Carina has been typing on the internets before there was a www in front of everything. This is why she’s cranky and wants to know when you’ll get off her lawn. She resides in a hopelessly outdated home in the Mountain West with a mathematician and three children hell-bent on destruction. Her laundry is not done, but her Twitter is totally up to date. Carina does not have a Tumblr, because get serious.

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Why Do Schools Suck at Digital?

I went to our school’s website to see if my son’s teacher had placed her classroom supplies list online. I dug around the site for quite a while with no luck. Did I mention that I was in the school supplies aisle at the store? So why isn’t that kind of info easily available to us through a website? The idea that I’d need to drive any place to get an actual printed list of information is kind of unbelievable.Looks like I’ll be spending another year wondering why our schools aren’t using technology like they could be. As Mitch Hedberg used to say, “There’s no need to bring ink and paper into this.”
It’s the digital divide between what we do every day, and what teachers and schools are able, willing, or competent to provide. Nothing quite sets the stage like the handouts, the miles and miles of paper that will soon be making its way into your house. The info that you desperately need about an assignment or an activity, and the website that hasn’t been updated since the Halloween party–the Halloween party of 2009.Sometimes I feel like I’m in the middle of two different worlds: the analog, printed world I grew up in and the digital instant world of today–and I’m dragging along a set of people who haven’t moved away from analog. Really, there’s almost no excuse. We had Commodore 64s in the elementary school I attended; teachers have had almost 30 years to prepare for the digital age. Why has it not been embraced? Is it the reluctance of the parents or the fear of the teachers?
A perfect illustration is Stephanie’s post on school assignments and libraries: Teachers refusing to take electronic sources even though it’s where publishing is going.
It would be so much easier for parents and for the schools to make the move to mostly digital. More importantly, our children are facing a digital world and our schools are keeping them anchored in a time that no longer exists. The fear of computers, of the internet, and of technology in some schools isn’t just annoying, it’s a serious issue (and I’m not even addressing in this post the schools and communities that lack the resources to even offer digital solutions.)
I’m not asking for custom apps built for each school or classroom. I’m saying that the websites are already built: why are people printing out copies of things that could be uploaded? Why isn’t there an RSS feed for announcements and assignments? And for that matter, what about the parents who won’t use the electronic resources that schools ARE trying to implement?
It goes beyond what’s convenient for us as we’re standing in the aisle at Target trying to decide which pack of pencils to pick up, to preparing our kids for the reality of our world.

What do you think can be done to bring our schools into this new age?

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Comments (10)

  1. The Atomic mom 09/26/2011 at 10:13 am

    When I was teaching in very rural and very poor New Mexico, there was one phone in the school, in the office. They worked hard to get all the classrooms phones that year. By second semester I had a 10 year old computer hooked up to the internet. It came down to money. There just wasn’t the money. I would love to see schools embrace technology (giving kids a kindle with ebooks loaded, seems much more money wise than lugging 500lbs of books around every day), but teachers are also stuck in their ways as well. Next year, don’t worry about that supply list. Honestly, a good teacher will have the stuff already in her room and they won’t be at too much of a disadvantage the first few days if they don’t have the supplies the teacher wants them to have.

  2. Carina Wytiaz 08/22/2011 at 7:25 pm

    I’m married to a teacher.

    I know very well the deficiencies in time and money you’re facing.

    I also know that an extraordinary amount of your work, the school secretary’s, and the principal’s that could be reduced by using technologies already available. Think of all the time spent making copies. Think of COPIES themselves–digital means saving money. I get angry every time a print out goes home. My spouse used Excel to build a perpetual worksheet, saving him from having to build a new worksheet from scratch every time he needs one merely by pressing a few buttons. He uses a password protected blog to answer student questions.

    I worry that I have people who are scared of technology, or who do not understand it, teaching my digital native children–children that will compete in tech-driven world. We’re teaching a generation of children that will have to be digitally fluent and our schools aren’t where they need to be to make that happen.

    For that matter, parents need to up their digital IQ. They should be checking PowerSchool and its related programs. They must use all the resources at their hands so they don’t take up the teacher’s time with questions about assignments, progress, or other easily managed time sinks.

    We’re all responsible to raise digitally fluent children, and schools need to catch up.

  3. Michelle 08/22/2011 at 7:01 pm

    As another teacher I couldn’t agree more with the previous 2 teachers. I spend from 7:30am-4:30pm at school with children in front of me. I cannot justify ignoring their needs while updating a website. By the time I get home at 5:30 I have my own child who needs dinner, bath, and attention. I cannot justify ignoring his needs to sit on a computer. I hope when he is old enough to start school his teacher will be concerned about him than a website as well. Teachers need secretaries if we are truly expected to stay on top of all we do including websites. My students will ALWAYS take priority over anything else!

  4. Rebecca 08/22/2011 at 2:32 pm

    Carina, I am a teacher. I would be happy to put forth a simple explanation here. The best answer to why your child’s teacher is not spending time updating his/her class website or “embraced” the technology you value so much is that he/she is too busy teaching your child. Your child is not a technological conduit. There is no diagnostic machine that can be hooked up to him/her to let us know what they are behind in and what their strengths are. That means we teachers have to find this out using our good ‘ole noggins. We expend an unimaginable amount of energy trying to figure out how to get every one of those 20 or more kids to learn what they are expected to learn. I get that technology is rampant. It is everywhere and in your face all the time. But, it also requires time. Time to sit in front of a computer to upload documents to the website. Wouldn’t it be great if a parent volunteered to help manage the class website for the teacher? I know that in the corporate world, a business has many different divisions and information technology is just one of those that help a business run successfully. I think it would be wise to adjust your expectations of what a single human being is capable of. And if there are any principals or superintendents reading this, please do pass it along. One teacher is expected to help close the achievement gap for all their learners, complete morning and/or afternoon duties, tutor the students who need extra help during their “off-time” which is really set aside for meetings, eat lunch in less than 20 minutes, and test, test, test the heck out of students. All the while managing behavior problems in the class, students emotional needs, relationships with parents, and the bureaucracy of the school they’re teaching in. Somehow posting the school supplies to the class website just seems a little less of a priority. Also, I agree with what Rachael says about the websites that are currently being used are outdated and cumbersome. The public schools must identify what their priorities are and make financial commitments to them. If communication is a priority (and I strongly agree that it should be) please make it possible for teachers to do this efficiently. The stakes are too high currently for the teachers to spend time updating class websites when every day is like playing Tetris at 500 miles per hour. Only instead of little shapes coming at you and trying to figure out how to make them fit into “the big picture” it’s rearranging the material so that it all gets locked into their wonderful little brains. We teachers are always trying to help students make intelligent choices, too. For example, I would encourage using descriptive words in titles and not offensive slang.

    • Michele 08/22/2011 at 3:56 pm

      While I understand your sentiments, I will address this from and educator’s perspective as best I can. Firstly, it’s easy to complain about why schools “suck” at this technology rather than offering to help do anything about it. As Rebecca has stated, there are many reasons why teachers do not keep up with website postings; they all have names and parents complaining about one thing or another. Those reasons, your children, take lots of time and effort. Recently a parent accompanied their student into the classroom for orientation night. The student and parent began addressing a list of reasons why “Johnny” could not seem to get his assignments done and turned in on time. “Oh, he usually gets them done, but just forgets to turn them in. I’d like you to e-mail me each evening with his assignments. Oh, and I’ll be taking him out of school for a family vacation for two weeks. I think it’s during finals? We’ll need all of the assignments tailored for our trip.” Multiply this by at least a dozen out of the 98+ students in a given day, and it becomes quite a burden for the teacher. This student, in high-school, should be old enough to take some responsibility for their own assignments and turning them in. After all, we are preparing them for the real world, as you are requesting with all this complaint about technology, right? Well, how much of your day are you willing to spend making sure your child becomes responsible for his or her actions? In the real world, the boss is not going to call every day and remind little “Johnny” to bring his report to the meeting. Forget enough times and there will be no job.

      Technology in the classroom is vastly important, but more important is for parents to assist the teacher by taking responsibility for their child’s education, rather than expecting others to do so. Would you rather have these teachers show up to work ill-prepared because they spent their off-campus hours dealing with websites that don’t always function, thereby taking much valuable time away from more important prep work? Or would you rather have them preparing assignments, grading papers, and continuing their own education in order to better serve your children? Keeping in mind that our teachers are expected to do more and more with less and less: less funding, less up-to-date materials, less income. And the more and more are; more students per class, more testing, more paperwork to shuffle for government, more responsibilities over-all. It becomes an uphill battle and technology gets the short end of the stick. And educators get beaten down not only by the constant cutting of funds and increasing class sizes, the smaller paychecks with fewer benefits, they also feel defeated by the constant haranguing and complaining by parents who will stand in their classrooms making excuses for why their children will not take responsibility for their own education. What on earth did we do *before* the advent of computers? Can we expect this technology, that is not in all classrooms and that not all families can afford still, to become the be-all of education in just a decade? Sometimes reality “sucks” too.

  5. Michelle Powell 08/19/2011 at 8:53 am

    I SO agree! This is one of my biggest frustrations with my children’s schooling!

  6. Erica Fehrman 08/17/2011 at 12:21 pm

    Besides the daily needs of schools, I get frustrated when I’m researching schools! We’ve moved around enough, and my kids currently have a fairly wide selection of schools, that I need to be able to access current websites to make informed decisions. Private schools are the only sites that are awesome because they’re the only ones concerned with marketing themselves. Frustrating!

  7. Maple_Fan 08/15/2011 at 2:33 pm

    I’ve been asking the same question for years! For pete’s sake, just make a Google Calendar of class assignments and give kids the link. I cannot get a glimmer of comprehension from teachers’ eyes when I talk about these things, and I’m 40+ and NOT incredibly versed in technology. I know that students w/organizational problems would have a happier home life and grades that represent their actual learning if they had access to assignment details, rubrics, etc., online rather than falling back on panicky phone calls to fellow classmates the night before an assignment is due. Very frustrating. So my son agreed that he wanted to try online school this year. He’s out of brick & mortar schools for two years, probably, and might wrap back in to the public school system for high school. Maybe things will have changed by then….

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  9. Rachael 08/15/2011 at 11:01 am

    Our schools website is embarrassing. One would think it was created back when the internet was born. I’d like to say that it’s budget issues – but with how easy it is to design sites with wordpress and other open source development tools I think there is no excuse for it.

    I think the way it will change is when tech savvy parents and PTA peeps get involved and spearhead something better. Right now it’s making administrators and teachers jobs more complicated as opposed to actually saving time and providing convenience. I get angry every time I go to our school website.