Reading what an essential question is was rather fascinating.  I found that there have been the meanderings of questions ruminating around my mind for quite awhile now.  As I was thinking on this subject, on how to narrow down what I really wanted to focus on, I had to explain essential questions to a friend.  I told him that it wasn’t as big as “Why are we?” but quite a bit bigger than, “How do you turn on the dang computer?”  I have been involved with education as either a parent, a volunteer, a substitute, a teacher or as a media assistant for over 16 years.  I have found myself thinking variations of this question for quite awhile.

How can we balance “traditional” knowledge and research with technology?

The past several years I have had the immense please and sometimes excruciating task of helping judge senior or graduation project portfolios at several local high schools.  If you are not familiar with these, this is a required project here in North Carolina (although apparently it is now only required on a district to district basis) A senior must take a subject and research it for an entire semester,  They must present their research in a portfolio that includes a paper and a physical product.  I have  judged woodcarving, hydroponic growing methods, Crew rowing, small engine repair, photography, body image issues, staged sword combat, and many many other topics.

That question has been building in my mind all this time because I have witnessed some excellent examples of a student who can present a well crafted paper and project and uses technology to showcase their hard work.  I have also witnessed students who had no technology in their project at all and it ended up looking like something a middle school student from the 1980’s would have done.  I I have also witnessed a third, more disturbing example.  A student presents a lot of shiny technology, a snazzy Power Point or Prezi, or some other fancy technology and it looks pretty.  But the content – or the meat of the presentation is not there.  

The high schools try to get as many community volunteers to judge these as they possibly can.  As a result, I have been in a room with another judge who has been blow away by the sparkly shiny technology and not even realized that the nuts and bolts of research were incredibly inadequate.  I have examined myself to make sure that I am not being too hard on a young adult that is trying their hardest, but I keep coming back to the same concern.  Are students and maybe by extension, some educators relying on technology too much without emphasizing that the knowledge is needed to go hand in hand with it to make it truly a work of cohesive and collaborative learning.

I think this question is going to take much sharper focus in my mind as I am exposed to much more technology.