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Opinion: Pros, cons of tech trends in school

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Before the first day of school started for my third grader, I watched him hack into the computer in the back of the classroom, while we talked with his teacher. If access control was so poorly configured, I wondered, what else was not properly configured.

Being a parent of schoolchildren makes one ponder the topic of education at a much deeper level. Will my kids be safe? Will the schools teach the right things to help them learn? Will they be prepared for a world that is much different than it is today?

That last question is the one I want to tackle. The world of business and of technology is changing in every facet of life. The old model of school will not prepare children for a world run by technology. Educators know this, and they’re slowly making changes. Much of this is good, but with all things good, there are downsides. Here’s four:

Schools have to do more with less. Many parts of the nation are rocketed by tighter municipal budgets and higher costs to build new schools. Educators are finding themselves often with ever-growing classrooms and declining resources. That’s one reason educators are turning to technology. Laptops and tablets were a fad for a while, and still are in some places, but Chromebooks are filling classrooms and allowing students and educators a low entry cost to distribute testing, multimedia learning, online course management, collaboration and learning-oriented games.  

STEM education push. The learning curriculum focusing on the disciplines of science, technology, engineering and mathematics originated from the U.S. Department of Education to increase interest in those careers.

With it comes much technology use. This includes virtual reality, 3-D printers, personal computing devices, projectors, multimedia, interactive whiteboards, document cameras and plotters.

Online testing standards. U.S. students have consistently scored lower than many parts of the world, and more concerning is the wide divide of results among different areas of the nation. While we could debate the reasons, a push to increase test scores has resulted in the development of consistent online testing standards. Coupled with that, educators need technology to maximize their time to help students prepare for more rigorous testing. Having a few computers in the classroom will no longer be acceptable. Each student will need computers, most likely laptops or Chromebooks. While some schools are providing these computing devices, many schools require the students and parents to cover the costs.

Lack of technology oversight. With the above trends, and others, this push to technology can also cause a lot of pain for K-12 schools:

• A push to technology requires more experienced information technology management. Many parents don’t know there is a shortage of highly experienced system and network professionals available in the marketplace. Many school districts make the grave mistake of hiring someone lacking in skills to manage their network infrastructure and systems. In the end, they get what they pay for. This means technology and networks can be slow, improperly configured, poorly planned for expansion and unsafe for children.

• A push to technology requires greater IT security. When a network or system is improperly configured, it can increase the liability of the school district many times over. This can result in increased spending and in decreased privacy and security of the students.

• A push to technology requires a larger IT infrastructure. With all this front-end technology students and teachers utilize, there has to be a back-end infrastructure that supports the security, scalability and redundancy of the system. This requires greater security as well as systems and network know-how.

To overcome these challenges, smart districts and schools utilize outsourced technology firms that specialize in education and have the knowledge to protect the privacy and security of students, and to increase learning.

They also actively participate in technology training, to learn better uses and methods for using technology to teach.

Parents, educators and administrators need to plan ahead and ask the right questions to make sure technology is working for their children and students and is not a hindrance or threat that could leave them unprepared and exposed.

For me, I’ll be keeping one eye on my 8-year-old hacker in third grade and one eye on the future of education.

In the end, it is not just a school’s responsibility to teach my children; it’s mine as well.

Todd Nielsen is chief strategy officer for JMark Business Solutions Inc. in Springfield. He can be reached at tnielsen@jmark.com.

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