The two discoveries for me the past week included open-source, web-based software that basically included everything I ever needed to bring my classes into the digital age; and the realization and confirmation that there is a long way to go before the digital age actually arrives -- if ever.
The software is Moodle, which looks to be a teacher's best friend. Whether it's online quizzes, grades, instant feedback, collaboration, this website offers it all (moodle.org). It's all open-source, which means it's free; but also that anyone with a good idea and programming skills can modify the software and make it better. With the added responsibilities of the modern teacher, like parental and community involvement, differential teaching, cultural awareness, etc., we need something to make it all easier, not harder. Moodle, in the same way as Blackboard or other classroom software, really seems to be poised to help. The instant feedback and gratification may be the most important aspect of sites like Moodle. The ability to give students cooperative tasks to solve problems with modern equipment is huge as well. Doing all of this without using paper is nice as well, although limited resources are still being tapped to run machines all day.
But what we talked about as a group during the week became obvious and troubling. Many students, especially poor and rural students, do not have a computer and/or Internet access at home. If one is to base a curriculum on web-based activities -- which is desired and strongly suggested -- then one must find a way to find the time and equipment to help those that do not have these luxuries. How does one provide universal access to the Internet? How do we make this a part of the American (and World) infrastructure?
At one point, books were the new technology, and few people had books. But we distributed books, and tried to make sure everyone had access to books. Yet there are people in the world that have never read a book, even to this day, centuries after the printing press was invented. To seek universal net access is unrealistic. There will always be those that are left out. Does that mean we should not move toward digital learning? I think we should and must try to move classrooms into this "digital age." With the pace of technological change, most Western classrooms are already behind; and I believe most of the World's classrooms have no electronic technology at all, save the light bulbs in the ceiling.
Government is not the answer. It might be a small part of the solution, but teachers have to be the leaders here. They have to convince the public that modern technology is needed and worth the investment. I'm not sure teachers have the energy to be lobbyists. It has to start one school at a time; one PTA meeting or one community leaders meeting at a time. And still I say: good luck. Good luck getting the equipment, good luck getting teachers to use it and good luck getting them to use it well. This is a long road we are talking about, and it will be difficult to discover where my class in my district fits into this road trip.