Magazine article Technology & Learning

A Clear Vision and a Five-Percent Commitment: If You Want to Guarantee School Improvement, Just Focus on These Two Issues

Magazine article Technology & Learning

A Clear Vision and a Five-Percent Commitment: If You Want to Guarantee School Improvement, Just Focus on These Two Issues

Article excerpt

School improvement is high on the national agenda, and I while there is some disagreement about just what should be done to make schools better, the consensus is that computers and related technologies are critically important to building and maintaining a strong education system.

But how? In the first 15 years of the personal computer, the impact of technology on educational practice has been minimal. Despite the success of magnet schools, model programs, and demonstration projects in which technology has had a significant impact on teaching and learning, most of the methods and materials used in the classroom remain much the same as they were before the advent of the personal computer. Little has been transferred.

While this situation points to the inertia in our educational system, it isn't a doomsday report. Technological developments, in combination with advances in cognitive science, have put us in a better position than ever before to turn potential into reality. The computer-based tools needed to support substantive school reform are now widely available at affordable prices. And closing the gap between what we know about teaching and learning, and what we do in the classroom, is not that difficult. It's simply a matter of of clarrifying our vision, and 2) adjusting our approach to funding.

Clarifying the Vision

Developing a vision for how computers and related technologies should be acquired and used in the classroom is really an exercise in strategic planning. It can't be done successfully in isolation by a few central-office administrators, and it can't be done successfully as a separate component of schooling. It must be directly connected to the educational aims of the school district, and it needs community-wide support and ownership. Moreover, if it is to serve as a plan for action, it is probably best expressed in terms of educational outcomes for students.

We're trying this in my district, and so far, the results have been impressive. Last year we formed a community-wide committee (co-chaired by the superintendent of schools and the publisher of the local newspaper) to take a serious, action-oriented look at the district's stated student goals. The final product of these efforts is a set of five student goals that embodies a shared vision for the educational opportunities the district should provide to each of its students. One student goal in particular--acquisition of knowledge--forms a strong philosophical basis for the acquisition and use of technology in the classroom. The introductory paragraph to this goal reads as follows:

Acquiring knowledge leads to a fuller realization of individual potential and contributes to responsible citizenship. Knowledge acquisition,'however, is not a static experience in which the learner merely absorbs information. It is, rather, a dynamic and interactive process in which the learner seeks, discovers, and applies learning in real world, problem-solving situations. In addition, the process of knowledge acquisition should be authentic, challenging, and rich in academic substance. It should be interdisciplinary in focus, with broad opportunities for student inquiry and creative expression. Finally, it should be widely recognized that both the product and the process of knowledge acquisition are important educational outcomes for students.

Even without the specific goal statements that we subsequently added, this introductory paragraph provides a clear description of the community's values with regard to student learning, and it provides both incentive and direction for the widespread use of computers and related technologies in the classroom. …

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