A r c h i v e d  I n f o r m a t i o n

Technology and Education Reform: Technical Research Report - August 1995

Chapter 7 (continued)

Outside Influences: External Partners and the Role of Research

In recent years, entities outside the education system, notably the business community, have been active players in efforts for school reform. Nearly every one of our case study sites had one or more partnerships with an external entity. The three major types of external partners were (1) corporate, (2) foundation, and (3) university research groups.

Corporate Partners

Corporate donations and partnerships played a facilitative role in the implementation of technology at most of the schools featured in this study. Support ranged from extended equipment loans to full-scale technology installation and technical support. Seven of the sites received significant hardware and software donations, in six cases from equipment manufacturers or software developers. Computer manufacturers and software developers see schools as an important market, and they are eager to have schools using their products in exemplary ways so that they can point to success stories in their marketing. Apple Computer in particular provided several schools not just with hardware and software but with an extensive support infrastructure in the form of on-site technical support and teacher professional development opportunities. Another site's computer network activities will be supported by a telephone company in the coming year, through a grant to a nearby university. Although donations of various types of hardware and software may be harder to come by as the schools' use of these technologies becomes more commonplace, there appears to be plenty of opportunity at present, particularly with companies producing products connected to the use of wide area networks.

In addition to the major donations from corporations that produce hardware or software, there were a few mentions of smaller-scale support from local businesses. In several cases, companies gave small grants to support creative technology-based projects designed by individual teachers; for example, an industrial arts teacher received support for a project using computer drafting tools to produce wooden replicas of dinosaur skeletons. Local cable news stations have donated services at several sites, providing students with hands-on experiences with video production. At another site, a pair of companies and a local mall instituted a project involving students in the design and running of a small business. A teacher at the case study school developed computer-supported classroom activities around this project. Business partners played a more visible role in the establishment of TeacherNet. The network has 10 corporate partners who helped to develop the network's strategic plan. Local business partners have served on school technology committees, often bringing a valuable level of technical knowledge and expertise.

Schools serve as an important testbed for new hardware and software, and several corporations provided teachers at case study sites with the opportunity to help shape the development of educational products through their critical feedback. A number of teachers commented that this experience gave them a renewed sense of professionalism. Several stated that this was one of the few contexts in which they felt recognized and appreciated for their expertise. An obvious trade-off is that extra time is required on the part of the teacher. At the Progressive School, Apple dealt with this issue by compensating the teachers for their consulting services. This was an unusual arrangement; at other sites corporate partnerships provided teachers with opportunities to participate in specialized training and conferences. One downside of serving as a testbed for hardware and software as it is being developed is that new systems are often more prone to difficulties and must constantly be updated. As one seasoned teacher at a testbed site quipped: "When you pilot new programs, expect there to be glitches. Otherwise, they wouldn't be giving you all that equipment!" For most teachers, the positive aspects of serving as a testbed outweighed the negative.

Given their interest in marketing and in drawing attention to successful uses of their products, corporate partners have served as important vehicles of dissemination for schools that otherwise might never have had their stories told. After providing the video equipment for the Kid Witness News program at Maynard, Panasonic brought high visibility to the project and the school. At the same site, a separate corporate grant funded the technology coordinator's production of a guide on technology use in education. At East City High School and the Progressive School, Apple has provided several avenues for dissemination through supporting teacher travel to present at conferences, installing network communications among various project sites, and funding the production of videotapes featuring student uses of technology.

An important issue for schools that depend heavily on corporate-sponsored technical support is how to wean themselves and achieve independence once this support is reduced or has ended. The Progressive School was in the midst of facing this challenge at the time of our site visit (see Exhibit 8).

Exhibit 8

Becoming Technologically Self-Sufficient

After 7 years of extensive technical and financial support, Apple began stepping down from its role as corporate benefactor for the Progressive School, ending the provision of on-site technology staff and reducing the amount of funds going into the project. After some initial anxiety, the response of the administration and teachers was one of deep appreciation for the support they had received in the past, and acknowledgment of the fact that independence is an important step in the school's growth. Most teachers had acquired sophisticated technical skills through their participation in the project, fully integrating the use of technology as a tool throughout the curriculum and having developed their own computer-based learning activities (e.g., teacher-developed HyperCard writing and music programs, simulations). The principal reflected that the staff had received "7 years of a fabulous education from Apple..." In preparation for taking over all aspects of technology use, six teachers were trained by Apple in computer maintenance. One of the biggest challenges for the school will be finding a way to cover the cost of maintaining and upgrading the equipment. In retrospect, the principal felt that one of the downsides of their dependence on Apple was the fact that there were many hidden costs that are only now being taken into account as the school staff consider what it will take to run things on their own. She recommends that schools and corporations work together to make these costs explicit early on, so that a realistic plan for eventual independence can be developed.

Foundation Partners

A second major type of external support came from foundations (which are in turn the recipients of funds from their founding corporations). Four of our case study sites received significant foundation funding. At John Wesley, a foundation-supported program supporting multiple schools in this area in implementing thematic instruction in science was instrumental in involving the school's teachers in an across-the-board effort to revitalize their school. A grant from a second foundation for school restructuring activities led to the creation of a Curriculum Action Team, which was the impetus behind the effort to bring technology resources to bear in their efforts to teach their low-income, largely limited-English student body more effectively. This grant had a dramatic impact on the reform activities at John Wesley, through a large investment in training as well as evaluation. Two criteria for participation were that the school practice site-based management and that at least one-third of the teachers actively be involved in restructuring activities.

Nathaniel Elementary participates in the GALAXY pilot project of the Galaxy Education Institute, a foundation funded primarily by Hughes Aircraft. At another site, a local foundation funded the evaluation of the school's innovation. TeacherNet received foundation funding for developing its telecommunication system and for a health education curriculum that was distributed over the network.

Although foundation funding has been an important positive influence at many schools, one principal lamented what she sees as an "only new activities" mentality. Foundations prefer to fund innovations, making it difficult to find support for ongoing projects outside the realm of basic activities supported through general education funds. This tendency was graphically illustrated at one of the case study sites that had a school garden, which was used for ecology-related projects in which students recorded data (e.g., on plant heights) that was shared with other schools over the network. The school was unsuccessful in obtaining outside funds to continue activities with the existing garden but did receive foundation support for planting a new garden!

University Partners

Although some of our sites were influenced or supported by relationships with university partners or research teams, in no case was there systematic involvement of a teacher education program in helping a site to institute or support a technology innovation. Where partnerships did occur, they were more likely to involve an individual faculty researcher who used the school as a research site or involved teachers in a program of inquiry. The CSILE activities at Nathaniel Elementary, for example, involved software designed by researchers at the Ontario Institute for Studies in Education. The design of Maynard Computer Mini-School's computer network was carried out in conjunction with Denis Newman's Earth Lab project (begun while Newman was at Bank Street College). A nearby state university did evaluation and other research studies on the East City High School computer mini-school program.

Influence of Research

Involvement in university research projects was very important for both Maynard Computer Mini-School and Nathaniel Elementary School. These programs brought an important source of ideas about how technology could support instruction, were instrumental in attracting resources in the form of equipment and funding, and provided counsel and technical support for teachers as they addressed the challenge of integrating technology into their practice.

Beyond such actual involvement in research, there were research influences on many of the case study sites. In establishing South Creek Middle School, both the district superintendent and the principal looked to the effective schools research for good practice concepts. This review led to practices such as site-based management teams, the institutionalization of self-studies, and the collection of school climate data. The principal also did an intensive study of the literature on technology and instruction during the year before the school's opening. This review led to the school's emphasis on software tools rather than didactic uses of technology.

Jerome Bruner's theory and research was one of the original inspirations for the Progressive School, which continues to work to provide a spiral curriculum in which the same powerful concepts get taught and retaught at increasing levels of sophistication as students advance developmentally. The school's involvement with the human-computer interaction research of Alan Kay was another important influence as Kay worked with the teachers over a period of years, both in conjunction with his Vivarium research project and as a general support to their thinking about what technology could contribute to their teaching.

Information processing research and Howard Gardner's theory of multiple intelligences were clearly major influences on the handbook for integrated thematic instruction (written by Susan Kovalik and Karen Olsen) used in the science improvement program in which John Wesley participated. In several schools, principals were active consumers of educational research and viewed it as part of their role to share current and applicable research with their staff.


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