Technology may have more potential to change the way teachers teach and the way students learn than any single reform effort. But virtually everyone agrees that the promise of technology is a long way from being fulfilled.
The hardware certainly has found its way into schools: Videocassette recorders, televisions, tape recorders, and calculators are commonplace. Nine out of 10 schools have at least some computers, and a handful have CDROM players, multimedia equipment, local-area networks, and the most up-to-date software.
But the vast majority of schools still do not have enough computers to make them a central part of instruction, and much of the software they have is not very good. In most schools, teachers and students are using hardware and software for little more than electronic drill and practice.
It is the exceptions that reveal the stunning potential of technology in the classroom. In individual districts and schools throughout the nation, teachers and students are using the new educational technology to compose music, plot weather systems, conduct sophisticated simulated laboratory experiments, and communicate via modem throughout the world. Multimedia programs give teachers and their students instant interactive access to worlds of information--in print, animation, video, and digitized photographs--on virtually any topic under the sun.
The obstacles to the fulfillment of technology's promise in education are formidable. The lack of financial resources, expertise, and commitment make it unlikely that schools or districts will soon integrate technology wisely and effectively into their instructional programs. Few prospective and practicing teachers have been prepared to understand and appreciate the power of the new machines, let alone put them to effective use. Finally, the present organization and operation of schools is incompatible with the full use of these tools. Put another way, technology will only become an integral part of the instructional program and truly benefit students if schools change the way time is organized, the way students and teachers relate to each other, the way the curriculum is structured, and the way teaching and learning are carried on.
Says James Mecklenburger, a nationally known technology consultant: "The real truth is that the power of technology in this society is mostly outside of school buildings, because, for the most part, educators haven't wanted it inside. It's far more developed in living rooms and kids' rooms and libraries and museums.''
Can the great capacity of technology be harnessed to change the schools, or will schools simply become increasingly superfluous in an information-rich society? It remains to be seen.