Writing Nowadays–Techno-Schools 1.2

Continuing our series on what writers of YA fiction need to know about schools with Technology Part II:

Ebooks are still in their infancy in schools.  However, some states are moving toward encouraging or requiring them.  I give it five years.

Yeah, it’s really easy to find your homework answers on-line.  It’s also really easy to get caught at it.

Schools that can afford it subscribe to a plagiarism detection service like Turnitin.com.  Students log in and run their work through the web site, which checks against the Internet and a number of databases for copying and plagiarism.  The teacher can see the results, and students can change their work to make it more original.  Mostly they’re looking for what I call clueless plagiarism–copying without proper citation of sources–but it’s also good for catching twerps who want to copy and past from the Internet because they’re lazy.

And there’s the Google method.  Just last week I entered a chunk of suspicious text from a student paper into Google and instantly found the web site she’d copied from.  Gave her a zero, wrote up a discipline referral.  I tell my students that if they can find it, I can too, but some of them need to learn the hard way.

The vast majority of schools use a computer database to keep track of grades.  Students and parents can log into the database through the Internet and see their grades in detail the moment the teacher enters them.  (They can’t see their peers’ grades.)  This is handy.  Parents can stay up-to-date on their kids’ work, eliminating nasty surprises on report cards.  It also means that our school we don’t hold parent-teacher conferences in the spring anymore–people stopped coming once grades went on-line.  They only come in the fall to meet the teachers.

The disadvantage of on-line grades is that you get nightmare parents who want to know why Jimmy-Joe has a zero which is pulling down his grade.  I’ve had a number of parents call me about this.  “I’m sorry, Mrs. Jimmy-Joe.  He was absent the day I collected that assignment.”  “Well, he turned it in, didn’t he?”  “He definitely did.  I put it in the makeup pile, and I’ll get to it soon.  Until then, the grade book will show a zero, but it’ll catch up.”  “But right now he has a D+!”  “He won’t as soon as I get to the makeup work.”  “Why can’t you do it right now?”  Because I’m talking to you, I want to snarl.  “Today I collected assignments from my other classes, and I have to grade those, too.  The work does pile up when you have 170 students every day, and I get to makeup work as soon as I can.  I’m not worried about Jimmy-Joe’s grade.  Good day!”

Most schools have a TV in every room now.  Movie projectors are long dead.  VCRs are dying, only used for older videos that didn’t made it to disc.  DVDs rule at the moment.  Me, I have a SmartBoard in my room, so I stream a lot of stuff straight from the Internet when I want to use a video, and my DVD player gathers dust.

Increasingly, schools are installing security cameras in the hallways.  They’re cheap now, and easy to oversee.  They’re also very nice for administrators–if something happens in the hallway, they can simply look up the appropriate video feed.

This fact is especially important from a writer’s standpoint.  A video feed goes a long way in showing who started a fight or threw the first punch.  It will also show who broke into a locker, stole something from a classroom, or committed any number of interesting acts.

No school would dare put video cameras in the bathroom.  However, more than one school has narrowed the field of suspects in bathroom vandalism (or smoking or marijuana use) by simply checking to see who entered the bathroom during the window of opportunity.

I’m not aware of any schools that put cameras in the classrooms, though it wouldn’t surprise me if some exist.

Come back and reread this blog two or three years from now and we’ll see how out of date it’s become!

Next: let’s talk texting!

–Steven Harper Piziks


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Writing Nowadays–Techno-Schools 1.2 — 3 Comments

  1. In these parlous days there is a whole security aspect to school management. Every school district had better have a lockdown plan and a multi-pronged evacuation strategy (what to do if something happens during class time? while kids are on the bus? at games? after hours? External threat like terrorists? Internal threat like a shooter?). As a parent I need to know such plans exist before I entrust my child to you. Every academic story set, say, after September 2001 should take that into account.

  2. My son started his freshman year at college the September after the Virginia Tech shootings. At the dorm orientation, his floor counselor had all the kids at the meeting take out their cell phones. Carefully, they all entered in the emergency number, so that they could send and get phone or text alerts. The counselor watched them do this, and we parents in the back watched too.
    And you can open the paper any day and see the right strategy saving lives. That tornado in Indiana, last week? The school bus driver took his busload of kids back to school. They got into the basement just in time; the bus was flung through a building.