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Learning Gets Some Technical Support

November 30, 2000|SUSAN McLESTER | smclester@cmp.com

Teachers at schools with high minority enrollments use the Internet for instruction about half as often as teachers on predominantly white campuses. And schools with high minority enrollments average almost twice as many students per Internet-connected computer as predominantly white schools.

Despite significant narrowing of the gap between technology haves and have-nots, a digital divide still exists, according to Market Data Retrieval's "Technology in Education 2000" report, available at http://www.schooldata.com. This and other studies show that it's not just poor, minority city kids hampered by unequal access to technology but also disabled, female and rural students.

It's ironic. When computers first made their way into classrooms, many educators saw technology as a great equalizer with the potential to close the gap between the advantaged and the disadvantaged. Pioneer programs, such as the Huntington Computer Project of Long Island, N.Y.,harnessed the intelligence of what Director Lud Braun termed "wayward high school students" to program biology, chemistry, mathematics and physics simulations.

Other enthusiastic teachers were staying up all night to write their own BASIC programs for use on the classroom TRS-80 or using AppleWorks to have their students compile curriculum-related databases. Educators were also among the first to recognize the potential of the budding Internet, sending their students out on the information superhighway for collaborative projects and Internet research even before the World Wide Web.

But keeping up with the rapid evolution of hardware, software, connectivity demands and professional training has proved expensive and time-consuming, opening new gaps as old ones are filled.

Government grants and volunteer efforts have helped get schools wired. Also significant has been a program created as part of the Telecommunications Act of 1996 that provides as much as $2.25 billion annually to help schools pay for local area networking and Internet service.

More and more businesses are supporting education technology by donating cash, services or equipment. The nonprofit MOUSE (Making Opportunities for Upgrading Schools and Education) at http://www.mouse.org is a good example, with corporate partners that provide volunteers and technical support to New York City public high schools.

The U.S. Department of Education Office of Educational Technology at http://www.ed.gov/Technology/tool_kit.html provides clear and detailed strategies and practical tips on how to bridge the digital divide through the development of community projects, including good suggestions on ways to build coalitions with businesses.

Although kids may have computer access at school, wider community access is needed. The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (http://www.hud.gov) has funded a number of community technology centers, including everything from stand-alone organizations to centers in housing projects, public libraries and school-based programs.

These centers serve everyone from preschoolers and immigrants learning English to welfare moms working on job skills to senior citizens e-mailing their grandchildren. At the Community Technology Centers Web site at http://www.ed.gov/offices/OVAE/CTC, you can find technology centers in your area.

Another point of access to technology is through computer camps such as Arnold Schwarzenegger's Inner City Games Foundation. The foundation has teamed with software publisher Knowledge Adventure to help urban middle school students in Los Angeles and other cities learn computer skills and work on academics after school and during the summer.

Perhaps most ambitious of all have been the various laptop programs designed to give every student his or her own computer. Microsoft and several hardware partners began a push in this effort with a program called Anytime, Anywhere Learning, which gave laptops to each student in a school.

Unfortunately, the pressure such programs put on schools to change curriculum and logistics has meant that until recently, they have been limited to a relatively small number of private campuses. But this is changing.

In partnership with Hewlett-Packard, NetSchools (http://www.netschools.com) offers a schoolwide program that provides kids with laptops that connect to each other and the Internet via an infrared network during the day and modems at home. HiFusion (http://www.hifusion.com)--a company that offers free home Internet access, bilingual online content and low-cost, installment-plan computer purchases--is already testing the next step with a pilot program that places a low-cost hand-held Palm computer with Internet access into the hands of every student.

*

Susan McLester is editor of Technology & Learning magazine.

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Helpful Web Sites

The Clinton administration's Digital Divide site

http:// www.digitaldivide.gov

Falling through the Net: Defining the Digital Divide

http:// www.ntia.doc.gov

National Survey of American Adults on Technology/National Survey of American Kids on Technology

http:// www.npr.org/programs/specials/poll/technology

Online Content for Low Income and Underserved Americans: The Digital Divide's New Frontier

http:// www.childrenspartnership.org/pub/low_income

Making Opportunities for Upgrading Schools and Education

http:// www.mouse.org

U.S. Department of Education Office of Educational Technology

http:// www.ed.gov/Technology/tool_kit.html

U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development

http:// www.hud.gov

Community Technology Centers

http:// www.ed.gov/offices/OVAE/CTC

NetSchools

http:// www.NetSchools.com

HiFusion

http:// www.HiFusion.com

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