Technology and Education

In the midst of the teacher walkout here in Oklahoma this week, the crossroads of technology and education have been on my mind. It’s been two decades since I graduated high school, and I was unaware that so many of our schools were so behind in terms of staying up to date with technology. For me, classrooms were the first place I encountered all sorts of digital tools, from AutoCAD to Photoshop to Webmail.

On the list of teacher pay and education funding in America, Oklahoma ranks among the lowest of the 50 states. Several weeks ago, when news began to spread that teachers from across the state were planning a school walkout to demand funding increases, the state Legislature passed a bill increasing taxes and giving teachers a raise of about $6000 per year. However, many educators said that any acceptable package must include additional funding for classroom resources and support. So the walkout moved forward as planned.

Jennifer Jarnagan-Riem, a math teacher from Glenpool, OK, said the raises were a good start:

“It was a stepping stone. And now we’re ready for step two. We need proper funding, we need adequate funding and we need a long-term plan. It’s not something that’s just going to happen in a day.”

On Google’s blog, The Keyword, Lilyn Hester, Head of External Affairs for the Southeast United States, wrote about an initiative the company is developing that serves as a perfect example of the need for technology resources in public education. Hester says:

“I meet students who live in remote or rural areas and endure long bus rides to and from school—in some places up to 90 minutes each way. In these areas, like so many others across the country, a lot of students don’t have access to connectivity or devices at home, but they often have schoolwork that requires it… we live during a time where even astronauts can have Wi-Fi on their space stations. Why couldn’t our students have access to it on their bus rides home?”

So a volunteer team at Google helped install Wi-Fi on 11 buses throughout a small school district in Caldwell County, North Carolina. To help increase the efficacy of the program, they partnered with local leaders to put educators on each bus, providing support to students and helping with individual assignments.

The results were “immediate,” according to Hester’s article.

“…almost too immediate for some bus drivers who were shocked (and a little confused) when their commutes became so quiet. Students were engaged. They were learning. And after a few months, there were more real results: School officials saw students do better in school.”

Because of the success, Google is expanding their Rolling Study Halls program to a new area in Colorado, with more than a dozen additional districts in the works.

It’s well known that many public school teachers spend money from their own paychecks to purchase necessary supplies for their classrooms, but outfitting school buses with Wi-Fi would be outside the question, even in affluent areas. Seeing private companies take the lead on incorporating tech into education is a great way to supplement this gap, but even Google couldn’t roll out partnerships like this for every district in the entire country.

As of today, the teachers of Oklahoma continue to rally at the state capitol.

No matter how the funding situation turns out, it’s become clear to me that if tomorrow’s business leaders are going to get a good education, technology, and adept training on how to use it, will be imperative.