Length: 1682 words (4.8 double-spaced pages)
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My experience with access to computers has been a roller coaster ride this year at school. At the end of the last year’s school year, when I had to face the scary fact that I would be in charge of producing a 240 page yearbook, I knew that I needed to start planning right then and there. Since I knew the adviser I was taking over for had a TTI laptop on loan from the school and would have to give it back, I wrote the principal a note inquiring how I could get my hands on that precious piece of technology. I knew having an instrument that I could carry with me back and forth to school would make the nightmare of being a yearbook adviser a little bit easier, since I knew I would be devoting a lot of time after school to this second job. Excited about this prospect, I felt like I had been literally punched in the stomach when I got a note back that read "Contact Media Services". After contacting Media Services and asking if I could trade in my TTI IMAC for a laptop, I was told that the TTI contracts were for three years and I couldn’t make a "trade". I already had my own desktop computer at home, so the IMAC sat next to my computer, only to go unused. What I waste, I thought to myself. But what could I do? I travel to three different classrooms throughout my school day, so I don’t even have anywhere that I can store the IMAC for easy access. Discouraged, one of my fellow English colleagues offered up her TTI laptop, since she had other "access". Excited, I eagerly accepted. I was instantly able to download Adobe PageMaker 7.0 and all of the other yearbook software I would need.
Pumped, I still needed to follow up on a proposal that was submitted for an $8,000 technology grant for yearbook computers. I contacted the appropriate person to find out that the grant was approved. Once the check was received at school I contacted a Media Services Specialist from the district who happily helped me pick out computers that would get the yearbook job done. I ended up with four Dell desktops, one of which we call the "Mother Ship" because it has a zip drive, the most memory, and some other bells and whistles.
These four computers were placed in an office that adjoined the classroom, which posed other problems I will eventually get to. With the money, I was also able to get a laptop that is strictly for yearbook use. It will never have to be "given back" to anyone.
Oh, one of the most important things that I overlooked was that throughout this whole process I was responsible for meeting my first yearbook deadline of 48 pages by the beginning of November. I had only one computer. So my diligent students slaved away, taking turns typing on one computer. The representative from the publishing company also helped us out a great deal by working on some of the pages on her laptop. Thank goodness for small favors (and the fact that she would do as much as she could to keep the account).
Once the other computers were delivered the process ran a bit smoother. However, as I mentioned earlier, these four yearbook computers were in an adjoining office to the classroom. I had nine returning/experienced students who worked in the office while I trained 18 new students. Boy, was this a challenge. Often we would be interrupted with screams of "MRS. RORABACHER! I NEED YOUR HELP ON THE COMPUTER!" Some of the more "polite" students would just come in and stare at me while I lectured, pleading with their eyes for help. This was a problem that could not easily be solved, nor was it ever solved. One idea I had was to have students "job shadow" one another, however, there wasn’t enough space that would allow for the new students to efficiently job shadow the experienced students while on the computer. Although I trusted these experienced students, I felt uneasy about not having them in plain view, especially after teachers found students throwing things out windows from this area of the of school.
The possibility of moving the computer stations into the classroom didn’t appeal to me either. I was only in this classroom for the first hour of the day. I had visions of students in other hours with crazed expressions on their faces deleting our entire index of names that took days to compile. No, I needed these computers to stay in a locked office, I decided.
Although teaching yearbook has been a full time job in and of itself, I am also expected to teach four other classes, one of which is English Literature, the other three Language Arts. The high school I teach at is 75 years old. Just in the last couple years were they able to open what is known as the Writing Lab, located on the second floor of the Media Center. About 27 computers are available for student use, although you have to sign up in advance and when it comes to the end of the year, teachers have to sign up well in advance. Last year, these computers could be used strictly for word processing. The 15 or so computers on the first floor of the Media Center were available for research. This year, the 27 computers now have internet access, however, the lab is not available every class period because there is not a teacher in position to run the lab every hour. So it’s kind of like a catch-22. We have more technological resources, however, they are not fully accessible because the school is understaffed. Needless to say, I used the Media Center much more last year. Last year, since the computers that had internet access were limited, I chose assignments that could be completed with partners. For example, I had students complete a scavenger hunt where they had to go to different sites to answer questions about Shakespeare. While teaching To Kill a Mockingbird I had students visit different postings where discussions had taken place about issues in the novel. They were required to view these postings and pick a statement that was made that they could respond to. One item that is off limits to student use is e-mail. If they are caught using e-mail they get in quite a bit of trouble I hear.
What I observed when I took students to the Writing Lab is that for the most part they were pretty self-sufficient. It was clear that the majority of students had access to computers at home and felt comfortable using them. In some cases, students showed me a thing or two. On the other hand, there has been the occasional student who did not know how to put a floppy disk in the machine the correct way, which I found pretty surprising. But even today, I must admit that if I sit at a computer that I am unfamiliar with and I have to turn it on, I can’t say with 100 percent certainty that I will have success during my first attempt. I too have had trouble inserting a floppy disk into a Dell machine at school because its strange angle.
What I noticed when students were using the internet was that if a site didn’t pop up after typing in the address, they would immediately call me for help even after I stressed to them and wrote on the paper to double check to see if they had typed in the address correctly. Nine out of ten times that would be the problem. But sometimes the school’s server can be slow and it seems that some of these students are used to quicker access.
What is troubling to me is that the Writing Lab does not seem to be of high priority as far as staffing goes. Sports, especially, football, are what my school is known for and that’s what I see as a high priority. One might call me cynical since I’ve recently been laid off due to budget cuts, but the workout equipment that was recently purchased looks awfully expensive. The workout area looks a lot nicer than the gym that I go to, where I pay a membership fee of $45 a month. Of course in the back of my mind I wonder how much money was spent on these new machines. But then again, one could argue how students need more "access" to workout equipment in order to stay healthy since obesity in children and adolescents is on the rise.
As far as I can see, the computers that the teachers are given seem to be just for grading purposes or word processing. Whatever work is done on these needs to be saved on a floppy so that you can take your work somewhere to print it. Since my classroom for fifth, sixth and seventh hours contains a Macintosh, I haven’t used it once this year because I have nowhere to print any documents that were typed on a Mac. I have a student assistant during seventh hour whom I trust and I’ve debated about letting her record grades on the computer. That debate was solved recently when a teacher I share a room with during second hour shared with me his story of catching a student inflating grades while "helping" to record them on the computer.
Finally, in "Access: The A-Word in Technology Studies", Charles Moran describes the fact that access to computers is really not discussed. I think this is because those that have it take it for granted. Why should the "haves" be concerned for the "have nots"? Only when problems arise do teachers, like myself, begin to really question the accessibility issue and that is unfortunate. Other than that, students are content in their e-mail chat rooms and instant messaging worlds, probably without a thought in the world of the technologically deprived.