The report from the Office of Educational Technology (U.S. Department of Education, 2004) makes seven recommendations for continuing to improve the use of educational technology in schools. The majority of the recommendations are targeted at parts of the public school system that do not directly involve teachers such as states, districts, and school personnel responsible for technology infrastructure. One of the seven recommendations could profoundly impact teachers because it is focused on the nature of curriculum and instruction, a move toward digital content.

Move Toward Digital Content

A perennial problem for schools, teachers and students is that textbooks are increasingly expensive, quickly outdated and physically cumbersome. A move away from reliance on textbooks to the use of multimedia or online information (digital content) offers many advantages, including cost savings, increased efficiency, improved accessibility, and enhancing learning opportunities in a format that engages today’s web-savvy students.

Recommendations to states and districts include:

  • Ensure that teachers and students are adequately trained in the use of online content.
  • Encourage ubiquitous access to computers and connectivity for each student.
  • Consider the costs and benefits of online content, aligned with rigorous state academic standards, as part of a systemic approach to creating resources for students to customize learning to their individual needs (p.43).

In 2001, those attending the National Conference on the Revolution in Earth and Space Science Education developed a report emphasizing the role of technology in science education, with a strong emphasis on earth and space science. The authors of this report emphasized that students have access to many of the same tools that scientists use and this access can improve the authenticity of the students’ experience in the science classroom. Examples of the tools available to students include the following: visualization software, geographic information systems (GIS), and the digital camera onboard the International Space Station. In addition, Internet access makes it possible to bring scientific images and data from sources such as earth-orbit satellites, Martian probes, deepwater marine expeditions, and other schools around the world into classrooms.

The authors note, (DOE, 2004) “Education technologies are strategic resources that enhance students’ ability to sense, measure, question, understand, communicate, and learn. They empower students to learn as active scientists rather than as passive consumers of textbook-based curricula. They enable students to learn core concepts more clearly by offering visual representations of ideas that otherwise might seem confusing or unclear. They transform science from canned labs and the passive memorization of content to a dynamic, hands-on, authentic process of investigation and discovery. By using the same technologies as scientists, students acquire vital process skills and deepen their understanding of science. Additionally, they familiarize themselves with many of the same tools and processes that they will encounter as adults, particularly in the workplace.”

It is this vision of legitimate science occurring in the secondary science classroom that makes the investment in educational technology worthwhile. If we are going to use computers as glorified worksheets that provide novel mechanisms to review terms and definitions, then we should save our money for something else. But if science teachers bring the universe—literally and through data—to their students, then we have made a worthwhile investment in educational technology.