American Geological Institute

Government Affairs Program


Hearing on "Technology in the Classroom: Panacea or Pandora's Box?"

On May 6, 1997, the House Science Committee's Subcommittee on Technology held a hearing entitled "Technology in the Classroom: Panacea or Pandora's Box?" to discuss the appropriate role of technology in K-12 education. These specific issues were addressed: Subcommittee Chair Connie Morella (R-MD) opened the hearing saying that, with new technologies in the classroom, "the possibilities are exciting and endless." She also added that "teachers who grew up learning a more top down paradigm of education must be encouraged to explore the new medium as a means to engage young minds in the adventure of learning."

The witnesses for the hearing were:

Kathleen Fulton, Associate Director, Center for Learning and Education Technology, University of Maryland, College Park
Joe Hofmeister, Director of Technology Integration, Cincinnati Country Day School, Cincinnati
Paul Reese, Technology Coordinator, Ralph Bunche School, New York City
Kalani Smith, Instructional Specialist, Office of Global Access Technology, Montgomery County Public School System, Maryland
Tip Kilby, Founder and Executive Director, Computers for Classrooms, Inc., Atlanta

Ms. Fulton's testimony centered on cost concerns and effectiveness issues surrounding technology in the classroom. She cited the numerous programs that are drawn upon for technology funds, including the Eisenhower Professional Development Program, Goals 2000, and various programs in the Department of Education. Ms. Fulton compared the use of computers to the use of books and other educational materials, saying "the question of effectiveness requires us to be clear in what outcomes we seek, how we measure them, and how we define effectiveness."

Mr. Hofmeister described the partnership that Cincinnati Country Day School has established with Microsoft and Toshiba. Each student in grades five through 12 has been equipped with a laptop computer complete with built in modem, ethernet card and backpack carrying case. The teachers post and receive assignments over email, make announcements over their network and publish syllabi. Mr. Hofmeister emphasized the role that the federal government can play in helping to establish and implement similar programs at other schools.

Mr. Reese testified on behalf of the Consortium for School Networking (CoSN), a nonprofit organization that promotes and encourages telecommunications use by advocating access to the internet and local networks in K-12 classrooms. Mr. Reese described the Computer Mini-School that has been set up in an elementary school in Harlem, where most of the student live in public housing projects and the school building is showing many signs of decay. Despite these circumstances, the Computer Mini-School is giving elementary school students daily use on computers, by setting up email accounts, local area networks and internet access. Mr. Reese attributed the success of the program to "a small core of dedicated teachers who have created a climate of hard work, discipline and excellence in performance" along with funding from the National Science Foundation (NSF).

Ms. Smith's testimony focused on the need for teacher training in computer technologies. She emphasized that, not only do schools need computer equipment, they also need funds to enable teachers to learn how to use the computers and integrate them into the curriculum. She emphasized that computer technology should not be viewed as an add-on to an already hectic day, but rather as a tool to aid in the instructional process.

While forming and working with Computer for Classrooms, Inc., Mr. Kilby has observed that the largest obstacles schools face are a lack of technology training among teachers and a lack of individual computers for each teacher. Mr. Kilby believes that schools need to tap into the technology that companies and individuals have outgrown, having them donate their used machines to schools, and use volunteers who know how to use the technology. He also declared that technology in the classroom is neither a panacea or a Pandora's box. Rather, it is "a natural, inevitable tool for educators to use in their quest to engage students in the learning process" and it needs to be brought "into our classrooms pervasively, equitably and soundly."

Background
On June 5, 1997, Sen. Jeff Bingaman (D-NM) introduced S. 839, the Technology for Teachers Act. The bill seeks to improve the understanding and use of educational technology in the classroom. Visit AGI's legislative update for more information on the bill.

As of the fall of 1996, 65 percent of US public schools have Internet access. This figure includes an increase of 15 percent in both 1994 and 1995. There are differences in the number of schools with Internet access across rural, suburban and urban areas: 75 percent of urban fringe schools have Internet access while 60 percent of rural schools and 61 percent of urban schools are wired.

The costs of implementing new technologies in classrooms are high: McKinsey and Company estimated in 1995 that it would cost an average of $11 billion per year to provide one multimedia computer for every five students in all US schools. RAND Corporation has estimated that, depending on the computer/student ratio, level of professional development, and other factors, classroom technology could cost anywhere from $8 billion to $20 billion per year over five years.

Federal assistance for technology in classrooms is helping in many cases. According to a RAND survey, in 1994, K-12 schools received $850 million in federal funds, which was about 30 percent of the total national investment. In addition, on May 7, 1997, the FCC implemented a rule to issue discounts on telecommunication services, internal connections, and Internet access costs. The discounts are based on a sliding scale and range from 20 percent to 90 percent depending on poverty and geographical location. Visit the National Science Teachers Association (NSTA) for more information on the ruling.

Sources: House Committee on Science, National Science Teachers Association


Please send any comments or requests for information to the AGI Government Affairs Program at govt@agiweb.org.

Contributed by Stephanie Barrett, AGI Government Affairs Intern
Last updated June 27, 1997

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