Schools find it hard to know where they're going with computers. No one knows. Schools are really just trying to keep up.We have argued that technologies per se do not embody a particular set of curricular or pedagogical goals. The writing of Cuban (1986), Cohen (1988), and others suggests that unless the school staff start out with an instructional goal, technology is most likely to be used to reinforce the status quo. Piele (1989) argues that this is exactly what happened with microcomputers in most schools, where they became a drain on resources and just added to the burdens of teachers who already were trying to do too much.
Despite all the advice that says to look at the courseware first, schools never look at software first. [They acquire computers and then search for software.] They re so quick to spend money, they end up doing it haphazardly. (p. 24)
Most teachers will find little incentive to tackle the technical and scheduling problems associated with technology, unless they have a clear vision of how the technology can improve teaching and learning. Calfee (1991) argues that education reform requires the involvement not just of the classroom but of the school as a whole. If students are to experience a new kind of education that places real value on extended intellectual effort and problem solving, this kind of thinking needs to be encouraged not just in one unit or one class or even in one year but throughout the student's school experience. This requires a school's teachers to come together and to work with administrators to develop a unifying set of goals. Although principles may be embodied somewhat differently in different classrooms, adherence to a consistent set of principles can unify the school. Given reformers' goals such as those we outlined in the introduction (i.e., use of authentic, challenging multidisciplinary tasks; promotion of active learning and collaborative work; and so on), schools will find that there is much they can start doing to prepare students for this kind of work without technology for example, working on collaborative research projects with traditional paper-based tools. Schools participating in California's Model Technology Schools program found that a common set of instructional goals to work on was important in maintaining project identity and momentum when they encountered the inevitable delays in the delivery of hardware and software (M. Stearns et al. 1991). Such activities prepare students and teachers for their new roles in subsequent technology-enhanced projects. Moreover, they start moving the school toward education reform now, without waiting for the approvals, funding, delivery, and training that precede the use of new technology.
This problem can be attacked on two fronts. First, teachers and schools can be involved in efforts to modify the curriculum and to develop a more realistic set of curriculum goals. The requirement to cover too many topics in a given time period has led to superficial treatment, with students learning the names but little else for many of the concepts they are studying. Many reform efforts are pointing toward greater depth in covering fewer topics and toward more local-school involvement in determining what those topics should be. This trend will make it easier to incorporate technology in teaching and learning the key concepts and skills that are to be emphasized in the new curriculum. At the same time, as Wiske, Niguidula, and Shepard (1988) report, teachers who are able to participate in renegotiating curriculum and assessment requirements are more likely to consider using computers in ways that support education reform.
A second way to approach the problem is by encouraging the development of software materials that are compatible with curricular goals. As described in Chapter IV, technology can provide tools for teachers to use in creating their own materials. Evaluators have noted, however, the great investment in time and effort that such projects require. Often, teachers prefer to have the opportunity to do some tailoring of materials for their own purposes, without having to do the basic development (Wiske, Zodhiates, Wilson et al. 1988, and the Catlab example in Chapter IV).
The state of California recognized the importance of the match between technology- based materials and the existing curriculum and has been a leader in addressing the issue. The state established funds to set up partnerships between developers and the California Department of Education. The state provides seed money for the development of technology-based materials geared to state curriculum frameworks; developers coinvest with substantial matching funds; California schools get discounts on the resulting materials, and the state receives royalties based on the materials out-of-state sales (O Connor 1991). One of the early products of this arrangement, GTV, The American Experience, developed by the National Geographic Society, Apple Computer, and LucasFilm, won awards for quality and earned back the developers investment within the first 6 months. A current project, Science 2000, is aligned with California's science framework for seventh graders and is intended to be a full, exemplary science curriculum taught using computer software, video- and audiotapes, videodisc, hands-on materials, text, and telecommunications.
The potential for high-stakes testing of content that is not the goal of an innovation to kill off a project was demonstrated at the Belridge School in McKittrick, California. Funded by tax revenues from neighboring oil fields, this small K-8 school district purchased computers for school and home use for every student and teacher in the school. Laser disc players, television production equipment, and large amounts of software were purchased. The project stressed having students collaborate on meaningful tasks that would challenge them to think. Student work included producing their own television news shows and setting up and administering a computer-based presidential election. Two years later, when scores on the Iowa Test of Basic Skills for the first year of the technology implementation were released, parents were shocked to see that their students scored no better than before and slightly below the national median. Failing to consider the difference in focus between the technology-based projects and the standardized test and the immaturity of the implementation at the time the students were tested, parents picketed the school and elected a new school board with the mandate to find a new "back to basics" principal. Computers were removed from student desks and pushed to the rear of the classroom or sold (Schulz 1992).
Thus, it is wise for innovators to confront the assessment issue as early as possible. Although district and state testing policies may be beyond local control, the school or classroom can at least take steps to collect additional assessment data that are more compatible with the goals of their innovation. Unfortunately, we lack good standardized measures of many advanced thinking skills, but a school can at least choose among the more appropriate subtests from standardized test batteries (e.g., reading comprehension as opposed to word attack skills, math problem solving as opposed to numerical operations) and can supplement these measures with writing samples, portfolios, and other concrete evidence of student achievement.
Delclos and Kulewicz (1986) studied sixth-grade children's use of Rocky's Boots, a highly regarded piece of software for teaching problem-solving skills. Without help from a teacher, most of the children in the study could solve fewer than half of the 39 problems in the program. The researchers described students as "hitting a plateau" in their independent work. When teachers intervened, providing instruction on problem-solving strategies within the context of the specific problems in the programs, students were able to go far beyond their initial level of independent problem solving. Thus, experience suggests that the most successful projects will be those in which the intervention incorporates both teacher activities and technology into a broader learning activity.
The need to train teachers when introducing technology was illustrated also in the experience of the San Francisco schools with multimedia systems. Seventeen systems were installed in 1989 along with social studies and history software developed by the National Geographic Society. Most of the machines were idle at the end of that school year, however. Only after teachers were given training in how to work the multimedia content into their lesson plans did teachers start using the technology available to them (Yoder 1991).
Even if the technology and its content did not pose challenges to teachers, the new curricula and teaching strategies associated with education reform would. Introducing complex, multidisciplinary projects and a strong element of student control means opening the door for students to explore content areas that are unknown to the teacher. Acting as a coach for small groups of students working cooperatively requires diagnostic and management skills that are not called on when teaching is equated with lecturing. Smith and O'Day (1990) point out that pre-service education for teachers does not equip them for these roles. Teachers need support for deepening their knowledge of content areas and for learning new teaching skills. Both outside advisors and fellow teachers trying to implement the same or similar innovations can serve this function effectively.
The effective schools literature showing the value of parent and community involvement (Epstein 1984; Herman & Yeh 1983) implies that these groups should be made participants in the process of technology-supported education reform. Partnership means sharing in developing the instructional goals of the reform and taking responsibility for helping to support them. This requires much more than unfocused enthusiasm concerning computers or videoconferencing.
Obtaining community understanding and support will not always be easy. Education reform goals, as we have described them here, are based on a particular (constructivist) view of learning. This view is in direct contention with conventional notions of knowledge as a set of facts and teaching as the telling of facts. Cohen (1988) points out the prevalence of the conventional view:
Contrary to most reformers' beliefs, these [conventional] views elicit profound attachment from many children and adults....The conceptions and practices that reformers wish to replace are not simply obsolete, boring, and stupid impositions....Traditional approaches to instruction contain coherent and defensible views of knowledge, teaching, and learning....One part of this scholastic inheritance is the widely shared conviction that valid academic knowledge consists of facts. Facts are found in books and teachers lectures. Efforts to suggest that there is more to academic knowledge than facts--that it consists of ideas about facts, or that facts have no meaningful status unless embedded in ideas about them, or that students are authors of ideas and therefore creators of academic knowledge--violate this view. For if knowledge does not consist of facts, well established and stored in authoritative locations, how can it be trusted? Anyone can make up ideas. If knowledge is composed or constructed--which is to say, made up--by little children, or even by schoolteachers, how seriously can it be taken? (pp. 256-257)
The experiences of the Belridge School described above provide a dramatic demonstration of the risks involved when the community does not fully understand or embrace the instructional goals of an innovation. A misunderstanding of the project's intentions and likely outcomes led to a community backlash that not only killed the school project but produced technology-bashing headlines ("The revolution that fizzled") in a national news magazine (Elmer-Dewitt 1991) as well.
This page was last updated December 27, 2001 (jca)