Education for the present

The Accuplacer test is designed to ensure that colleges are able to meet students where they’re at – where ever that may be. From math to reading to writing, all MCTC students take the Accuplacer to get on appropriate path to get to college-level learnig if they’re not there yet.

The concept is a great one — that we all deserve an education, no matter what our background is, how many years we were out of school, or how badly the schooling we did get failed us. All of us deserve a chance.

But as the new millennium settles in, it’s clear that we’re overlooking one of the most fundamental needs of students.

Education relies more and more heavily on technology as the years pass; some instructors work almost entirely on D2L now, rarely, if ever, accepting paper. And of course, most of the continued programs and jobs that MCTC helps prepare us for are also requiring more and more computer use.

MCTC students come from diverse backgrounds. Some are middle-class teens and twenty-somethings, with years of technological experience under their belts. Some are returning students, who worked in the IT industry and can make your computer stand up and do a somersault. Some are older, but simply curious, and have kept up with the rise of technology on their own time.

But others have not, or could not. Other older students may simply have never seen the need for such gadgets. Some are poor, or have been homeless; computers are hard to come by when you’re in poverty and on the street. Some are coming from nations with less technological infrastructure, and may have had only the most fleeting of acquaintances with computers.

There is a large constituency of students coming to MCTC who don’t know how to use the medium through which education is increasingly delivered: computers.

They struggle to set up their email accounts, get lost in the labyrinth of MCTC’s strange online infrastructure and multiple account set-up (which can be frustrating even for the technologically initiated), and slog through word processing programs they’ve never seen before, making errors they would never make in the hand-written form.

We try to meet students where they are in reading, writing, and math, but we don’t meet them where they are with technology. We have no method of measuring that. We measure it by watching them struggle to stay afloat once they’ve already been thrown head-long into their classes.

The burden falls on new students, who may already be working hard just to acclimate to life as a student while also fulfilling whatever other obligations they have. It also falls on teachers and tutors who could have been helping students with their coursework, but must instead help them simply gain access to it.

MCTC has computer literacy courses, but expects students to simply know whether or not they need them. Or rather, the tools to help students discern that they need computer help, so that MCTC can meet them where they are, do not yet exist.

Knowing the needs of students in math, reading and writing is not enough in 2012. We must also assess the needs of students in computer literacy. This is quickly becoming a vital skill — every bit as necessary as reading literacy — to excel. Students are losing out on the education they deserve because they aren’t being prepared for the skills they need to participate in education.

In the short term, MCTC must provide a means of assessing computer literacy of students upon entry, in order to place students who need them in the skill-building classes that will open up the doors to their education. Currently, students are often wasting their time in classes they don’t have the skills to excel in. MCTC, in the midst of nation-wide belt-tightening in public ed, has a choice to make. Would they rather finance a simple test, or an entire failed class? Surely the cost of the test pales in comparison.

In the long term, the Accuplacer must accommodate the changing face of education, and begin to account for the need to test for computer literacy.

We are failing to meet students where they’re at, at the most fundamental level of beginning their school career: the ability to access their education in the first place.