Leveraging Technology to Transform Our Schools: The Future Holds Some Exciting Prospects for the Thoughtful and Selective Application of Technology to Help Our Students Meet the Challenges of the 21st Century

Article excerpt

"Marley was dead: to begin with." So begins "A Christmas Carol," Charles Dickens's classic parable in which fearsome visits from the ghosts of Christmas past, present and future convince Scrooge to modify his miserly ways. Technology, on the other hand, is very much alive and with us. We believe its thoughtful and selective application is critical if our schools are to meet the challenges of the 21st century. Borrowing Mr. Dickens's conceit, we take you on a quick tour of "Technology that works--past, present and future."

Technology past

Our visit to the past begins in 1998 when, at the direction of Congress, the U.S. Department of Education convened a panel of experts with the charge to identify exemplary and promising educational technology programs. The panel met several times over 20 months. It sought input and advice from many quarters. The panel deliberated and finally settled on six criteria for what constituted an "exemplary" ed-tech program:

* addresses significant educational issues and identifies goals and a design supported by research;

* improves pre K-12 learning;

* contributes to educational excellence for all;

* promotes organizational change;

* makes possible educational gains that cannot be achieved without the use of technology; and

* serves as a model for other educational institutions because it is sustainable, adaptable and scalable.

Based on these criteria, the panel cited two programs as exemplary. One was the Challenge 2000 Multimedia Project, based on the use of technology created in California's Silicon Valley. This program infused classrooms with models of project-based learning centered on the production of multimedia communication projects such as Web sites, slide shows and videos.

Students learned core content through collaborative group work to design and create multimedia products in their language arts, foreign language, science, math and elective classes.

Evaluation of this program found that the longer teachers were involved in Challenge 2000, the more likely they were to involve their students in sustained inquiry, long-term projects and collaborative work. Also, students in the project outperformed their peers in key communication skills such as appropriate content, design and attention to audience.

The other exemplary program identified by the expert panel was Generation www.Y--now known as GenYES. First implemented in upper grades and high school, GenYES provided special training to one teacher in a school, who then trained students in computing and telecommunications skills as well as providing students with coaching on communication and collaboration with teachers, project planning and management, and effective presentation skills.

Ultimately, these students each partnered with another teacher in the school to help redesign curriculum to integrate new technology. In the process, students became "agents of change." GenYES continues today and now offers three variations of its original program, one of which focuses solely on science education.

We have kept the expert panel's criteria in mind as we have thought about how technology is being applied in education currently and in the future. We do not pretend to be its successor, but we do have some definite ideas about what we believe is "working" in technology presently and about what we see on the horizon.

Technology present

Dramatic and powerful changes have occurred in the past decade that influence how we think of effective technology use today. Political changes, such as the implementation of NCLB, have focused our efforts on strategies and programs that we hope will improve students' ability to demonstrate achievement on multiple choice tests. This shift has, in many ways, narrowed our curricular focus such that personalized, open-ended, project-based, multidisciplinary efforts have fallen out of favor. …