Creating a Node of Cultural Exchange: A Strategic Route to Use Educational Technology to Support Student Learning
Fletcher, David C., Education
Urban educators can quickly become overwhelmed as they consider how best to integrate educational technology into classroom instruction to support student learning and achievement. While centralized initiatives have led to the installation of infrastructure, hardware and software, strategic planning has lagged behind. Planning that allows for the professional development of teachers so that they may make informed use of these installations remains fragmented and piecemeal at best. Superintendents and principals are struggling with their own issues. Shareholders such as administrators, teachers, parents, vendors, technicians, and even school custodians fight over territory. Too often the person who holds a room key or the person keeping a server password determines who in the end will have access to needed resources. Unfortunately, such poor planning guarantees that students are the losers and will remain in the hinterland of technological innovations and progress. To guarantee access and equity for urban students, we must always take seriously the role of human agency and take responsibility for making informed decisions, including our redefining leadership to include shareholders (teachers, administrators, students, parents, community members) representing multiple perspectives.
Is the journey worth the effort? Sandholtz, Ringstaff, and Dwyer (1997) and others (Fosnot, 1996; Jonassen, 2000; Kahn and Friedman, 1998; McKenzie, 2000; Perkins, 1992) have documented the academic and social advancements students can make as they participate engage in technology-supported curriculum, including: developing higher order thinking competencies they can later transfer across learning problems; learning the processes of decision making and problem solving while they simultaneously master academic content; and, solving increasingly complex problems across the content areas.
Redefining Human Agency and Leadership
Bromley (1998) describes educators who view technology as being able to solve all problems and those who think technology is to be avoided. Both fail to understand the role of human agency:
They attribute too much to the technology itself, treating it as an implacable external force that autonomously drives the rest of society in one direction or another, and not enough to the social context of its use. Such technological determinism ascribes agency to technology rather than to people; it naturalizes technological change, implying inevitability and cloaking the social processes actually accountable for the path taken. The result can be a public sense of resigned acceptance, and a (learned) helplessness in the face of technological change, unless we shift our focus from the technology per se to the surrounding culture (p. 3).
For the majority of schools, restructuring of that culture by school and community members usually requires redefining the meaning of leadership and the assumed meanings of human agency. Lambert, Walker, Zimmerman, Cooper, Gardner, and Slack (1995) redefine leadership, not as traditionally understood as the actions undertaken by an individual, but "as essentially the enabling reciprocal processes among people, [so that] leadership becomes manifest within the relationships in a community, manifest in the spaces, the fields among participants, rather than in a set of behaviors performed by an individual leader" (p. 33). Furthermore, these authors argue:
Leadership is viewed as a reciprocal process among the adults in the school. Purposes and goals develop from among the participants, based upon values, beliefs, and individual and shared experiences. The school functions as a community that is self-motivating and that views the growth of its members as fundamental. There is an emphasis on language as a means for shaping the school culture, conveying commonality of experience, and articulating a joint vision. …