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Tech Proof

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You have to love the contradictions built into the English language -- how one word can have two meanings that are nearly opposite.* "Proof" is one of those words.

Used in one way, "proof" is the case made for something being valid. His fingerprints on the gun were the proof the jury needed to convict him.

Used another way, "proof" can mean keeping something unwanted from getting in. Her mosquito-proof tent kept her bite-free all night.

As a school district director of technology and libraries, I appreciate both meanings of "proof" as applied to technology and that is what this column will reflect. I'll be looking at the proof that technology can have an incredibly positive impact on your work and that of your students. But I'll also be arguing that a "tech-proof" school doesn't hop on every bandwagon with flashy lights and too-often empty promises. Above all, I am a pragmatist who works (and lives) with real teachers, real librarians, real administrators, and real students on a day-to-day basis, and I recognize that normal people tend to think about technology a great deal less than technology enthusiasts do.

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Want to read more about Doug and his thoughts on library media and technology? Visit his Web site. Got a compliment, a complaint, or just a comment to share? E-mail Doug at [email protected].

My approach to technology perhaps can be explained by the circumstance under which I started using it. As half-time librarian and half-time English teacher in a small junior-high school, I found an Apple II computer sitting on my desk at the beginning of the 1982 school year. (Yes, dear readers, I am older than dirt.) I was pretty darned mad that 1) somebody had decided the school needed a computer in the first place, 2) the library budget was used to buy it, and, 3) I was supposed to be the one to figure out the dumb thing. After three rather frustrating days, I produced my first half-page memo using AppleWriter and more patience than I ever thought I could muster. But by the time I finished the memo, I was deeply in love with the little machine.

The Apple II and its word processing program, both primitive by today's standards, was a writer's dream. It compensated for my bad spelling and handwriting. I could revise without retyping a whole document. My printed documents looked professional. Wow! Then a little light bulb appeared over my head. "I teach 75 kids every day who struggle with their writing as well. If this thing helps me, just think what it might do for them!" I couldn't wait to share my enthusiasm with my 7th graders and fellow teachers.

Over the past 20 years, I've fallen in love quite a number of times with these silicon-enhanced creatures. I am enamored yet of how productive spreadsheets, databases, and multimedia presentation programs have made me. It's tough to imagine having to be separated from e-mail or the information resources of the Web even temporarily. My digital camera goes everywhere with me. Currently, I'm trying to decide whether blogging is a relationship worth developing, or if it and I are simply two ships passing in the night.

This is not to say that these relationships have always been easy. I am not, by nature, a techie. Even the remote controls in the family room exacerbate my IDS (Intelligence Deficit Syndrome). In schools, I've watched teachers spent too much time trying to learn poorly designed technologies and use technology for entertainment rather than real learning. I shudder when schools take a "ready, fire, aim" approach to technology planning by buying often expensive gizmos and then running about looking for problems those gizmos might solve. And I worry that monies spent on technology in schools might be taken from the budgets of other programs that could have greater value to kids.

My love of technology is conditional and that is what the Tech-Proof columns reflect. You will find these writings informed, practical, and perhaps even a little skeptical. I'll do my best to keep technology from being the reason you reach for another kind of "proof" -- the 80-proof kind in your liquor cabinet.

I'd be delighted if you e-mail me about anything I write in these columns at [email protected]. I look forward to reading your ideas.

* For those of you who are word lovers or who just want to impress your family at the supper table tonight, this etymological quality is called an autoantonym. Cleave, overlook, fast and bolt are other common autoantonyms. I've "booted" my computer (or wanted to) in two quite different ways.


Meet Doug Johnson

Doug Johnson has been the Director of Media and Technology for the Mankato Public Schools since 1991 and has served as an adjunct faculty member of Minnesota State University, Mankato since 1990. His teaching experience has included work in grades K-12 in schools both here and in Saudi Arabia. He is the author of four books -- The Indispensable Librarian; The Indispensable Teacher's Guide to Computer Skills; Teaching Right from Wrong in the Digital Age; and Machines Are the Easy Part; People Are the Hard Part. His regular columns appear in Library Media Connection, Leading & Learning and The School Administrator magazines and his articles have appeared in more than 40 books and periodicals. Doug has conducted workshops and given presentations for more than 130 organizations throughout the United States as well as in Malaysia, Kenya, Thailand, Germany, Qatar, Canada, the UAE and Australia. He has held a variety of leadership positions in state and national organizations, including ISTE and AASL.

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09/06/2005