• by Felix Montes, Ph.D. • IDRA Newsletter • May 1997
Although schools have been able to remain relatively unaffected throughout most of the technological revolutions marking the last few hundred years of history, the modern technological revolution is bound to have an impact on the schools. The current ongoing technological revolution is unique in at least two respects. First, the computer is a generic tool for processing information. In every area – from the way children play games and the way politicians run the government, to the way engineers develop new modes of transportation – technological information will play a role. Every organized component of society will be affected because the essence behind any organized entity is information.
Second, previously separate media vehicles such as television, radio, video and the Internet are converging into single computer stations. The current multimedia computer is only the forerunner of a very promising trend. These factors open new possibilities for interpersonal communications, and for teaching and learning. Videoconferencing facilitates distance learning. Also, the possibilities of interacting within a virtual world of virtual transaction, and socializing with virtual friends in a virtual café‚ are becoming commonplace nowadays. Schools will have to change to adapt to such a comprehensive revolution. Given this situation, the issues are what schools will do and what they should do. The following are some paths that schools might take.
- Do nothing. Rationale: All of these technological gadgets (computers, Internet, E-mail) are just the latest buzz words of our time. If we just keep doing what we do, they will fade away.
- Perform minimum adaptation. Rationale: We will buy some computers and see if they help. Perhaps that guy, who talks all the time about computers, would be able to do something with them. At least we’ll show we’re trying.
- Perform substantial adaptation. Rationale: We need to set aside a budget for technology. We will create a technology lab where students will learn how to use computers, and we need to keep expanding and upgrading the lab as more students or new technology comes along.
- Embrace change for the children’s sake. Rationale: Our schools are not serving all of our students well enough. Technology is not the whole solution, but it offers an opportunity to make the substantial changes that the school needs to serve our students effectively. Therefore, we will develop a comprehensive plan to get the best technology we can afford, train our teachers, and involve teachers and students in the planning and implementation processes.
Hopefully, few schools are taking the first path these days. However, the second path is not uncommon. Many schools hesitate in the area of acquiring and implementing technology. They might feel limited in terms of their knowledge and resources. Far too many are struggling with inadequate facilities and funding support. However, in some cases the school’s most acute problem might be its lack of leadership and a clear understanding of what it means to an educational institution heading into the 21st century. Schools taking either of the first two paths will have to change their ways substantially or face the reality of failing themselves and their students.
The third path represents the most commonly used approach to technology today. Here the school takes technology as another item to be added to the educational system, yet no real change is anticipated. The school might have good leadership and might be willing to modify schedules and make substantial physical rearrangements in the facilities to accommodate the new equipment. More than likely, the school will include the new technology as an additional subject to be dealt with in essentially the same fashion as any other subject matter. However, educational issues are still dealt with from an administrator’s perspective. A computer lab might be added to complement the library. Some training for the teachers might be anticipated, but a computer lab attendant is hired while the teachers “catch up on the new technology.” In other words, a lot of things change but the original system essentially remains intact. Students gain more exposure to the new technology, but it does not substantially improve their educational experience. In some ways it makes the experience more chaotic, but due to students’ resilience, most will survive the experience. Some might even find humor in it.
I want to propose another model of embracing technology in the school. This is summarized by the fourth path a school might take. A school that wants to use technology to pro-actively improve the educational experience of all of its students begins by reviewing the educational experience provided by the current arrangement. A pivotal question for this quest is how central the students are to the various school processes performed in their name.
Consider the use and function of a library. In an effort to provide students with more access to books the school might create a central library as an example. A centralized place for books facilitates the borrowing and lending of books. It also simplifies the process of inventorying books, which in turn facilitates reporting losses and purchasing replacements. But in this arrangement the students are not the central concern. They are more like clients in a client-server relationship. They have to learn the specific procedures and penalties incurred from the violation of those procedures. Students also have to sort out additional issues like dealing with yet another administrator or employee and going to yet another place.
Let us now consider an approach in which the students are central. Books are placed at the students’ disposal in decentralized libraries in their classrooms. The procedures to access the books are minimized and might even be administered by the students themselves. Teachers help students organize things. Teachers are encouraged to attend book fairs and other book-related activities that result in providing them insight on how to use books best. The money is spent on actual books instead of on the administering of books (librarian, library building, etc.). Rather than learning procedures and penalties, the students are more likely to learn the content of the books plus some information system concepts, such as the storage and retrieval of information. All of these will heighten the students’ sense of ownership and foster a more intimate contact with books. Therefore, we can anticipate a better, more comprehensive educational experience as a result.
I propose that we apply this same concept to the use of technology in schools. The characteristics of such an approach include the following:
- A minimum of bureaucratic procedures.
- Students are in charge of whatever procedures there are.
- Money is spent on the technology itself (not on administering it).
- All students have equal and direct access to the technology.
- Money is spent on training teachers to master the educational uses of the technology.
- Teachers help students organize things (set up their own library).
- Teachers are a resource to the students (help them understand the texts, use the indices, etc.).
The following are some implications of this model for technology in the classroom.
Instruction. A sense of intimacy is achieved by the decentralized, classroom-based library model. Some research has shown that such intimate contact between the learner and the tools for learning (books, computers, rulers, microscopes, etc.) contributes significantly to the learning process (see for example Moll, et al., 1992). Schools should view technology, especially the computer, as a wonderful world for the student to explore. Daily activities can be devised that include the use of the technology, so the student continuously encounters unexplored territory in this potentially limitless field. Another implication of this philosophy is that computers should be in the classroom so students can use them whenever they need them.
Teachers. The role of teachers has been implied in the foregoing discussion. Teachers do not have to be computer experts. However, they do need to feel as comfortable with the computers as they are with books. No teacher has read every book in the school library. But if a student has doubts about whether some information can be found in a book, the teacher should be able to show the student how to use the various indices of that book, including the table of contents. Likewise, teachers should be familiar enough with computers to know the best place to perform certain operations, such as developing a document (word processor), performing math operations (spreadsheet), collecting systematic information (data base), communicating with other people (E-mail), or searching for information (Internet). Teachers should also know how to use the “help” feature of these subsystems to find out how to do the things they do not know how to do. If the teachers convey to the students the message: If we do not know how to do something, this is how one finds out, the students will quickly develop their own self-learning tools and will soon be initiating their own experiments and discoveries. This type of learning and discovery will add to the students’ and the teachers’ educational experience.
Administrators. Administrators should place the computers in the classrooms. This makes the task of resource allocation more difficult, especially when resources are scarce. But the reward gained by the students is substantial. Administrators should also provide for teachers’ training and re-training in the area of technology. Teachers should be encouraged to form their own working groups to review issues of hardware, software and organization for learning – any issues that have implications for their classroom activities.
Hardware. The preferred hardware should be the one that reflects current trends in technology. For example, it is clear now that the IBM-compatible personal computer (PC) represents the current trend in computers. Even large organizations are abandoning their mainframes in favor of PCs. Currently the Pentium PC is the computer of choice by most organizations. As far as memory (RAM) and hard disk space, the current standards are 16 megabytes and one gigabyte, respectively. New computers come with CD-ROM, an audio card and speakers that enable the execution of multimedia software. Make sure these are included with your computer.
Software. The operating system of choice today is Windows 95. Most computers come pre-loaded it with it. As far as application software is concerned, general purpose professional software should be preferred. Your software collection at a minimum should therefore include a version of the following application programs: word processing, spreadsheet, data base, communication (E-mail) and access to the Internet (browser) software. The concept is that the software should be a tool to simplify the performance of educational activities. (For more information on how to integrate software with classroom activities see Montes, 1996; and Yañez-Pérez, 1996.) Many computer manufacturers ship their computers with a version of each of these software programs. Additionally, specialty software (Magic School Bus, The Human Body, etc.) for exploration and specific activities can be added, especially if they are multimedia programs with substantial educational content.
In sum, to create a modern, technologically sound school, administrators must center their arrangements around the students. It is imperative that schools choose the path that provides all students with the richest educational experience and the fewest administrative complications. Schools should spend their money on acquiring the best technology possible and on training teachers to use the technology so they can create rich educational environments for their students.
Montes, Felix. “Content in Context: Technology That Makes Sense in Education,” IDRA Newsletter (San Antonio, Texas: Intercultural Development Research Association, June-July 1996), Vol. XXIII, No. 6.
Moll, Luis C. et al. “Funds of Knowledge for Teaching: Using a Qualitative Approach to Connect Homes and Classrooms.” Theory Into Practice (Spring 1992), Vol. 31, No. 1. pp. 132-41.
Yañez-Pérez, Aurora. “Technology, Teachers and early Childhood,” IDRA Newsletter (San Antonio, Texas: Intercultural Development Research Association, April 1996), Vol. XXIII, No. 4.
Dr. Felix Montes is a research associate in the IDRA Division of Research and Evaluation.
[©1997, IDRA. This article originally appeared in the May 1997 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.]