his point by highlighting the time and effort involved to move from Thomas Edison’s invention of the light bulb in 1879 to electricity finally supplanting steam as our nation’s primary power source well into the next century. One of the major breakthroughs facilitating the changeover was how buildings and assembly lines were redesigned and managed. In essence, the entire manufacturing process had to be reconfigured.

Let’s reexamine the last two sentences substituting the words schools, curriculum, taught, and educational for buildings, assembly lines, managed, and manufacturing. A clear picture of what needs done can be seen.
“One of the major breakthroughs facilitating changeover was how schools and curriculum were redesigned and taught. In essence, the entire educational process had to be reconfigured”.

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