Building High-Tech Schools

Article excerpt

Hello. I have been asked by the editors to write a monthly column on computers and technology. The instructions were clear: give concrete advice that is useful. I think I can handle that. I was also instructed to introduce myself to Kappan readers in the very first column and to say why I'm qualified to be writing about technology. I find this second charge, much harder. Writing about myself just seems so egotistical. But since you are no doubt curious about who I am and why I am writing this column, I will give it a try.

In the late Seventies I happened to read a short news article on Apple Computer, Inc. After a scant three years in existence, Apple had gone public on some stock exchange or other, and the fledgling microcomputer manufacturer was experiencing explosive growth. I reasoned that, since the microcomputer movement was growing so fast, I should know something about it.[1] Subsequently, I designed a university course that I titled "Computers in Education" and have now taught more than 50 times since 1980.

After working with microcomputers for a few years, I began to realize that many other new technologies demanded attention: videodiscs, CD-ROM players, camcorders, video digitizers, image scanners, and so on. Computers are only one of the important new technologies, and computers are a lot more useful if they have the right peripherals.

Between 1986 and 1990 1 wrote Advanced Technology in Education, a textbook for a university course that I called "Computers in Education II: Advanced Technology."[2] (The second edition should be available in early 1995.) Then in 1988 I designed a third technology course that I called "Computers in Education III: Instructional Design for Multimedia." This advanced graduate course makes use of an excellent -- but tough to read -- text, Instructional Design: Implications from Cognitive Science.[3] If you are tired of old-fashioned instructional design that amounts to little more than frame-by-frame programmed instruction, you will appreciate this text. I heartily recommend it.

What I do these days in addition to teaching is to build high-tech schools. Let me explain. The first high-tech school I helped build was Webster Elementary School in St. Augustine, Florida -- one of five model technology schools in the state. I spent three years at Webster and learned more than I will ever be able to tell. Roger Coffee, the principal at Webster, is fond of saying, "The trick to building a high-tech school is simple: train, train, train. And when you are done with that, train some more." In the first three years of the Webster project, more than $250,000 was spent on training a faculty of 60. Incidentally, the Gardner Group has estimated that, after five years, the cost of hardware is about 18% of the real cost of installing a computer; the costs of training, upgrades, maintenance, and repair account for the other 82%.[4] It is ironic that schools and universities, whose business is teaching, usually fail to recognize that ordering hardware is the easy part; training people to use it is the hard -- and expensive -- part.

After my stint at Webster, I spent several years helping to build two other high-tech high schools in Florida, Fernandina Beach High School (three years) and Trenton High School (one year). Most recently, I have put in my first year on helping to build a high-tech elementary school in Hilliard, a small rural town in northeastern Florida. When the new school plant is complete in fall 1995, every classroom will have four student workstations and one teacher workstation, and all will be networked by high-speed fiber optic cable. Six months ago, such a design was prohibitively expensive. Today, using fiber optic cable to network every desktop computer in a school involves only a 15% to 30% premium over using copper wire. (This figure assumes new construction, not retrofitting a network into an existing building.) The times they are a-quickly-changing! …