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New York City
June 2002

Teachers College Holds Education Technology Summit
By Bruce Myint

Nobel laureate Niels Bohr once said: “Prediction is very difficult, especially if it's about the future.” In spite of that caveat, scores of educators, policy makers, school administrators, and representatives from the tech industry gathered at the recent Education Technology Summit held at Columbia University, to discuss technology and the future of education.

Their prediction was nearly unanimous: in the immediate future, computers will become a permanent fixture in American schooling. Soon, online and distance learning will be as common as face-to-face classrooms.

“We're going to experience a revolution in the next few years,” said Teachers College President Arthur Levine, in a speech welcoming delegates to the two-day event.

The Education Technology Summit offered a variety of different seminars on such topics as: “Preparing Knowledge Workers for the 21st Century,” “Safeguarding the Wired Schoolhouse,” “Follow the Money: Paying for Educational Technology,” and “Evaluating Online Professional Development.”

Building on the success of last year's event, the summit informed educators about the latest innovations available to schools and how
educational technology survived through the dot-com bust. Corporate sponsors such as Classroom Connect and National Semiconductor played a central role during the conference by supplying product demonstrations and speaking at seminars. Their increased presence may be a signal of what can be expected from the ed-tech revolution. “The private sector is a factor in a way it has never been in the past,” said Levine.

Reasons for the impending educational technology boom include: the rise of overcrowded schools, family/work restrictions of college students, and the premium students now place on convenience and access in education. By moving education online, technology promoters asserted, computers can play a role in meeting these new demands.

“Education can come to a child no matter where they are, at home, school or at work,” said John Bailey, Director of the US Department of Education's Office of Educational Technology. “There was a time when you would go to school. There was a time when you would go to work. Now those times are merging.”

Another force driving the technology revolution comes from the need to develop a generation of Žknowledge workers'; a common theme repeated over the course of the event. In order for the nation to remain globally competitive in the 21st century, said experts, US graduates must be technology savvy. In order to make that happen, schools must change to meet the technology needs of the future.

But introducing such radical changes present significant problems for the educational technology community. Historically conservative institutions, schools do not change easily.

“We still educate on an agricultural timetable in an industrial structure and we tell kids they live in a digital age,” said Bailey referring to the enduring tradition of summer vacations (once intended to allow students to work on parents' farms) and classroom periods (originally meant to duplicate industrial working schedules).

Even if the predictions come to pass, warned Robert McClintock, co-director of the Institute for Learning Technologies at Teachers College, work needs to be done on how to best integrate technology into the curriculum: “Educational technology presents us with some real, significant, and powerful empowerments that we can use, but we can also fail to use them÷ the fact is that we don't know what is to be done.”

One seminar told a cautionary tale of technology use in the classroom. Thinking Systematically about Education Technologies: Portals, Potentials and Pitfalls began 20 minutes late. The hold up? A glitch with the digital video projector; echoing McClintock's warning and proving that although the future of educational technology may be upon us, there are still bugs left to work out in the present.#


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