September 18, 2007 1:03 PM PDT

George Lucas turns computers into pencils

Filmmaker George Lucas envisions turning classroom computers into something as ordinary as pencils--and, no, it doesn't only happen in the movies.

At Dreamforce, Salesforce.com's annual user conference, Lucas on Tuesday talked about his effort to bring together education and technology with Edutopia, a magazine and Web site published by The George Lucas Educational Foundation, a nonprofit organization.

In his keynote speech, Lucas noted that resources are short at many public schools but that those dollars could be stretched further with the use of technology. But, he said, teachers are often not sure what to do with all the computers that companies donate.

"The biggest problem with the technology is they don't know what they're asking for," Lucas said. "Some teachers get it, but a lot of them don't. The ones that do understand the technology know how to use it and how it works best. They do interactive learning, project-based education."

Edutopia's focus is to help instructors learn how to organize a class, using technology to enhance the experience. Google Earth, for example, could be used to teach geography to students, Lucas said.

"Don't use the computers to teach Word Perfect...use them as a tool, like a pencil, to help the educational process," Lucas said. He cited an example of having students build an airplane using a computer program, which, in turn, draws on their math skills.

"They learn math because they have to, if they want to build the plane," Lucas said. "At some point, every kid will turn to their parent or teacher and ask them, 'Why do I have to learn this? Why is it relevant to me?'"

Lucas pointed to abstract concepts and isolation as the enemies of education.

He said instructors could use technology to act as a facilitator in the classroom, prompting students to think of how they came to the answers they did, or gently steering them in the right direction so they can discover the answer for themselves, rather than standing at the front of the class and lecturing students on various subjects.

Technology can also be used to group students together on various projects, creating teams of students with diverse skills, approaches and outlooks.

"If you put everyone inside the box, they all think the same," Lucas said. "But if you put an artist or scientist together, or the fastest student with the slowest one, you will always solve problems faster, because the other would think of different things that the other one didn't. And if they are all inside the same box, you can't get to that."

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3 comments

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When are they going to learn penmanship?
When I was in school everything was handwritten, nowdays all
school work is done on the computer. This technology has come
with a price tag, just look at your kid or grandkids signature next
time they give you a birthday card. Kids in school these days have
horrible penmanship because it has basically been done away with
& replaced by Microsoft word. I hope educators realize this before
the epidemic continues to spread.
Posted by Bryce Mirtle (29 comments )
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Who cares?
Ridiculous. Its hard to compare penmanship to mathematics or geography. There are no careers in penmanship, and no one really cares what your penmanship is like.

I was forced to practice my penmanship constantly in the lower grades, and it never helped. My penmanship sucked then, it sucks now, but it hasn't ever cost me a job. Everything I do now, I do on a computer, so who cares?
Posted by ryanmicj (8 comments )
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Fully agree but how does one help?
I am currently trying to contact both Salesforce.com and Edutopia to describe a unique set of solutions that address a broad range of K12 educational challenges. In this age of identity protection, it is hard to share ideas. Do you have contact emails (even for lower levels of their respective organizational chains?)
Posted by keith7799 (1 comment )
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