Educational Technology, a Moral Imperative

By Shields, Jean | Technology & Learning, April 1998 | Go to article overview

Educational Technology, a Moral Imperative


Shields, Jean, Technology & Learning


How do you implement technology and guide the progress of a million students? That's the challenge chancellor of schools Rudy Crew faces in New York City. He shared his insights with T&L in a recent interview.

T&L: Let's start with some background -- what drew you to education in the first place; what was your attraction?

RC: I worked in the early days of desegregtion, as a college student, in a small private school outside of Boston where kids from the inner city were brought. These kids got what amounted to an exclusive, private school education. I remember thinking, why can't their school in Boston be this good? Why do they have to come, 10, almost 20 miles to get a good education? And I kept thinking about that, and kept working with kids, and kept enjoying it and the next thing I knew I converted a business major to an education major. after I got out of undergraduate school.

T&L: Can you give me an overview of technology in the schools here, and the planning process you went through?

RC: The initial look at the system as a whole was that it was, at least in terms of technology, the best of times and the worst of times. We have tried to step back from that and create both a dialogue and ultimately a plan of action predicated on two things. One: what skills will our children need" And then secondly, how should those skills be augmented and supported by technology?

A subset of issues around that is, how do you then, as a system, provide the professional development, provide for an efficient yet flexible way of deciding matters of hardware, software, and the like? Much of our technology plan was oriented at providing that structure because without it, you had this more random, hit-or-miss situation. It was as though some kids were going to walk with skill and adeptness in technology into the 21st century, and others would walk into it without having a clue. We said that's a totally inefficient and ineffective way of manifesting our belief that all these children not only can do this but should be able to, and be able to acquire their own education through the use of technology.

The stumbling blocks along the way were many and still remain. We have a facilities issue -- older buildings that don't easily accommodate the infrastructural adaptations that need to be made. And there is the issue of money, and how to enlist not just one s own resources, but collectively the resources of the larger community -- government as well as business and philanthropic interests -- to fund a multi-year $2.1 billion enterprise. There is the issue of integrating technology into instruction.

Many said technology is to simply facilitate teaching. Or to have more clear management purposes, data gathering and so on. Then there are others who argue, no, technology is a means to an end and the end is learning.

And what we've said is, you know what, they're all right. The question becomes then, how do you apply, with some measure of priority and pressure, the value of technology to a myriad of issues on the educational landscape, the most prominent of which is learning? And that's really what our work has been about. It is not restricted to just the instructional conversation, albeit that's for me at least the centerpiece of it. But it goes into business uses, into data gathering, data analysis. And also using, technology to review and inform a variety of publics -- our principals, our superintendents, our teachers -- about how to look at student data in a variety of ways.

T&L: How does technology impact your leadership role?

RC: Where I came from in Tacoma. I had a PC and could access basically all the data in the system. School by school, and almost by the time I had left, classroom by classroom. I came here and there wasn't anything, basically. We're working to change that; we've made connectivity a priority so that everyone could be in touch and share information. …

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