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Op-ed: Let’s find creative ways to say yes to technology in the classroom

By Jonathan E. Johnson III

First Published Mar 01 2014 01:01 am • Last Updated Mar 01 2014 01:01 am

How different are today’s auto manufacturing plants from the pre-Henry Ford first assembly lines? Few industries in America operate the way they did in the 1860s. The world is faster, smaller and more efficient. Technology has been a main driver in these changes.

Education is a notable exception. The basic method of teaching in our K-12 classrooms today is essentially the same as a Civil War era one-room school house: a teacher lecturing to a roomful of students in front of a blackboard (now a whiteboard).

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I know that kids constantly use new tech devices — except during the hours they spend in the classroom. It is time to bring our classrooms into the 21st century. It is time to bring technology into our classrooms.

Utah House Speaker Becky Lockhart has proposed an aggressive expansion of technology in the classroom by getting tablets for every student in Utah schools. Speaker Lockhart estimates the price tag for this initiative to be as much as $300 million. A draft report from the Governor’s Education Excellence Commission estimates the cost at as much as $750 million for the first year and $300 million a year after that.

Under either estimate, that’s a lot of taxpayer money! But that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t move forward on Speaker Lockhart’s proposal. Her idea deserves honest discussion, robust debate about how to best spend education funds and ultimately an up-or-down vote.

As a father of five children and high-tech employer of 1,500 people in Utah, I have a personal interest in improving education in the state. We need to give our children the best we can afford. This will set our children apart in the future. We need to provide Utah employers with an educated workforce that is tech savvy and computer literate. This will set our businesses apart in the future.

Any keeper of a business or family budget knows that budgeting is all about priorities and trade-offs. However, trade-offs don’t always mean going without. With a little creativity in both funding and distribution, tablets in the classroom can certainly be part of how we improve education without government bearing the entire cost. Government could ask for the business community’s help and start with schools where access to computers is low and where performance is poor.

For example, Overstock.com recently partnered with American Indian Services and the San Juan County Foundation – GearUp program to provide students at two of the most underperforming high schools in the state with tablets as part of a reading competition.

The six grades (7-12) at Monument Valley High School and Whitehorse High School are currently engaged in a reading competition, logging their daily reading over a three-month period. Each student in the class at each high school class that logs the most reading time will receive a tablet from Overstock.com.

Innovation and efficiency are the drivers of our economic future. Rather than have teachers fight with kids to put away their electronic devises, let’s have them use them productively in the classroom.


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We skipped 20th century improvements in our classrooms. We can’t afford to skip 21st century improvements.

Jonathan E. Johnson III is the executive vice chairman of Overstock.com, Inc., a Utah-based online retailer, and the national chairman of Promote Liberty PAC, focused on protecting religious liberties and improving state government.



Copyright 2014 The Salt Lake Tribune. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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