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Bennett tells teachers to look ahead

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Picture this: A military technician in Maryland controlling the activities of an unmanned drone in Afghanistan spots a highly suspicious group scurrying out of a vehicle into a building. The man in Maryland unleashes a missile, via the drone, into the building. When survivors run from the building into a vehicle, the drone is directed to deliver a second weapon "right up their tailpipe."

War technology in Afghanistan today is not quite that sophisticated, but the potential is there, Sen. Bob Bennett, R-Utah, told a group of information technology teachers Thursday. The teachers, members of the Utah Information Technology Association, were holding a conference on the Salt Lake Community College Miller campus.

They received the word both from Bennett and from SLCC President H. Lynn Cundiff that the need for today's high school students is not just to learn the fundamentals of using particular technologies, but to develop mind-sets that recognize the potential for technology to address today's problems.

"Go back to your institutions and think, 'Am I just giving them tools or taking them to a whole new place?' " Bennett said.

Dwelling on the war technology theme, the senator said the struggle against terrorism has changed the face of warfare by creating a covert enemy. He predicted the ability to hold a whole country hostage by remotely controlling such things as telephone and power sources, rather than directly confronting the enemy on a battlefield.

Information gathered in formal education settings is almost instantly obsolete, he said. "Your students need an understanding of the process. Everything becomes portable. With everything in flux, the ability to educate yourself must be portable."

Job changes will be standard in the technological world, he predicted and adaptability will be crucial to workers. "Students need to begin in high school with an understanding of this concept." They will work in an aura of constant learning, constant change and constant update, he said. And that is a challenge to today's teachers.

Bennett, who led the congressional effort taken to prevent damaging technological glitches during the change of the century, said that effort paid off in unexpected ways. Although there were few of the types of computer crashes that might have been anticipated, some of the precautionary redundancies built into systems as preventive measures helped companies that were affected by the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks on America, he said.

Cundiff warned the teachers that technology is fast getting ahead of their ability to train high school students. "You are not preparing workers for the top jobs of the future," he said. Nearing market stage — or already here — are such technologies as dimensional holographic images that will allow "face-to-face" dialogue with people in remote places; a device that contains the full text of 64 books in a container the size of a small pocketknife; effective electronic voice recognition; devices that convert handwriting to type; and refrigerators that alert the owner at work that he's out of milk.

All of these and many more applications are leaving education behind, he said. "The outlook of those we teach has changed and the way we teach must change."

E-mail: tvanleer@desnews.com