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TEENS OF TECHNOLOGY

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On a typical day, East High senior T.K. Hollberg plunks away at a school computer wrapping up the yearbook and doing classwork. At home, he finishes term papers and organizes Scouting projects on a personal computer. He uses yet another computer for the after-school business he runs with his dad.

If he needs to look something up, Hollberg shuns the printed encyclopedia - "I don't go down and open up the big books" - he finds what he needs through an electronic program. For fun, Hollberg listens to Billy Joel or Led Zeppelin compact disks via CD-ROM drive inside his computer."I would say I turn on a computer four or five times a day, and I probably use it for a half-hour each time I turn it on," said the 17-year-old. "I'd be willing to bet that 90 percent of the people at East use computers at least weekly."

Hollberg's routine use of technology is not unusual for this years crop of graduating seniors. Indeed, this is probably the first group that has gotten such a powerful dose of high-tech instruction as part of their high school experience.

Utahs leaders are sold on technology, from Gov. Mike Leavitt to the Legislature and on down educational lines all the way to the classroom.

This years seniors were beneficiaries of the states first Educational Technology Initiative (ETI), a four-year effort to get classroom technology moving.

Former Gov. Norm Bangerter pushed this program that was to absorb $60 million of state funding over four years. In the real world of Utahs government spending, however, it actually took five years to finish the financial commitment.

But all 40 Utah school districts have completed technology plans, and they are forging ahead as fast as financing allows. There is ample evidence that funding will continue possibly even grow into the foreseeable future.

However, great variations exist among school districts and even from school to school within a district. Some of the variations reflect how the district chose to spend ETI money. Some elected to spread the cash about equally among schools, while others decided to concentrate more technology in particular schools, building programs one school at a time. In other cases, schools exercising "site-based management" have decided not to emphasize technology as much as others might.

Some schools also have been more successful in supplementing state money with donations from outside sources.

Critics say technology is just another passing education fad, but educators and business people increasingly insist that technology has radically reshaped the world of todays young people.

How much measurable impact technology has on education is unclear at this juncture. Utahs State Office of Education contracted with the Beryl Buck Institute of California to see if high-tech learning had produced any discernible effect, although the ETI initiative was only two years old at the time.

The firm detected only small educational gains, but, "my feeling is that the impact on the learning process is just beginning," said Vicki Dahn, ETI director in the State Office of Education.

The first wave primarily has involved getting computers into schools. After that is accomplished, "I expect that well get to a state where technology is inherent across the learning/teaching system," Dahn said.

"I think the new technology, which is largely computers and telecommunications, is not going to go away," said Richard Kendell, Davis County/superintendent of schools and a leader in Utahs educational technology drive. "Its going to transform the workplace."

Just notice whats happened in the past five years with cellular phones and fax machines becoming staples in most businesses, Kendell said. His own life has changed.

- Example: Kendell recently rented a car, and the person renting to him used a hand-held computer to check the cars condition and print a bill right there in the parking lot.

- Example: Kendell watched a high school science class dissect frogs, only there werent any frogs around - they were computer images on a screen.

One benefit of technology will be its use as a "marvelous research tool" that will let students tap into information with a speed and a readiness previously unheard of, Kendell said. Technology also will allow individually tailored instruction, so slow learners can be coached along carefully while high-achievers blaze through their studies and go on to enrichment. High-tech tools also will create classrooms without walls, with students learning at their own pace at home.

The biggest problem, Kendell said, is that educators themselves still are at a "fairly primitive stage" of computer literacy. "The next real step for many of us will be training, staff development and learning to use these tools that make our work easier."

Some legislators have been concerned about the "cart-before-the-horse" disparity between the ideal and the reality of actually using computers in the schools, so they inserted a provision in this years ETI funding that will allow school districts to spend up to 25 percent of the money for teacher training.

"Studies show that about 20 percent of the teachers immediately embrace technology no matter what it takes. Another 20 percent would rather die or retire," said Dahn. "About 60 percent are in the middle and making pretty good progress."

Many teachers anxious to use technology to enhance their instruction also are waiting for the imbalance between hardware and usable software to right itself. Teachers say the glut of software flooding education markets does not necessarily correlate with the core curriculum they are required to teach. The State Office of Education has only recently begun screening educational technology materials to guide teachers in their selections.

Vocational/technical experts in the state office are concerned that technology not be viewed only as a boost to the college-bound group. Technology actually has the potential for getting students not planning on college right into the workplace, said Bruce Griffin, associate superintendent for vocation/technical education.

Across the state, however, "there is a smorgasbord of efforts to tap into technology to help students make the transition from high school to work," he said. The fact that many of Utahs jobs today are technology-based and don't require a college degree makes it imperative to focus some of the technology effort on students who will be looking for jobs, Griffin said.

Rob Brems, state director for applied technology education, believes the effort will get a boost when funds become available this fall to increase the level of comprehensive counseling in Utah schools. Having more counselors on hand will help more students develop and follow individual plans that focus on both academics and career preparation, said Brems.

Clifford Drew, associate dean at the University of Utah College of Education, said society must take care not to let visionary educational tools become expensive classroom gimmicks. Learning how to work a fancy soon-to-be-obsolete machine is one thing; gaining an education in solid subject matter is another.

"Our use of technology must not be toy-oriented; it must be instructionally driven. If something doesn't have a good application, I don't buy it. I'm not a techie, I'm basically a teacher. The people who do the best job are emphasizing the instruction over the hardware side," Drew said.

One little-addressed issue that looms large is the possibility that all this high-tech learning could dramatically widen the gap between society's haves and have-nots. It could create what the trade magazine MacWorld has termed a "technology underclass" - people priced out of a good education and ultimately, a good life.

"I have that fear, frankly," admits Drew. "Not everyone has a computer. Not everyone has as much access as people with money, and I worry about that."

Public libraries can help somewhat by offering even more access to new technologies, he said.

Many students already are being groomed for a high-tech world - witness Wildcat Enterprises at Woods Cross High School presided over by teacher Susan Garrett.

Designed to look just like an office complete with work stations and three manager's desks, the room is filled with students learning data processing, word processing, business communications and management. What they're learning is geared to what the business world wants. Garrett said that unlike many older people, students generally have little fear of technology and plunge right in. Perhaps their enthusiasm can be traced to the fact that this MTV-generation is more visually oriented and also has had fairly good preparation for high-tech learning in early grades. "They've accepted technology as a way of life," agrees Dave Milliken, the technology coordinator at Northridge High School's spacious state-of-the-art technology center in Layton. It features computers, lasers, a robot, televisions and VCRs.

All Northridge sophomores must take at least one required course, titled "Foundations of Technology", to see and use new technologies and get a taste of what the working world will hold for them in the future.

Northridge counselors also huddle with small groups of students using computers to give them an idea of what educational and employment options exist for them.

East High senior Hollberg can't wait to get into whatever high-tech field awaits after college - and he expects it will mutate and change and re-create itself throughout his career.

"Jobs in the future will be totally different," said Hollberg. "I think my job will be totally different a year after I get it. It's unimaginable. It's just incredible."

Current business world predictions that today's high school graduates will experience seven career changes over their lifetime could prove him right. And an understanding of basic technology may be the key to transitions.