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Closing the technological gap

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I have a passion for technology and that passion walks side-by-side with a healthy skepticism that saves me from being swept away by the latest innovation. Technology does not come out of thin air; it evolves. Like evolution, each step is related to the previous ones. Each new innovation is a combination of all of the components that came before it and this is true for all “novel” technologies. I’m not going to call it Darwinism but I have to say it is something like that. But only by thinking this way we can begin to understand the nature of technology. Each new problem solved by technology creates new problems that have to be solved and this is the engine that keeps technology moving forward.

My interest is in how technology shapes our culture, such as the outsourcing of our memory, how new technology challenges the ethical decision of health care professionals, segregated on-line communities, cyber security and how technology education needs to be changed in order prepare our population for the digital future.

A retired military member, I spent all of my military career in the Army Signal Corps, (the IT section of the army). I’ve been around long enough to witness the transition from analog to digital communication and the military afforded me the opportunity to work with cutting edge technology before it was released to the public, such as the GPS system and the Internet.

As a civilian I worked for Time Warner Telecom in Littleton, Colorado for nine years, first as a network analyst and then as a contingency planning manager. At the time contingency planning was not a high priority, however after 9-11, that position suddenly was thrust into the spotlight and it’s been there ever since. My true calling was teaching so I resigned from Time Warner Telecom and went to school to earn my Masters in Education for Applied Technology from the College of Saint Rose in New York. After working in the New York Office for Technology three years, I was offered a teaching position as a high school Information Technology Teacher, and I returned to Colorado to take what I considered my dream job.

Computers are becoming more ubiquitous and understanding technology is the key every day functioning. I believe in the short term the gap will continue to grow between technology-literate people (coders, engineers) and the technical-illiterate, (as represented in the low number of women and people of color majoring in computer science or employed in the industry). This divide will regulate technological illiterate people to low-level technical jobs at best, and will perpetually exclude then from the real power that is enjoyed by those with the technological skills that makes them the architects of their own future. When large numbers of citizens are not able to take their rightful place in society, contempt is bred on both sides. Part of my purpose is to reverse this current trend by thinking of innovative ways to introduce the underrepresented to technology and close the widening gap.

In addition to teaching, I run a non-profit organization called SEMtech (Student Engagement and Mentoring in Technology). The purpose of this organization is to expose under represented groups, such as women and minorities, to technology at an early age, with the hope that they will stick with it and major in computer science in the future. SEMtech runs summer cyber camps and outreach programs to try to reach our goals. I’m also on the Educating Children of Color Advisory Board, and I teach robotics at UCCS Technology Summer Camps in the summer.

As a baby boomer, I remember black and white televisions, vinyl albums and ten-pound phone books. I wrote love letters, had an address book and called for directory assistance. I owned a typewriter, a rotary phone and as transistor radio. However, I grew up side-by-side with the new technology that replaced those items. I’ve lived with and recognized the change in real time and that gives me a unique perspective on where we may be going. I experience new technology with a combination of awe and skepticism which gives me a balanced and insightful view of the new innovations coming our way. For those readers that believe in the power of technology and its potential to shape our society, this column will be of great interest to you.

Thomas Russell is a high school information technology teacher and retired Army Signal Corps soldier. He is the founder of SEMtech (Student Engagement and Mentoring in Technology) and an Advisory Board Member of Educating Children of Color. His hobbies include writing, photography and hiking. Contact Thomas via Russell’s Room on Facebook, or email at thruss09@gmail.com, and his photography at thomasholtrussell.zenfolio.com.

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