Technology Today, September/October 1997

Technology in our schools

By JANE OTTO

At the advent of the school year, Gov. Arne Carlson announced that Minnesota has moved from 20th to fourth place among states in the number of students per multimedia computer.

Contributing to this statistic was $130 million the Legislature dished out to schools to upgrade computers and get schools online.

Howard Lake-Waverly-Winsted (HLWW) and Lester Prairie were among the school districts that reaped the rewards of these technological dollars.

Schools were allotted a one-year grant of $24 per pupil or a minimum of $25,000 allocated for technological updating including staff development and training. Both HLWW and Lester Prairie were awarded $25,000.

Money was also available through the Central Minnesota Telecommunications Grant to acquire interactive TV (ITV) or Internet capabilities.

This spring HLWW had a 56k dedicated line installed at its high school in Howard Lake and another installed at Winsted Elementary in June. Humphrey Elementary has dial-up Internet service.

Duane Lichy, HLWW media specialist, said from the media center they wired category 5 lines to various stations through out the high school. There are now 24 separate computers that have Internet access.

A few keystrokes and students can experience the world.

"We stress that Internet usage is mainly for education and research," said Lichy.

There's a myriad of valid research sites but the search can be long and futile.

"It's like going into someone's junky closet. Unless you know what you want and where it is, it can take a very long time to find it," said Lichy. He instructed staff and teachers this summer in basic Internet skills.

At HLWW, if the school's open, computers are available for student use. Easy access though, does require monitoring.

The school implements an acceptable use policy that both staff and students must sign, he explained.

Other monitoring methods are staff presence and a proxy redirect service which blocks Web sites that the school has previously selected with a packet filtering program.

"The district has no written policy or directives where technology is concerned. Our goal is to stay competitive and provide kids with alternative styles of instruction," said Riley Hoheisel, HLWW Superintendent.

Lester Prairie Schools also installed its dedicated 56k line in June. Superintendent James Redfield said the line enters the high school office and from there runs to the biology lab, library, tech ed classroom, ITV room and both the high school and elementary computer labs.

"The district's vision at present is to provide in-service (Internet) training for staff and to supplement or add to our present curriculum," said Redfield.

Prior to the 56k line, the library computer was already online said media specialist, Helen Dossett. For class research, teachers are encouraged to review Web sites and set bookmarks so as not to send students on a wild goose chase, she said.

Dossett, who has taken Internet classes for the past three summers, said even with bookmarks, the Internet's immensity often drowns the students. With some searching tips, she gets them swimming again.

Now, with Internet access available throughout the building, the school is presently developing an acceptable use policy, Dossett explained.

Private school, private dollars

Though it doesn't have accessibility to state monies, Holy Trinity Schools is still keeping up with the pack.

High school principal Steve Byrne said $10,000 was spent on new computer equipment with the funds coming from various budget areas.

"Holy Trinity is updating its computer lab piece by piece to where it will be primarily IBM," said Byrne. "Another goal is to have a computer in each classroom."

Internet access through TDS TELECOM comes to Holy Trinity in the fall. At present, there will be two Internet lines in the library and the computer room. Byrne said teachers, for the most part, have been getting Internet training on their own.

As for monitoring Internet usage, Byrne said Holy Trinity will adhere to a code of ethics. A staff member will also be present when students are online.

"We hope students will take the responsibility to do the right thing," he commented.

Using technology in the classroom

Parents shouldn't necessarily be impressed with the number of computers their school has, but rather how the school utilizes that technology.

In an article challenging educators to make the computer the tool, not the goal, Joyce Kasman Valenza said, "Experts agree that we do not live in a multiple-choice world, that there is little relationship between standardized tests and real-life skills. Our lives require deeper thinking; our work requires that we work in teams and produce products."

HLWW seniors are applying that theory by taking Internet access one step further. Through an independent study class, they designed and maintain the school's Web site, http://www.hlww.k12.mn.us/, with the help of their mentor, Neil Sideen.

Recently, a digital camera became part of the school's equipment. Lichy said it will be used to put images on the school Web site, but will also be available on check-out basis for students and staff for school presentations.

Technology doesn't always mean computers. At Lester Prairie, technical education instructor Joe Scoblic combines teamwork and technology in his power and engineering class.

For example, one class was given syringes and various plastics, then were told to design a robotic arm to be used by someone on Mars trying to communicate with someone on Earth.

Scoblic said students use their knowledge of pneumatics and hydraulics from class lectures and team cooperation to solve the assignment. Other students usually come in to observe the finished demonstration. The kids love it, he said.

The biology lab will be using electronic probes to measure temperatures, pressure, oxygen levels and more. The probe is interfaced with a computer to collect and manage the data.

ITV, though not particularly new, is becoming more commonplace.

HLWW hopes to use some of its TAG funds to purchase a Omni directional antennae which has a 35 mile radius. This will enable them to reach the Twin Cities and from there the world. Since HLWW's ITV is site-to-site rather than cable, it gives them more capability to expand.

Lester Prairie is in the process of setting up an agreement with St. Cloud State University to enable students to take college classes for credit via ITV.

To where from here

According to a survey of 85,000, public schools by Market Data Retrieval, a unit of Dun & Bradstreet Corp., the number of computers used in U.S. public schools rose 186 percent over the past five years.

The total number of computers used for instruction increased to 6l3 million from 2.2 million in the 1991-92 school year. The number of students using each computer has dropped to an average 7.3 from 36.5 a decade ago. Nationwide, 70 percent of all schools had Internet access, and about two classroom computers in five are linked to the Net.

From electronic probes in the biology lab to retrieving state funding via the Internet, today's technology has brought the world into the classroom.

Byrne, who was former assistant director of admissions at Mankato State University, recalled it was common for students to put assignments on disk rather than paper.

Laptops are seeing a surge in popularity on college campuses. Laptop sales account for between 15 and 20 percent of computer sales at the University of Minnesota computer store.

The University of Minnesota's Crookston campus acquired the handle, "ThinkPad U" because most students use leased IBM ThinkPad portables.

Though the high schools here are not at that level yet, it's only a matter of time before parents are purchasing floppies rather than reams of loose leaf.

Whether the computer will eventually replace the textbook or not remains to be seen, but the bottom line is kids still need to learn the basics. There are also graduation standards that need to be met.

"The computer is a great tool but it can not replace formal education," said Byrne. "Parents are the still primary educators.

"You are not necessarily uneducated if you don't have a computer, or are you educated if you do have a computer. The computer is an appliance that can be turned on and off," he added.

Technology is defined as the scientific method or material used to achieve an objective. It helps us do what we do better.

"Technology certainly has assisted education but it cannot stand alone. It's just one piece to the whole puzzle," said Hoheisel.


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