21st CENTURY CLASSROOMSeptember 17, 1996
Two teachers with polar opposite perspectives on technology debate the advantages of computers in the classroom.
Is high technology an asset or a liability?
Bob Dole and Bill Clinton have embraced the issue of education in recent speeches. The candidates and their advisors have very different views on the mechanisms of reform.
Clinton outlines his views on education reform while addressing the graduating class at Princeton University.
The National Academy of Sciences and the National Academy of Engineering has issued a report on computer usage by educators .
The Department of Education's Technology Initiatives Guide.
Resource guide to federal funding for technology in education.
Metanet Design works with educators and businesses to facilitate online groups and networks using most of the software environments available today.
Is there a teacher out there who can keep pace with any student? One who knows everything about astronomy, James Joyce, and the U.S. Constitution, and never lets a student talk his or her way out of answering a tough question? The answer is yes: a computer. Even to people who would argue that monitors can never replace human teachers, computers are powerful tools that bring the world of information to students at home and in the classroom. In many cases, teachers are using computers to bring students together with other "people" --including peers and "experts".
As schools from all over the country accelerate their use of computers and high-tech educational techniques, parents without computer knowledge are being disassociated from their children's learning experience. Even mothers and fathers who know how to surf the net and send e-mail may not know about MOOs, MUDs, cooperative learning, or desktop video conferencing.
So how can parents stay involved in their children's education? By developing strategies to keep up with the ever expanding options available to teachers and students. Parents need to educate themselves about the latest developments, weigh the pros and cons of new technologies, and find paths to implementation within the school system.
This forum is the place to start. Here is your chance to ask an expert in the field questions about the latest in high tech teaching. You voice your concerns about the future of public education in the United States. Lisa Kimball is the co-owner of the Metasystems Design Group, Inc. . She has worked extensively with government agencies, corporations and schools to set up online environments, special events, and discussion groups.
A question from Lynnette Mullins of Crookston, MN
Have you found strategies or techniques to help foster critique of information, sources, and images that young people encounter on Web sites? It seems like a logical place to encourage such discussion, and prevent some of the responses like; "it's out there, it must be good information."
Lisa Kimball responds:
Although the Web is a new technology, we've encountered many of the challenges it presents before. When I was growing up, smart teachers had us doing projects to help develop the skills to critique television as a source of information. Parent groups were formed to lobby the FCC for more controls around children's television because research showed that kids had a hard time distinguishing the advertising from the programs themselves. Print journalists have long been in a debate about the ethics of manipulating visual images to make a picture more or less threatening or benign. What we have now is a familiar problem in a new medium.
The Internet presents us with increasingly challenging issues around sources and quality of information but, in some ways, young people are better equipped than we are to handle it. In a recent book, "PLAYING THE FUTURE: HOW KIDS CULTURE CAN TEACH US TO THINK IN AN AGE OF CHAOS" (Harper Collins, 1996), Douglas Rushkoff posits that the games kids are playing require them to to create new identities for characters which have to evaluate high volumes of information in order to make choices - just the skill set required to operate effectively in this new world of information and technology! They KNOW it's possible for people to make stuff up and present it as "information" to the others in the game which makes them generally more information-savvy. He suggests that we look to kids to learn how to live in this new world because they have already adapted to it.
Even so, this new media "literacy" is so important we may not want to just hope kids are developing it naturally. One of the best strategies for helping young people develop these critical skills is to participate activity WITH them online so that you can start a conversation about what they are seeing and what it means. Talk about how you can tell where the information came from and judge its quality. Some teachers have engaged students in writing reviews of Web sites to help them hone their ability to make judgments (and often the kids are the toughest critics!). It's also valuable to help young people construct Web sites themselves in order to engage them in the process of identifying criteria for "good" information.
A question from Paul J. Mech of Columbus, OH
I am a part-time computer programmer/consultant and am also homeschooling my six year old daughter. As computers and computer networks are becoming commonplace in the public schools, it seems that it should be possible for students to telnet in (via an Internet connection) and participate from their homes. To your knowledge, is anyone working on this sort of application? Furthermore, do you know of any public schools that offer such access to students that are being home schooled?
Lisa Kimball responds:
As more schools put computer systems online, it will certainly be technically possible to create links between school and home for everyone, including homeschoolers. However, it is important to understand that, when technology is used well in the classroom, it is fully integrated with face-to-face interaction and hands-on experience with other materials and resources. Often, the best "teaching moment" occurs when a teacher happens to look over a student's shoulder while they are doing something on the computer. It's sometimes difficult to separate a particular computer activity from the classroom context so it might not be very meaningful to a student who just logs on from a distance.
There are several key ways that I think networked computer technology can make a significant contribution to homeschooling:
- Homeschoolers may be able to access the higher end computer functions remotely so that they can take advantage of information available in a school library via CD-ROM.
- A group of homeschoolers can create an online learning community to gain some of the learning advantages of social interaction (they could participate in joint projects for example).
- Parents who are homeschooling their children can communicate with each other to share strategies and resources.
A very good resource for parents and teachers wanting to take advantage of Internet technology is Classroom Connect at http://www.wentworth.com A question from Robert Whalen of Virginia Beach, VA
Once citizens become aware of the effectiveness of the computer as a teaching tool they may switch from traditional public education to home schooling with a computer. My concern is that this will reduce the need for teachers. Has the NEA developed a policy on how to preserve the traditional role of the teacher in this competitive enviornment?
Lisa Kimball responds:
NEA has actually been a leader in supporting the professional development of teachers to help them enter the new world of technology with competence and enthusiasm (see http://www.nea.org) Rather than framing the problem as the need to preserve the teacher's traditional role in the classroom, most good teachers are looking to technology to help them do things they've always wanted to do but couldn't because they didn't have the right tools. For example, the computer and other technology has made it possible for students to interact directly with scientists are part of their learning. One such project is called JASON whcih creates opportunities for teachers to bring their classes on electronic field trips where they observe scientists at work in real settings and ask them questions.
One of the reasons computer technology was initially resisted by some teachers was that the early use of computers simply replicated rote learning. An boring electronic workbook which doesn't require any real thinking on the part of the student isn't an improvement over the paper-based kind. A lot of early computer-based learning programs were an attempt at "teacher proofing" the curriculum to standardize it ... which often watered it down to something pretty useless. Now, people have learned that the computer - like all good educational resources - is most powerful when it is used in the context of a learning process facilitated by a good teacher.
A question from Robert Ware of Gambrills, MD
Given that we are racing forward technologically, how can we help our educators as well as our children (and OURSELVES) better understand when technological solutions are appropriate versus when HUMAN REFLECTION AND RATIONAL INTER-HUMAN DISCUSSION is what is needed ?
How do we prepare our children for a society in which the commodification of knowledge, itself, has become the predominant model of society? What will be the consequences of the digitalization of knowledge?
Lisa Kimball responds:
It's interesting that we're faced with two trends which seem to be in opposition to each other. On the one hand, we do have the commodification and digitalization of knowledge. On the other hand, we're hearing more about "learning organizations" and the reflective process required to support them. I think there may be a cyclical dynamic where, after getting all excited about the volume and speed with which they can access information, people step back and say to themselves, "Whoaaaaa, what does this all mean?"
One of the things we experienced in our work with community based networks is that humans have a natural affinity for interaction and communication. After setting up an information system for the city, developers of the Public Electronic Network in Santa Monica, CA discovered that most people checked out the information archives and then headed on over to the electronic town meeting space so that they could communicate with their neighbors. At the Community Networking conference last year, everyone was all excited about linking up to the World Wide Web. This year, people came back saying, "You know, I think we lost something by being so focused on accessing information. It's more important to members of our community to be in an environment which fosters relationships."
Learning to facilitate interaction and learning to participate in a reflective process are two important new skills for the knowledge age (or maybe we should start calling this the "learning" age?) Teachers who are using cooperative learning strategies in their classroom have a head start on some of the important concepts involved.
I think the best way to help educators is to provide them with opportunities to engage with each other in interactive discussions so that they can experience first hand the value of reflection and inter-human discussion. Parents and teachers who have a core deep understanding of the value of this process will naturally share it with children.
A question from Craig McMadden of Blue Lake, NY If Robert Dole became president, how would education policy change? Has goals 2000 and other Clinton/Gore initiatives made any difference? Dole has been pushing for school vouchers-- private schools seem to have many more computers than public schools (the figure is a dismal 10% of all public schools have Internet access in the classroom-- my daughter's private school has an extensive computer lab and teachers are using computers to post homework assignments and grades) Maybe school vouchers would accelerate the influx of computers in the classroom.
Lisa Kimball responds:
The distribution of computers in private v. public schools varies widely depending on location and type of school so it's unclear what effect vouchers might have on the influx of computers in the classroom. It's also interesting to note that there are significant numbers of parents who oppose using school funds for technology so these "consumers" might use their vouchers to support schools where technology is not emphasized.
Dole has been vocal in his opposition to teacher's unions so that might have an effect on educational policy. However, the political rhetoric about unions doesn't always match up well with reality. For example, the National Education Association supports charter schools, an idea often talked about along with vouchers as a strategy to break out of the stuck place many feel our schools have been in for the past decade. Charter schools usually enable community members and parents to take a much more active role in school design and curriculum.
As with many political initiatives, GOALS 2000 (which, incidentally, was started during the previous Republican adminsitration) has served as a catalyst for those who already had some creative ideas about how to change and improve things. It has provided a handy framework which educators and community members have used to justify new programs and approaches. Making something meaningful out of goals as broad and vague as "First in Math and Science by the Year 2000" takes a lot more than political speechmaking. It has made a difference where members of the community have participated actively with educators in serious conversations about the needs and hopes for their children. Federal programs like GOALS 2000 can get people's attention, but the real work has to be done at the local level.
Additional questions and comments:
Stan Dickerson of Scio, OH
Cost is the main block to "high tech" here in the hills, "Harrison Hills School Districts." The avenue for us parents is to do it our selves i.e. buy the computor, find a server and constantly call the schools. Saddly even the local community college Belmont Technical College, North Campus has no working Internet for the students. The county Human Services has cut back on scholarships. Many here has given up on the dreams of high tech and settled for poverty exitistance.
Kate Pfordresher of Brooklyn, New York
It is after 1:00 p.m. but I want to commend you on the story on education as a campaign issue. I came to the site to look for an article on the Presidential election for my fourth grade son's current event assignment. The articles I found in my city's newspapers focused on the form of the election campaign, but did not address any of the issues directly making it especially difficult for a young reader to understand. Thank you for addressing the issues.
[Editor's note: stay tuned for our Debate Night coverage, which will include Online Backgrounders for Education, Welfare, Healthcare, the Economy, the Environment, and Law and Order]
Robert Guzauskas of West Palm Beach, FL
A while ago (some) experts linked juvenile delinquecy to the distance between the early onset of sexual maturity and the late graduation of youths into adult resposibility. Delinquency was attributed to the frustration of normal and healthy desires in adolescents.
I think, too many people view a lengthy education as a worthy goal in itself. Some students might agree. Those that don't graduate or drop out.
I was in school for 22 years. I watched the quality of the curriculae decline as, "college for everyone", was advocated by many who stood to gain personal power and prominance.
Education - to make it right keep it tight. Promote the brightest. Redirect and graduate the rest. Our children deserve this kindness. Our society cannot afford less.
Michael Moy of Nashua, NH
I tend to be more on the side of Mr. Stoll in that basic thinking skills can be taught with minimal technology. Technology can be a useful tool, though, for students that respond well to self-paced instruction, and perhaps for remedial work.
Much of the computer teaching going on is more user-based technology education instead of what makes the technology work from a physics and computer science point of view. I believe that it is more important to teach the mathematics of computer science in middle or high school than it is to learn how to use specific products and packages.
Also, there is a lack of good software for CBI. The good stuff that is available (like EPGY at Stanford) is quite expensive. There is a lot of potential for CBI (good for some subjects) as software producers, working for textbook publishers reach efficient economies of scale.
William H. Calvin of Seattle WA
Two particularly well-wired high schools are 1) the Lakeside School in Seattle (private, Bill Gates graduated from there), and 2) Shawnee-Mission North High School in suburbs of Kansas City where a big bond issue bought a lot of computers. It's an old high school (75th anniversary next year), with a building that has changed little since I graduated from there in 1957, but there are hundreds of computers, in every kind of classroom.