Technology and Rural Education: A Talk with WestEd's Harvey Barnett

Article excerpt

Harvey Barnett served as principal and director of technology in Silicon Valley's Cupertino School District, and currently is a senior research associate in the Technology in Education group at WestEd, the regional education laboratory for Arizona, California, Nevada and Utah. He talked with T&L about his experience with technology and education in rural areas.

Q What are some challenges unique to rural schools?

A In many ways, rural schools are no different from urban schools. The same issues around poverty, race, and state infrastructure exist.

I think it's a myth that rural schools are not as well served. They're supported by a regional entity that takes care of technology planning and implementation and staff development--so oftentimes they receive more help than larger, urban schools. There are some disadvantages: rural school staff may not attend as many workshops because of distance, and a staff developer may not get down from the regional office as often. Human resources are stretched thinner when you have fewer staff to cover all areas of the instructional program.

However, it's a case of the glass being half full or half empty. There are major advantages to being small. For example, when I visited Blue Earth, Minnesota, the town library and the schools were connected on the same network, something it took us years to do in Cupertino.

Q What other ways do you see technology being used?

A Anything you can imagine, it's in rural schools. With wireless communications and microwave towers, schools have access to the Internet and television. E-mail has become the universal leveler, allowing rural schools to connect to the outside world. In fact, the reason why rural schools are so ahead in distance communication is that they recognize that isolation is an issue, and they know that they often will have to go outside the area for expertise.

There is a reliance on creative solutions. For instance, some areas form "cybercorps" of kids to help with technology training. Because of the multiage environment and small size, you also see a lot of interesting project-based learning with technology.

Q What do you think is the best use of Technology in rural education?

A The highest level use is when a student uses technology as a tool to collect data, organize the information in some different way, and then publish it. …