An excellent and thought-provoking article appeared in the New York Times this week, and the teacher who published this piece speaks eloquently about the challenges of teaching and learning in a technology-driven environment. In “Putting Technology in Its Place”, teacher- blogger Matthew Kay discusses his experiences in a one-to-one laptop school. His article makes a couple of excellent points that serve as reminders that technology in the classroom has to be about teaching and learning and not about the technology. Here are some of the tastier bits, but do read the entire article–and just as importantly–read the comments that come after the article. That’s where you see the beginnings of the collaboration that takes place on the modern Web.

“…technology provides sexy alternatives to older methods of instruction and assessment. (I once) spoke about my “podcast year” — when, as a first year teacher, I discovered the joy of digital microphones. Every piece of creative writing was recorded, an activity that ate up entire class periods. By the time I reached a unit where it actually made sense to capture student voice (speeches), the kids were ready to fight me. I too had allowed myself to be distracted.

Technology is also expensive. The kids have to buy insurance, and they constantly lose and replace parts. Schools feel the pinch, too. There is the myth about the Soviets using a pencil when we spent millions developing a pen — and I’m sure that’s how many feel about schools using technology. In hard economic times, there certainly is an argument to be made against unnecessary expenses.”

And yet, as he sums things up, Mr. Kay still finds incredible value in the role technology plays in the education of today’s students.

“As important as it is for students to expand their sense of community and learn to collaborate — it is more crucial that they learn how to sift thoughtfully through increasing amounts of information. The Internet presents a unique challenge to scholarship — many of the questions that once required extensive research can now be answered with 10-minute visits to Google. The issue now is distinguishing between rich resources and the online collection of surface facts, misinformation, and inexcusable lies that masquerade as the truth. It will be hard for our students to be thoughtful citizens without this ability to discern the useful from the irrelevant.”

Hmm. Being able to discern the useful from the irrelevant. Now there’s a 21st Century skill!