Q&A: The Connected Learning Community Technology Summit Envisions Education of the Future

REDMOND, Wash., Feb. 26, 2001 — This week in Seattle, The Connected Learning Community Technology Summit will bring together 700 K-12 education and industry leaders for three days of in-depth discussion about how the use of technology improves student learning, creates more agile schools and increases parent and community involvement in education. Increasing student access to technology, expanding professional development opportunities for teachers, enabling parental involvement and driving school improvement are some of the issues being considered at the Summit.

Each day will begin with a keynote presentation from an education leader. Dr. Arthur Levine, president and professor of education at Teachers College, Columbia University, and Dr. Rudy Crew, executive director of the Institute for K-12 Leadership, University of Washington, will open the Summit today. On Wednesday, Bill Gates, Microsoft chairman and chief software architect, will conclude the Summit with his vision for technology in education.

Attendees will participate in breakout sessions and intensive hands-on labs that demonstrate how technology in education empowers students, teachers and administrators, and will have the opportunity to learn from their peers as educators and professionals in the IT industry share their best practices for building Connected Learning Communities. Compaq, Dell, Gateway, Hewlett-Packard and Toshiba are sponsors of the Summit, and partners in helping schools build Connected Learning Communities.

PressPass and two leading education editors, Bernard Percy, editor-in-chief of Converge magazine, and Amy Poftak, senior editor at Technology & Learning magazine, participated in a discussion with Dr. Levine and Dr. Crew, to discuss their experiences, the importance of technology in the classroom and what the education landscape may resemble in the future.

Question: Have you always been interested in technology?

Levine: Absolutely not. I remember when I was in graduate school filling out punch cards and saying,
“I absolutely hate this. I never want to see one of these machines again.”
When I came to [Columbia University] Teacher’s College seven years ago, I wasn’t even using email. It just seemed too foreign and impersonal. What it really took in my case was this — the office of computer information systems came to me and walked me through it and showed me how it was useful. And then the ability of technology and what it could do for education became increasingly clear to me.

Crew: I have always had an interest in “transformative” moments in education. There have been several. And most of them have — at least in terms of technology — passed public education by. I dont think, for example, that during the era when television first appeared that anything dramatic happened to change the way public schools did their work; or, not every classroom in America has a telephone. So, the question about this particular transformation, this particular moment, is that were now at the point of saying weve missed just about every other technological era or innovation that could have influenced some of our work anyway. And we cant miss this one now. You really, really, really cant miss this. So, throughout my entire administrative career, Ive paid attention to where this ball is bouncing, where is this one going, and how it will affect the current divide in those who have and those who do not. Will it actually decrease that divide? And if so, how would I influence that?

I could see a very different sort of thing going on in terms of the use of technology in urban schools versus suburban communities, for example. And I said, “I dont want to see this new currency, this new intellectual powerhouse, used to further the gap that divides us.” Id rather see it be used for kids and the adults teaching them to decrease that gap.

So its a means to an end. I dont view this as an end unto itself. This is not about just simply wanting everybody to have a laptop or to have access to the Internet just for the sake of it. Its about actually improving the quality of their lives and preparing them for a world that will very naturally use this medium. And the medium will change so fast, and is changing so fast, that if they dont begin to get into the learning curve around it, then they are forever off. So that has been the basis of my interest.

Question: What is the biggest barrier to the effectiveness of technology in schools? What conditions need to be in place for technology to actually live up to the potential that we’re assigning it?

Levine: I think there are several. One is greater knowledge by teachers and school people of technology and its capacity. Another is finances — the ability to coordinate technologies. And the third is further development of technologies. We have a whole host of activities that are fairly primitive at the moment in terms of the Internet and some kinds of software that are developing.

We’re going to learn more and more about how our students learn, given the kinds of research that’s occurring in cognitive areas. And the result for us is going to be a greater understanding of the individual as learner, rather than the group as learner, and that’s going to lead to an increasing individualization of education, in which that education will have to be rooted in new technologies. It will have to be rooted in software designed to work with the individual student.

Crew: First of all, there really has to be a belief, a vision, a philosophy, that understands how technology adds value to human life. Not necessarily just how it adds value to the learning process, but how does it add value to peoples lives such that it is a permanent condition within their lives? Secondly, they have to actually agree, consciously and explicitly agree, to put that into practice in how we teach children, and in how we teach adults, and in how we build community. Third, we need to have an infrastructure that can support people in their learning about the multiple uses of technology. Teachers are trying desperately to figure this out, but theres frankly not as much help out there as I believe there should be.

There clearly has to be some leadership, and some are taking some of the risk of creating models of technology use in their own schools and in their own school districts, to this end — stepping off of conventional wisdom and actually beginning to fly with a sense of artistry about how technology can weave its way into the fabric of learning. Its a really, really, really different configuration of thinking, and some of the pitfalls that go with that are that people are really risk-averse.

Question: Have you met with resistance from education administrators?

Levine: Sure. Administrators today are under siege. They’re being told that schools need to improve and they’re being given a panacea a day for how that should be done and a plethora of potential solutions to the ills that face them.

So they’re looking at standards, they’re looking at testing, they’re looking at new curriculum designs, they’re looking at professional development for teachers. They are looking at a world that is constantly in flux, and every day a new organization comes forth and announces a new area of concern — whether it’s adding Asia to the curriculum, a particular method of improving reading, or technology.

With all of this happening, the administrators are witnessing on one hand a sense of “overwhelmingness” in terms of all things coming at them and how quickly their world is changing. And what they’re also facing is a world in which there are too many decisions to be made and too many choices available, and technology is only one of them.

Crew: Ive met people who essentially are just non-believers. They dont believe that this offers anything new or different for them or for their children. Ive met people who are resistant purely because it means new learning for them. It means very different behaviors than the ones theyve gotten very accustomed to. Even just the idea of managing the school is now a very different proposition using technology than it was 20 years ago. Or even for that matter, five years ago — let alone managing curriculum and data and achievement gaps and so on and so forth.

I think the vast majority of people in leadership roles are greeting this with a sense of trepidation. That is to say, “I buy the proposition that it can add value to life, but I have not seen the environment adopt a new strategy and either stay with it long enough to actually make it work or make the necessary investments to be supportive of this new learning of the adults and so forth, over the long haul.”

The work that were all in right now is the work of building strategy and skills, and the Institute for K-12 Leadership is about strategy and skills. And the fear that I think people bring to this work and one of the reasons that this gap has been so annoyingly stubborn, is that we actually dont have a specific set of strategies and skills that we automatically know to do in order to be able to decrease the gap. The real trepidation is not so much about technology itself, although that brings its own measure of trepidation. I think the real issue is the professional development, the longer-term commitment.

Question: What are the kind of things can we do to overcome those fears?

Levine: Change gets adopted only under three conditions: one is that it’s compatible with existing values and beliefs, consistent with the skills and knowledge that we have; second, that it’s profitable, that there’s something in it for me and the organization in which I’m involved; and third, it should be “tryable” — which is to say, I don’t have to throw out everything I’m doing in order to begin to think about the item that you’re talking about. If you can make this compatible with my beliefs, and profitable, I or any other administrator is more likely to try it, then subsequently adopt it.

Crew: Well, there are several. One is that I think you actually set a non-negotiable belief system in place. “We are going to do this.” And you dont allow people to defect from the vision of it, but you do allow them to articulate what they dont know about it. Secondly, you actually have to put in place some level of structure to help people with their anxiety about it. Thirdly, you actually have to avoid the false starts, the false commitments, the things that happen when people are starting off anew and you say “Oh, but now weve got something new. Well try that. Oh, its not Wednesday, well try something else,

and so on and so forth. It can’t be episodic. Its got to be permanent. Its got to be ingrained in the day-to-day. And people actually have to understand that theres a commitment, and its a non-negotiable commitment, to putting this into the day-to-day lives of people who are entrusted with teaching children.

Success can come in the form of just emailing everybody. Just holding a conference call with people who have heretofore in their professional lives never been on a conference call before. Success can look like actually having a summer institute in which people actually get a laptop computer to match the one that their kids are using, and they actually now know as much, if not more, than what the kids know from the previous year. So, they feel like theyre competent in doing the role that they have been assigned to do.

Question: What kind of training do you think administrators need in order to provide schools with the kind of technology education that will benefit students?

Levine: There are a couple of different kinds of education that will be valuable. One is an understanding of why you think it will be useful for us to bring this new stuff into what we’ve been doing for hundreds and hundreds of years. That needs to be a compelling case.

Beyond making the case compelling, I think what’s also going to be necessary is an understanding of how to use this technology and a greater sense of confidence about performing and operating it, which is low among many administrators today.

Part of the future is going to be the ability to use technology as a supplement and an alternative to the existing curriculum, as opposed to simply an intrusion. All of those things are going to be essential if administrators are going to make greater use of technology.

Crew: There’s a difference between how children are taught and how children acquire their knowledge and how adults are taught and how they acquire their knowledge. I mean, the enemy here, in my mind, is this distressingly wide gulf between those who get access to this and those who do not. And so, one of the skills that I think principals and superintendents and teachers and leadership will need is a way of being able to frame this as a performance issue. Its not just about using a piece of technology or about replacing blackboards with PowerPoint. Its not that simple. It is about how schools will completely redefine and redesign the ways by which learning is organized. And so, one skill is to actually reframe the discussion — really completely change this discussion.

A second skill is that they actually have to know something about teaching and learning. There is a relationship between leadership and learning. You know, there are lots of people who sort of think that the work of leadership is just making sure the cafeteria food is hot, making sure the buses roll on time and the like. When in point of fact, it really has to do with the business of how learning is done in this environment called “school,” and how technology will be a very ardent strident supporter of that, to the extent that theres knowledge in a leader about how to structure that relationship.

And a third discipline is that people have to actually have some way of being able to attend to the issues of race and class and gender. And when I say “attend” to them, I mean be explicitly focused about how those issues have caused the current bifurcation we now have. How can technology assist us in decreasing that gap?

Question: Along those same lines, then, what are some of the things that you hope technology will be able to do in the future? What’s your wish list?

Levine: I know what I want. I know what I desperately want. I see the educational system that we have today as an anachronism. It’s a product of the industrial era. All students in age-marked groups of 30 move along, attending school for predetermined periods of time. And upon the completion of enough time, they earn a diploma. It really looks like an assembly line.

What we’re finding is that throughout the rest of American society, we’re living in the age of increasing individualization. You don’t go to your doctor’s office and have him look at you and say, “Okay, so you’re 50; I’m going to treat your eyes, because you’re probably having trouble seeing distance now. We’re going to do something about your memory, which must be a problem. And I’ll bet you’re having back problems.” You say, “No, I came in for a cold.” The doctor says, “No, no. We’re not going to do that. We’re going to do what we do with all 50-year-olds.” This exactly what we do in schools. My hope is that new technology is going to make possible the same kind of individualization of care and learning.

Wouldn’t it be great if the role of a teacher changed, and instead of having this person at the front of the room who had the job of teaching all the students sitting in the classroom, the person at the front of the room was the equivalent of a doctor, and what that person did was look at each of the students, look at and analyze each student’s condition and what the student did and how the student learned. That kind of education, that individualization is impossible without technologies to make it happen. You can’t do that with one person at the front of the room. You can’t provide that kind of individual instruction.

More than that, what that will allow us to do is to have students advance according to their skills in each subject area. It will allow us to give each student the best education we can possibly give. And then think about the teacher. The way professional development looks right now is, you get in your car if you live in the suburbs. You drive to some school, you look around for a parking spot. You walk into class, give two hours of instruction, maybe an hour and a half, maybe three hours. You come back on Thursday or you come back a week from now and you do the same thing. What could happen if we could actually do that from home, to their homes, or students could learn with a series of peers who face the same kinds of issues, or we could do it on vacation or in the car or on the train or in a hotel room?

What kind of education could we create that is individually tailored for each teacher and maybe each school, in terms of the kind of professional development we need to improve the lives of the kids who work in that school or who learn in that school? None of this is possible without new technologies.

Crew: Ive got a pretty long wish list, so Ill cut it down for you. One of them is that I honestly think technology has got to be able to bring a sense of equity to the proposition of learning. Equity in terms of the distribution of opportunities. Equity in terms of the vision of whats possible for children. Its fascinating to me to think about kids, particularly in poor areas, who have never been outside their own community and never even thought about going to college outside their community, who can now go online and go through a college tour online. They actually can go someplace. They can see a vision of themselves on a campus that they wouldnt have before. So one wish is that there is that kind of equity that is brought to the prospects of teaching and learning while using technology.

A second thing on the wish list for me is that there will be an opportunity provided for teachers and principals to simply have a set of skills and tools available to them that enormously will change how they do their work. How teaching is done actually looks like the way it was done at the turn of the last century. How schools are organized essentially looks almost the same in many cases as they did in the pre-war era. And we now know if were going to close the achievement gap or if youre going to leave no child behind, as the rhetoric says, that were going to have to organize schools and learning differently. Were going to have to re-think how we teach and what methods we use to add value to childrens lives. And technology offers a window through which many children now have access to a set of strategies or skills they didn’t before, just by virtue of simply having technology that can support the development of those skills, support access to opportunities and occupational pursuits.

And the third one has to do with occupational adequacy, actually. I think that there are standards that are being talked about nationally that are pretty compelling. Theyre academic standards on reading, math and science and so forth. And I think that they have really been articulated and have been made clear to people. And theres even some agreement as to what they should be grade level to grade level. I think that technology actually adds to this business of occupational adequacy in ways that we havent even begun to really think about or completely analyze yet. But Im drawn to the notion that beyond academic proficiency and adequacy, there is this notion of being occupationally literate and adequate. Theres also a sense of civic adequacy that I think technology is going to greatly enhance by giving kids an opportunity to see history in ways that are rich and dynamic and really powerful, and then enable them to take the journey from history to present, and then begin to forecast and project themselves into the future.

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