Students' use of technology lags

Most schools are wired, but study finds many not taking full advantage

March 12, 2002|By Mike Bowler | Mike Bowler,SUN STAFF

Maryland has spent $500 million over the past five years to give students access to computers and the Internet.

But many Maryland students don't know how to make use of that technology, according to a report to be released today.

While the vast majority of Maryland schools are wired for the Internet - and most schools have computer laboratories and at least one terminal in every classroom - major gaps in teacher and student use of technology persist, says the report of the Maryland Business Roundtable for Education.

The gaps are particularly wide between high-poverty and low-poverty schools - the "digital divide" - said June Streckfus, the roundtable's executive director.

"What we find in high-poverty communities is that many schools are using the technology for drills," Streckfus said. "There aren't enough opportunities to learn at higher levels."

According to the roundtable's fifth annual survey, 14 percent of Maryland's public schools report that their students typically use technology to analyze data or information, and 12 percent say their students use it regularly to perform measurements or to collect data in lab experiments.

Students from wealthier communities are two to three times more likely to use technology for more complex tasks than students from high-poverty schools are.

"There's an instructional issue here that goes beyond technology," said Barbara Reeves, the State Department of Education's director of instructional technology. "Students have to be able to look at data, manipulate it, analyze it, report it, and that's not happening enough."

Westover Elementary School in rural Somerset County typifies the difficulties faced by high-poverty schools. Principal Cheryl O'Neal said the school gained Internet access this year but that connections are so slow in the computer lab that "it becomes fruitless to even try a complex operation. You don't accomplish anything."

The single computer in each Westover classroom is used by students and teachers, the latter for monitoring children's progress and storing grades. "It's like having everybody in your office using your computer," O'Neal said.

Of the 19 possible student uses of technology listed in the business roundtable online survey, Westover educators answered "no" on 17, saying they use computers occasionally to help children write and to drill them on basic skills.

Statewide data show that high-poverty schools continue to be below the state average of five students per computer. In a few Baltimore schools, the ratio is as high as 50 students per computer.

Overall progress in getting computers into classrooms, though, has been striking. Six years ago, the student-to-computer ratio in Maryland was 16-to-1. Reeves said every school in the state will be wired for high-speed Internet use by next year.

School-by-school results of the survey, conducted by AWS Convergent Technologies, can be reviewed at http://msde.aws.com.

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