MAKING THE GRADE: The complicated world of technology

By Daily News • Last Updated 2:45 pm on Wednesday, February 27, 2013

By Janet Ralph

Making the Grade | Janet Ralph

When I talk about technology, I often joke that I am from the generation that remembers when phones were black and attached to the wall, and the dishwasher was me or my brother.

It is amazing how much change took place in the 20th century. Within that 100-year span, electricity, automobiles, airplanes, telephones, microwaves and televisions are only a few things that became new common items in most households. Parenthetically I have to ask, what country was responsible for most of these changes?  Hold that thought.

About 1990, I remember reading that there would be more change in the coming decade than in the entire history of the world.  I was skeptical.

I bought my first computer — a laptop — in 1991. I had no idea what I would do with it. Today, I have no idea what I would do without one. When I got my first email address, my grandchildren were excited that we would be able to communicate. Today¸ if I want to email them, I have to text them to ask them to check their emails. By the time I master one new device there is another out to replace it. And my grandchildren already know how to use it.

This rapid rate of change is as much of a challenge to educators as it is to individuals. Just a short time ago, schools said students could not bring cell phones to school. Today similar small devices are being used as teaching tools. Twenty years ago, we were teaching students how to use computers. Today we use technology to teach students. Online class materials are being developed regularly.  The days of children just sitting in rows listening to a teacher are long past. The days of a one-size-fits-all curriculum are also a thing of the past and we should be glad.

Back to my earlier comment about innovation:  The Daily News recently ran an editorial from the Battle Creek Enquirer. The headline read, “High stakes tests are killing our schools.” I do not agree entirely with their argument. There is a place for assessments of students and teachers.  I do, however, agree that the current high stakes tests are often being misused to sort out winners and losers and to punish both students and teachers.

The point the editorial did not make is that we are in danger of making children — and educators — afraid to fail. We jeopardize the very things that have made our country a world leader — the ability to create and innovate. It is a delicate balance for both students and school leaders to be able to explore ideas and take risks and to understand when to accept that an idea is not a good one. It is critical that we develop learners who understand that it is not wrong to try and fail. It is wrong to not succeed and not try again.

Thomas Edison said, “I am not discouraged because every wrong attempt discarded is another step forward.”

The purpose of these columns is not to promote or sell one idea. It is to encourage readers to explore the complexities of education today and hopefully to share their views with the legislators who represent them. They hear many perspectives. We need to be sure they hear them all.

Janet Ralph is president of the Greenville Public Schools Board of Education.

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