Academic journal article T H E Journal (Technological Horizons In Education)

A Grassroots Approach to Educational Partnerships

Academic journal article T H E Journal (Technological Horizons In Education)

A Grassroots Approach to Educational Partnerships

Article excerpt

Partnerships have revitalized large segments of American education in the past decade or two. Government, industry, institutions of higher education, libraries, cultural institutions and school districts have joined forces to accomplish dramatic changes for education in a world in which sustaining our way of life requires an educated workforce. Furthermore, in an age of massive social realignments, increasing costs and shortages of appropriate talent, the notion of the stand-alone public school system has become untenable. Increasingly, telecommunications and other computer-enabled new media, such as the Internet, break down walls of isolation to allow both national and global partnerships for improvement.

However, the program described here takes a different approach to the notion of partnerships. The Rose-Hulman Institute of Technology, a private college in Terre Haute, Ind., offers degrees in science, mathematics and engineering to about 1,600 undergraduates. Thanks to funding from the Lilly Endowment in early 1999, Rose-Hulman established a partnership with the six middle schools from the Vigo County School Corp. (VCSC). The program, Enabling Academic Excellence Through Computer-Mediated Learning, has as its goal to increase middle school childrens' competencies in science, mathematics and pre-engineering by using advanced instructional technologies as enablers for active, inquiry-based learning.

Today, educational partnerships are many and varied. In 1995, over 2,300 such programs were in existence (Wilbur and Lambert 1995). That number may well have trebled in the intervening years. We derive both our concept and our enactment from Ernest Boyer (1981) who defines a partnership as moving beyond organizational collaboration. Essentially, in Boyer's rhetoric, a viable partnership has reached a level of symbiosis characterized by five basic principles:

* Agreement on common problems;

* Breaking down of the traditional academic pecking order;

* Commitment to a sharp project focus;

* Recognition and rewards for all participants; and

* Leadership that values actions over bureaucratic regulations.

We think that such features flourish best in close collaboratives between individuals or among small groups. Thus, over the course of three years, we elected to support 18 grassroots liaisons with the idea that the bottom-up influence of these innovating cadres would mediate the integration of advanced technologies not only into their own classrooms, but also into their broader institution.

Teachers and Technology

Emerging instructional technologies are enticing, but middle schools face two major hurdles: building a systemic infrastructure to provide access for all, and reinvesting in human potential in the form of teacher training for technical skills and pedagogical renewal. Thus, we used a two-pronged approach that mirrored these major concerns in working with our six local middle schools. First, we improved and equalized access to advanced technologies by purchasing hardware and software, and helping to build the information technology base. At the end of our three year grant, we will have transitioned approximately $500,000 in computer-related equipment into the middle schools.

However, merely providing hardware and software does not ensure that either is used effectively. Education cannot make the same mistake that business did in the 1990s of focusing on purchasing equipment while disregarding the human element (Strassmann 1997). Betty Collis (1996), a leading researcher in instructional technology for educational change, convincingly argues that the teacher is the key to "the eventual success or lack of success of any computers-in-education initiative." Thus, all components of the program concentrate on helping teachers to see computers as powerful devices for expanding their own dynamic presence in the classroom.

Our notion of how to help was shaped by a daylong conclave held on the Rose-Hulman campus during the summer of 1998. …

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