Technology is an integral part of education. It was once a discrete subject of study or an added component to the list of extra academic activities. But, it has become intertwined with the curriculum and in every aspect of the educational experience in the most advanced schools in the United States.
This paradigm is changing the way educators see their work both here and in other countries. This paradigm shift was the general framework of a seminar that Intercultural Development Research Association (IDRA) researchers organized for Mexican educators from the Universidad Nacional Autonoma de Mexico (UNAM). This article reports on some interesting lessons gained from this seminar.
The PAAS Program
Since 2001, IDRA has participated in the Programa de Apoyo a la Actualización del Personal Docente del Bachillerato (PAAS) or Support and Staff Development Program for High School Teachers. The program was created by UNAM in 1995 for teachers from Mexico in the Department of Science and Humanities and the Department of Education to enhance the academic preparation of Mexico’s teachers.
The teachers participate in the program for one year, three to four weeks of which are spent in either the United States or Canada. This international exposure affords these educators the opportunity to learn methods, theoretical principles, and practical skills commonly used in these countries. The expectation is that some of these new elements and skills will find a place, with the appropriate adaptations, in Mexican classrooms.
This international dimension was added to the program in 2001. In the United States, the participating UNAM campus is located in San Antonio. In Canada, it is located in Hull, Quebec. There are plans to expand the program to include the UNAM campus in Chicago.
For the implementation of the program in San Antonio, UNAM has created a partnership that includes IDRA, the University of Texas at San Antonio, the Institute of Texan Cultures, the Witte Museum, and the Business Careers High School in the Northside Independent School District. Last year, 40 educators participated in this international collaboration, and 49 participated this year.
During their stay in San Antonio, the educators improved their English through formal English as a second language classes (an important component of the program) and informal contacts. They learned about successful teaching methods from local teachers; visited middle schools, high schools, colleges and universities in both San Antonio and Austin; and shared their experiences via video conference with educators participating in the program in Canada. In addition, these educators had ample opportunities to enjoy the varied cultural and tourist possibilities that San Antonio has to offer.
The Mexican Educators
This year, IDRA organized a seminar about issues and possibilities for technology in education. The session started with a short survey designed to obtain basic information about the teachers’ knowledge and inclinations regarding the issue of technology for education.
The Mexican educators were highly computer literate, as much as can be elucidated from this survey. More than 95 percent knew how to use the computers; more than 90 percent had a computer at home; more than 80 percent used the Internet; and more than 90 percent used e-mail.
Although a large majority (93.5 percent) believed using technology was important for education, most did not have access to technology in their schools. Only 13 percent reported having a computer in their classroom, and a similar percentage indicated that their schools had a computer lab.
Some Mexican educators took issue with how the last question was phrased on the survey: ¿Usted cree en el uso de la tecnología en la educación? [Do you believe in the use of technology for education?]. They objected to the use of the word “cree” (believe) in this context. They said its use implied an article of faith reserved for religious contexts. This is especially important when used in writing and in an academic context. Colloquially and verbally, they indicated that they understood the intent and therefore, instead of the 93.5 percent, the real value should be closer to the 100 percent.
This is an important point because language is important for international collaboration. At IDRA, we have encountered similar issues in our collaborations with colleagues from Brazil and even England. The lesson is to be aware of linguistic and cultural sensitivities when engaging in international collaborations.
Educational Technology in the United States and Mexico
Although the group agreed with the notion that technology is a very important component to any educational improvement plan, there was no consensus as to what degree its immersion should reach. Some educators talked about software packages that were developed to help students deal with some specific problems, for example, to solve quadratic equations (ax2 + bx + c = 0). Many suggested that general software packages (word processing, spread sheets, statistics, databases) were more useful because any kind of problem can be represented and solved through their appropriate use.
The trend in the United States is to use these general packages. Even the newer educational software are versions of these generic packages. The new versions have some specific adaptations to allow for manipulative educational applications, such as graphic representation of movement and pulse rates in a spreadsheet-type presentation to illustrate concepts such as ratio, tends, and variable relationships. There are important pedagogical uses of these applications to improve mathematics achievement (Dieckmann, 2002).
The essence of technology is its power to facilitate and extend the student capacity of finding, processing, organizing and representing information so that knowledge, experience and hopefully wisdom can be enriched. Therefore, the emphasis should be on the way these higher-order thinking skills are created (Montes, 1996; Montes, 1997). The essential point here is that the pedagogy should encourage more participation through student-centered activities and discourage oppressive, disempowering, and passive activities. The teachers concurred that, while technology is only a tool, it is a tool that has become indispensable.
There was a spirited debate about the issue of the digital divide. U.S. participants assumed this would be a big concern with their Mexican colleagues. Although they recognized that schools in Mexico are poorly equipped with the required technology, they suggested that access to technology is plentiful in Internet cafes, which are abundant in the country’s larger cities. Access to these cafes is affordable to most people.
The educators recognized that the digital divide is not just this kind of access but rather a systemic trend that alienates certain groups of society usually along socio-economic indicators. Typically females, older people, poor families, rural dwellers, and racial and ethnic minorities have less access to technology. This also happens in Mexico. But the inexpensive Internet cafes provide a measure of democratization to technology not immediately apparent in the United States.
Some of the items the participants agreed were current issues in educational technology in both countries are:
- Limited technology budget;
- Inappropriate infrastructure in schools, many of which do not even have telephone or electricity;
- When there is some technology, its use might not be appropriate (Some schools are still using technology for practice and drills); and
- Teacher training continues to be a low priority in many schools, even though it has been amply demonstrated that this is one of the most relevant factors influencing the appropriate implementation of the technology in education.
One issue that surprised Mexican educators was the availability of computers in many classrooms in the United States. Given the limited resources of Mexican schools, the few computers they have are placed in a central computer lab. The Mexican educators were excited about the possibilities that such an arrangement would create. But this would probably remain a distant dream for Mexico (and most other Latin American countries), where classrooms can have more than 40 students.
However, the group agreed that even under present limitations there are many things that can be accomplished with technology including:
- A more realistic alignment of the curriculum with present society;
- Exploration of abundant free sources of information and resources via Internet and other electronic sources such as encyclopedias and comprehensive knowledge bases on compact disks;
- Better support for special education; and
- Better pedagogical possibilities to accommodate different ways of learning.
The participants believe all members of society should be involved in the process of enriching students’ educational experience through technology. In addition to teachers and administrators, students, parents and families should be actively involved. Some Mexican educators related a situation commonly found in the United States of students who knew far more than their teachers in certain areas of technology. The group agreed that such students could become valuable resources for the other students under the appropriate pedagogical approach.
The group also embraced the importance of including other educational institutions at the local, regional and national levels in this process. Institutions such as museums and foundations can provide valuable resources and assistance to traditional educational institutions. Governments can be active participants, not just passive providers of funds.
Finally, there were some ideas about how teachers and researchers help community groups become involved in the process. Teachers have the knowledge, experience, and communication skills for creating a vision of the possibilities of what technology can bring to the educational process. They can convey that vision to their administrators, parents and families. Teachers can help their school decision makers integrate technology planning into the campus improvement plans. At a minimum, teachers can provide their own objectives and personal goals regarding the use of technology in their classrooms. Green (2002) provides some principles to facilitate this process.
To conclude the seminar, the Mexican educators presented their visions of how technology could improve their own institutions. In groups, the educators applied some of the theoretical concepts debated during the seminar to their own situations. This group situation also gave them an opportunity to practice with Microsoft PowerPoint so they could emulate its use in the classroom.
The conversations that occurred during the seminar with Mexican teachers served as an international exchange about the status of the current uses of technology for improving the education process in both the United States and Mexico. Although some of the issues were theoretical, the teachers invariably tied the issues with practical implications and applications.
Mexican teachers are dealing with many of the same issues as U.S. teachers in the area of technology. That is, limited training possibilities, insufficient technology in the classroom, and pedagogical issues in its application.
Some of the unexpected divergences occurred around the issue of the digital divide and the technology distribution in the schools (computer labs vs. classrooms). We also were reminded that linguistic issues and cultural sensitivities have to be considered carefully in any international collaboration. Overall, we concluded that this is the kind of exchange that should increase among countries and peoples of the world.
|Situación tecnológica: Capacidad actual
||Current technological status
|Situación tecnológica: Problemas o limitaciones actuales
||Problems and limitations of current technological situation
|Nuestros objetivos con la tecnología
||Our technology goals
|Propuesta tecnológica: Elementos para avanzar (Institución)
||Technological improvement to be done by the institution
|Propuesta tecnológica: Iniciativas propias
||Technological improvements to be done by the teachers
|Qué aprendimos hoy sobre la tecnología
||What we learned today about the technology
Cantú, L. “Binational Collaboration Prepares New Teachers,” IDRA Newsletter (San Antonio, Texas: Intercultural Development Research Association, February 2002).
Dieckmann, J. “Mathematics Achievement for All? Yes!,” IDRA Newsletter (San Antonio, Texas: Intercultural Development Research Association, March 2002).
Green, L.C. “Teachers and Instructional Technology: Wise and Foolish Choices,” IDRA Newsletter (San Antonio, Texas: Intercultural Development Research Association, May 2002).
Montes, F. “Content in Context: Technology That Makes Sense in Education,” IDRA Newsletter (San Antonio, Texas: Intercultural Development Research Association, June 1996).
Montes, F. “Schools in the Information Society: Make Children Central,” IDRA Newsletter (San Antonio, Texas: Intercultural Development Research Association, May 1997).
Montes, F. “Coca-Cola Valued Youth Program in Brazil: Valuing Youth Across Different Cultures,” IDRA Newsletter (San Antonio, Texas: Intercultural Development Research Association, January 2001).
Felix Montes, Ph.D., is the coordinator for technology and is an education associate in the IDRA Division of Evaluation Research. Linda Cantú, MA is an education associate in the IDRA Division of Professional Development. Comments and questions may be directed to them via e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.
[©2002, IDRA. This article originally appeared in the September 2002 IDRA Newsletter by the Intercultural Development Research Association. Permission to reproduce this article is granted provided the article is reprinted in its entirety and proper credit is given to IDRA and the author.]