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Technology In The Schools

With broken desks and water fountains, dirty bathrooms and overcrowding, Brooklyn Tech High School does not deserve to be called "high-tech" according to one New York City teen in a multimedia project he created. Instead, it seems more like low dungeon.

New Yorkers may not necessarily agree with this negative assessment of one of the city’s most competitive and tech savvy high schools. However, it is not only students who see a serious problem with the way that technology is currently being used in education -- or more accurately, not used.

New York City Councilmember Gale Brewer sees the Department of Education as lacking vision for integrating technology into the schools. Brewer has made it one of the top missions of her Technology in Government committee to let the public know that much needs to be done.

Right now, there is little consistency from school to school. Some have computers too outdated to use; others are requesting hundreds of new laptops without really knowing what purpose they will serve. Some principals don't even have an idea what technology capabilities exist in their schools.

Some schools have networks that allow everyone to send e-mail to one another while others rely on making photocopies in order to communicate. Many teachers have better access to technology at home than they do at school.

But, using technology in the classroom is not merely a question of buying computers and upgrading infrastructure. It is also about incorporating it into the curriculum and training teachers to use it. This requires completely rethinking some issues (from redesigning the physical classrooms to dramatically improving the curriculum).

Brewer's committee held a roundtable discussion last October in partnership with the Hunter College Graduate Department of Urban Affairs and Planning’s Digital Opportunities Team to identify some of the most innovative uses of technology in education. Since then, the Hunter team has conducted research on 17 of the city’s leading such projects.

These include:

. The results of the study will be published by the committee at the end of March.


While not included in the Hunter team’s research, a non-profit organization called Digital Clubhouse Network deserves recognition for their Digitally Abled Producers Program, which works with students ages twelve to 18 years old. The students learn to tell their personal stories and those of their community by working with adult mentors to make “mini-movies” about their own lives. The three-to-five minute movies, which are like slide-shows, combine voice, images, music and sound effects.

The students learn to use photo and movie software while developing digital literacy, work skills, creativity and self-esteem. "[Through this program] the students get the kind of special attention and individual encouragement that just isn't possible in our overcrowded and under-funded schools," according to Digital Clubhouse Network mentor Craig Lowy, a broadcast designer.

The stories, which were shown at the Soho Apple computer store in January, deal with some difficult themes, including racism, the death of a grandparent, bullying, children with disabilities, drug problems, illiteracy and family problems. For example, in one story, "The Perfect Solution," Damali Driskell told of his isolation as the only black kid at a mostly Jewish private school. They also include that student at Brooklyn Tech detailing the problems with his school.

In February, a number of digital stories produced in this program aired as Public Service Announcements on television channels BET and The N for Black History Month.

The Hunter team’s research and the example of the Digitally Abled Producers Program highlight the reality that non-profit organizations and experimental projects are leading the way in terms of integrating technology into education in New York City. Now it’s time for the Department of Education to learn from these projects in order to develop its own comprehensive vision for technology in the city’s schools. And, they won’t be able to do it alone. The agency will have to work with the Department of Housing, in order to make sure that parents are also benefiting from new technology along with their children, and the Department of Information Technology and Telecommunications in order to realize their vision -- once they have one.

Laura Forlano is a doctoral student studying communication technology policy at Columbia University.


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