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Technology In Education Reform
   
Shaun Kerry, M.D.
Diplomate, American Board of Psychiatry and Neurology


When many people think of using computers in the classroom, they imagine a computer at every student's desk.  Except for computer training courses, this doesn't really seem necessary.
 

My vision would be to have a single computer in selected classrooms, equipped with a CD-ROM drive and a DVD player.  Additionally, there would be a digital video recorder along with a projection monitor.  I hasten to add that this technology is optional, and secondary to our primary reform proposals.

A home computer is a different story.  Over the past decade, the price of computers has dropped dramatically, to the point where every child should have the opportunity to own one.  It is rare for children not to show some interest in computers, which can be fun and interesting, while at the same time helping children learn to read, think, develop language skills, and explore the internet.  Children can even learn how to develop their own businesses using websites, and can even gain a certain amount of financial independence.

One of the most useful tools for classroom teaching is the video projection monitor.  It is mounted on the ceiling of the room, and projects an image on the wall that is approximately eight feet tall and ten feet wide.  It uses either a television receiver, VCR, or computer as its source.  The effect is dramatic.  The large image, combined with stereophonic sound is akin to being in a movie theater.

One very effective model is the "Who wants to be a millionaire?" format.  I know teachers who are already doing something similar to this, but without the big screen the impact is much less dramatic.  Still, to play the more basic version of this game, you just need a huge array of questions and four multiple choice answers.  The teacher makes a game out of it.  It adds excitement to the classroom and keeps the students focused.  The questions can be about simple facts: the comprehension of a written paragraph, a chart, graph, diagram, map, painting, or photograph of some geographical location. Thousands of these questions can easily be placed on a single CD-ROM.  It is the fastest and most enjoyable way for students to build a large fund of knowledge.
   

Nanotechnology researchers in both Europe and the U.S. have created computer simulations of these mini subs, and some scientists believe that prototypes are less than a year away.  A team from Utah State University is examining the prospect of using bacteria to propel small drug-delivering structures to various parts of the body.  These submarines could deliver drugs to treat tumors, or clear blocked arteries. 
 
According to the magazine New Scientist, commercial manufacturers are also working on similar technology.  Within the year, the U.S. based company, Renaissance Technologies, plans to start making medical robots smaller than a millimeter in diameter.  The German firm, MicroTEC, is exploring the use of external magnetic fields as power sources for microscopic motors that can travel throughout the body.  In the UK, medical researchers are seeking to create systems that will directly target tumors with powerful drugs, without causing harmful side-effects.

The experience of discovery in cutting edge research is a vital part of the learning process.  The computer can be used to connect individual classrooms to a worldwide teleconferencing network, where students and researchers from all corners of the globe can share their ideas.  The school would move from its present state of isolation into a real-world interface.  Imagine joining with a team of scientists who will soon create the first microscopic submarines which can move through the human bloodstream, attacking and eliminating disease.

I have worked with hundreds of scientists and have found that they love to teach.  Imagine students learning about cutting edge technology, and the most current research.  This approach would integrate the classroom with the real world.  Soon the students would begin to make genuine contributions to research.  If schools emulated real-world situations in the classroom, the transition following graduation would be seamless.

Many more instructional or educational films should be produced on DVD.  This would give teachers breaks during the day, and reduce their stress level.  Their time would then be more productively used for leading discussions.  The devices described above could also be used in a videoconferencing network.  Many classrooms could join together in a discussion.  Better yet, multiple schools could simultaneously video-conference with world leaders in industry and research.
   
We now have broadband internet service that is rapidly being expanded to
many areas of the country.  It could carry low-cost, high resolution audiovisual programming to our classrooms, which would in turn choose the programs that they wanted to view from a menu.  The programs could be accessed at any time, both at school and at home.  They would be available all over the world.  Given the money that is presently being spent (quite inefficiently) on education, I can't imagine a more practical endeavor.  Programming could cover such topics as health, plumbing, electrical work, political science, math, chemistry, physics, languages, computer science, physiology, law, medicine, and a variety of other disciplines.

*Graphic courtesy of BBC news.

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