Moursund's IT in Education Home Page

Editorials

Volume 28 2000-2001 Editorial (with Retrospective Comments)

Reprinted with permission from Learning and Leading with Technology (c) 2000-2001, ISTE (the International Society for Technology in Education. 800.336.5191 (U.S. & Canada) or 541.302.3777, cust_svc@iste.org, http://www.iste.org/. Reprint permission does not constitute an endorsement by ISTE of the product, training, or course.

1. August-Sept 1990

Letter to Students

2. October 1990

Letter to Parents

3. November 1990

Letter to Teachers

4. Dec-Jan 1990/91

Letter to Curriculum Coordinators

5. February 1991

Letter to School Administrators

6. March 1991

Letter to Teacher Educators

7. April 1991

Letter to Business People

8. May 1991

Letter to Government Officials

December 2004 Retrospective Comments

Letter to Students

Moursund, D.G. (1990). Letter to students. Learning and Leading with Technology. ISTE.

Dear Student:

This letter is about computers and your education. Let me begin by asking you a question. Why do we have schools? Think of some answers before you go on to the next paragraph.

One answer is that schools help you learn things that will help you function as an adult in society. Schools teach reading, writing, arithmetic, speaking, listening, learning to learn, and working with other people because these are important skills for adults. They were important to your grandparents and will be important to your grandchildren.

However, things are changing very fast in our world. The teaching materials and methods in schools are slow to change. So are the testing system and requirements. Teachers and school administrators are slow to change. For these and other reasons, schools aren’t doing as good a job as most people would like. A different way of putting it is that you are getting cheated! Unless you are in a very special school, the chances are that you aren’t getting nearly as good an education as you could be getting.

This letter focuses on just one part of your education—computer-related technology. The main reason our world is changing so fast is technology, and computers are an important part of that technology. Technology has produced airplanes, television, Nintendos, and life-saving medicines, as well as environmental problems and weapons of war that threaten our very existence.

Suppose that people were going to build a house with a deep basement. One way to dig the hole would be with hand tools like shovels and buckets. Another way would be to use heavy equipment like trucks and backhoes as powerful aids to the human body. You can think of reading, writing, and arithmetic as hand tools to aid in storing and processing information. Computers are power tools for the same purpose. There are many problem-solving and work situations in which a person who has access to a computer and knows how to use it has a massive advantage over people who don’t.

Twenty-five years ago computers were quite rare and expensive. Now they are much less expensive, much more powerful, and commonly available. They are routine, everyday tools for millions of adults. Our schools have not done well in adjusting to this change.

In most schools, computers are still rare. (Do you have one to use whenever you want, both at school and at home?) Most teachers do not know how to use computers to solve the types of problems they are teaching you to solve. Even the most modern textbooks focus almost entirely on less powerful aids to storing and processing information. Most testing situations do not allow use of computers.

The result is that you are not learning to use computers as an aid to solving problems. This part of your education is not preparing you for adult citizenship in our society. There are a number of things you can do about it:

  1. For each topic that comes up in a class, ask your teachers to explain the uses and limitations of computers in that topic area. If adults use computers in that area, ask why you are not being taught how to do the same.
  2. Ask your parents and other adults how they see computers being used on jobs. Ask them to ask school officials why the schools aren’t teaching you more about computers.
  3. Learn to use a computer yourself. The chances are that your school has some computers, and you may have access to computers in other places. Make it into a routine, everyday, personal tool.

You are responsible for your own education. You know that computers exist and are a powerful aid to the human mind. You know that you are capable of learning to use this tool. You can make the decision to do so, and carry it out.

I would like to hear from you on your thoughts about learning to use computers and making everyday use of them in school. Please write.

Sincerely yours,

Letter to Parents

Moursund, D.G. (1990). Letter to parents. Learning and Leading with Technology. ISTE

Dear Parent:

Probably you have seen television reports or read articles that say our schools aren’t doing too well. These reports are correct. Our children aren’t getting nearly as good an education as we would like. This is especially true when it comes to learning how to use computers.

When I was a student, we didn’t have computers in my grade school or high school. The computers that existed in those days were big, expensive, and hard to use. This was also probably true when you were in school.

Today, computers are much better and cheaper, and are readily available. Millions of people have computers on their desks at work and/or for use at home. It is hard for an adult to keep up with such rapid change. In many ways, it is much easier for children. They don’t have to unlearn old ways of doing things in order to learn the new things.

Still, the chances are that your children are not learning much about computers in schools. “Not true,” you say. “I know that my kids have used a computer.” The trouble is, they aren’t learning creative uses of computers as an aid to solving problems in all subjects. They aren’t learning to make routine use of computers as an aid to their minds.

Let me ask you a hard question. Why do we consider reading, writing, and arithmetic to be the “basics” of education? Think about some answers before you read the next paragraph.

Reading, writing, and arithmetic are the basics of education because they are aids to the human mind. They help the human mind to store and process information, and to solve hard problems. Now a new mind tool—the computer— has been invented. It is an important addition to reading, writing, and arithmetic. Most of our schools, however, are doing a very poor job of helping students learn to use this new tool. It is easy to see why. Most teachers are like you and me—they did not learn to use computers while they were in school. Few textbooks assume that students have good access to computers. Most tests do not allow students to use computers, and indeed, few students have computers to use.

Think about the last sentence for a minute. You would be very unhappy if your children did not have easy access to pencil and paper throughout the school day and as they did homework at night. For millions of adults, the computer is now equally important. They would not think of attempting to do their work without having a computer readily available. This will be even more true by the time your children become adults.

Most of our schools do not have nearly enough computers to allow students to use them whenever it would be appropriate. Even if the equipment were available in classrooms, most of our teachers lack the training to take advantage of it.

Ten or twenty years from now, most students will have easy access to computers. Every teacher will know how to work in a school setting where there are lots of computers. Students will be allowed to use computers when they take tests. (Why not? Adults are allowed—or required—to use computers when faced with the real-world tests they encounter on the job.)

Unfortunately, these developments may be too late for your children. There are some things you can do about this. Even a very few parents can cause a major change in a school by making their concerns clearly known to teachers, school administrators, and the school board. These are some of the questions to ask educators:

  1. Are our children learning to use a computer to solve hard problems in all different subject areas, or are they mainly using computers to help memorize simple facts?
  2. Do the teachers feel comfortable in routinely using computers for their work and with their students?
  3. Do students get to use calculators and computers when taking tests? If not, why not?
  4. Do students have to leave their classrooms and go to a lab to use computers ? (If so, they cannot make routine use of computers, and teachers cannot integrate routine computer use into the curriculum.) What are the school and district plans to make computers readily available for everyday use by all students?

Computers are a powerful aid to the human mind. However, it is still very important that students learn reading, writing, arithmetic, and problem solving. All of these ideas and tools should be integrated together and used throughout the day in a modern education.

Let me know about the progress you make in working to improve the education of your children. Please write.

Sincerely yours,

Letter to Teachers

Moursund, D.G. (1990). Letter to teachers. Learning and Leading with Technology. ISTE.

Dear Teacher:

Being a teacher is a challenge even in the best of times. It is doubly difficult now, with tight budgets, increasing expectations, and very rapid changes going on in our society. These difficulties are compounded by the continued rapid progress of technology. Computers lie at the heart of much of this technological change, but our educational system is not doing very well in dealing with computer-related technology. In two previous letters I addressed what students and parents could do about this problem. Future letters will be addressed to curriculum coordinators, educational policy makers, and politicians. This letter focuses on teachers.

Have you ever wondered what it must have been like to be a teacher when reading, writing, and arithmetic were being invented? Surely this must have been a major challenge; it is not easy to learn to read, write, and do arithmetic. However, these skills have proven to be nearly indispensable aids to the human brain, and schools eventually adopted the goal of helping every student to master them. Methods were developed for the mass production of books, pencils, and paper so that all students and teachers could have easy access to these tools. Now, every teacher is expected to be reasonably proficient in the “basics” of education—reading, writing, and arithmetic. These educational changes occurred over a period of several thousand years.

These ideas closely parallel what is now going on with computers. Like reading, writing, and arithmetic, computers are a powerful aid to the human mind. Computers are also a powerful aid to instruction, and teachers are having to cope with computers. However, the time frame for this change is not millennia, but a single teaching career.

Here is a simple two-question self-test you can use to see how well you are coping with technology.

  1. Do your students learn to make effective use of computers as an aid to exploration and to solving the problems that occur within the disciplines you teach? That is, are your students empowered by computers? (If your students routinely use multimedia, hypermedia, and computers, and if they are routinely evaluated in an environment that includes these tools, then your answer is “yes.”)
  2. Do you and your students make appropriate use of computers as an aid to teaching/learning the disciplines you teach? Specifically, are you empowered by computers?

If you answer “no” to either of these questions, you are letting your students down. The many reasons and excuses for “no” answers can be divided into two major categories. The first might be labeled, “It’s someone else’s fault.” In this category we place excuses such as not having enough computers and appropriate curriculum materials, and not receiving enough staff development from the school district. The second category might be labeled, “It’s my fault. I could do it if I would set my mind to the task, but ...”

Such fault-finding does not focus on the major issue. Many of our students are not learning to make effective use of computers as an aid to problem solving. They are not learning that computers are now inexorably woven into the very fabric of every academic discipline. Moreover, they do not routinely make use of computers as an aid to learning, even in situations where there is substantial evidence students would benefit greatly from such use.

There are two things you can do about this. First, exert pressure on your school administrators, school board, union, and school funding structure to work toward overcoming the first set of excuses. Enlist the aid of students and parents in this endeavor. A small group of students, parents, and teachers can produce a major change in a school system.

Second, you can accept the fact that you have a deep professional responsibility to become computer competent, that you owe it to your students to help them learn to make effective use of computers as an aid to problem solving and learning. You can begin immediately to fulfill this responsibility, and learn by doing.

Our educational system is at a major turning point, and you are a key player in the changes that are occurring. I challenge you, as a professional educator, to take a leadership role. Please write to me and share what you are doing.

Sincerely yours,

Letter to Curriculum Coordinators

Moursund, D.G. (1990). Letter to curriculum coordinators. Learning and Leading with Technology. ISTE.

Dear Curriculum Coordinator:

Individualized instruction, cooperative learning, interdisciplinary and multidisciplinary studies, multimedia, hypermedia, computer-assisted instruction, and distance education—these are but a few of the combinations of new ideas in educational theory and educational technology that are challenging curriculum coordinators. These ideas could lead to substantial improvement in our school system.

This letter focuses specifically on computer-related technology in education. Perhaps the very essence of educational technology is that it empowers. Access to appropriate computer facilities and instruction in their use opens up new horizons to both students and teachers. This empowerment of students and teachers is perhaps best seen in classrooms where students and teachers work together in a hypermedia environment where they are supported by good access to information stored in a wide variety of formats, good access to tools that help process such information, and a cooperative, interdisciplinary approach to learning. The educational potential of computers suggests three specific questions for you, the curriculum coordinator.

  1. Computers are a new field of study. What should students be learning about the field of computer and information science?
  2. Computers are a powerful aid to problem solving in every academic discipline. One example is the storage, processing, and retrieval of information. What should students be learning about computers as an aid to problem solving?
  3. Computers and other electronic technology lie at the core of hypermedia, computer-assisted instruction, intelligent computer-assisted instruction, and distance education systems that can be used to help deliver instruction. How can these instructional delivery systems be effectively used to help improve education?

Each of these is a very difficult question. You might say that it is the teachers’ responsibility to answer them. However, each question is district-wide in scope, and no individual teacher can hope to cope with such questions alone. You might say that it is the superintendent’s and the school board’s responsibility to answer these questions. However, they lack time, detailed knowledge, and involvement with the daily content and pedagogy of the curriculum. The truth of the matter is that the curriculum coordinator bears major leadership responsibility in answering these questions.

So how well are you fulfilling your responsibility? Do you have a good understanding of what students should be learning about the field of computer and information science? A statement that all students should become computer literate hardly suffices. Does your school district offer the scope and sequence of the key knowledge and skills that all students should gain and well-thought-out options for students who want to go into this field in more depth?

The very fabric of many disciplines has been changed as computer tools have been woven in. Musical composition and performance, writing and publishing, graphics artwork, laboratory science, accounting and office practices, information retrieval, and a host of other vital activities in our society have all been drastically changed by computers. Are these changes reflected in the content of your school district’s curriculum?

Computer-assisted instruction and distance education are new instructional delivery systems. There is a substantial body of research literature supporting their effectiveness in a wide variety of settings. Their use can have a major impact on both the students and the teachers in your district. Is your school district systematically exploring these aspects of instruction and making use of the findings to improve students’ education?

Each of the three areas that I have discussed represents a major trend for change in education. Each of these trends requires careful planning, curriculum revision, teacher training, and changes in our instructional delivery system. Each school district needs a long-term plan specifying goals in this area and the steps to be taken to achieve these goals.

You, the curriculum coordinator, must play a key leadership role in developing and implementing these plans. I’d like to hear what you are doing. Please write to me and share your ideas and experiences.

Sincerely yours,

Letter to School Administrators

Moursund, D.G. (1991). Letter to school administrators. Learning and Leading with Technology. ISTE.

Dear School Administrator:

You know that we face a crisis in the American educational system—a system designed about a hundred years ago for a society evenly balanced between agrarian and industrial interests. That time is long past. We have been in the Information Age since 1956. Combined direct employment in agrarian and industrial manufacturing occupations is less than one-fourth of total employment in this country.

Do you know that more than one-fourth of all American workers have a microcomputer sitting on their desks? Many others have a computer terminal hooked to a mainframe system. Did you know that there is a general purpose microcomputer in more than one-fourth of all American homes? More than half of the purchasers indicate that the equipment is purchased for work-related purposes, and nearly half indicate that it is to help educate their children. The total number of microcomputers in American homes is 10 times the number used for instructional purposes in schools. American business and industry will install nearly twice as many microcomputers for its own use in 1991 as the total number of microcomputers currently being used in our schools.

This type of data is a small part of a growing picture that suggests that the school system is not adequately adjusting to the changing needs of society. There is a growing gap between the needs of a well-educated adult citizen and the average product of American schools. Solving this problem will take the combined resources and support of a large number of different stakeholders. In some sense, you stand in the middle of these stakeholders, with students, parents, teachers, and curriculum coordinators on one side, and business and government leaders on the other side.

Every educational administrator is faced by overwhelming demands on a limited amount of resources. The problem is to balance use of these resources to meet the demands of the stakeholders and to maximize the quality of education that students receive. Here are three major areas focusing on computer-related technology that you must address.

  1. There is strong and growing evidence that appropriate integration of computer-based technology into schools can drastically cut dropouts, increase basic skills, and increase higher-order cognitive skills. A computer is a tool designed to aid “knowledge” workers, and every student is a knowledge worker. Eventually our schools should provide every student with easy and routine access to computer-related technology, both as an aid to learning and as an aid to solving a wide range of problems. Every school and school district should have a long-range plan for accomplishing this task. This plan should be developed by the combined efforts of all key stakeholders—parents, teachers, school administrators, local business people, and so on. These stakeholders must have ownership; it is absolutely essential that school administrators not make unilateral decisions about the acquisition and installation of computer-related technology.
  2. There is growing evidence that school restructuring, including site-based management that better empowers teachers, leads to substantial improvement in schools. There is substantial literature on school restructuring. Key ideas include involving students and teachers in team-taught multidisciplinary activities, cooperative learning, removing the bottleneck of short 40- to 45-minute school periods that focus on a single subject, and making major changes in student assessment. (Standardized objective testing is a growing barrier to school improvement.) These types of school restructuring facilitate more effective use of computer-based technology.
  3. Our current teacher certification and staff development system was designed to meet the needs of a very slowly changing world. The exponential rate of change in science, technology, and educational research in recent years has overwhelmed staff development systems. New, successful models for effective staff development have been developed. They are site-based, and they require that all teachers participate. Every teacher has personal and group responsibilities. The school is structured to help teachers meet these responsibilities. Staff development becomes an ongoing process, built into the everyday functioning of the school.

The rapid pace of change in society is a major challenge to school administrators. However, it also provides a unique opportunity for excellence in leadership to make a major difference. The International Society for Technology in Education has a mission of working to improve schools. If we can be of help to you, please contact us.

Sincerely yours,

Letter to Teacher Educators

Moursund, D.G. (1990). Letter to teacher educators. Learning and Leading with Technology. ISTE.

Dear Teacher Educator:

I classify myself as a teacher educator—as a teacher of teachers. I specialize in all aspects of computer-related technology in education. Often I am embarrassed to admit this, because I feel that our teacher education system is doing such a poor job in preparing teachers to deal with computer-related technology.

I routinely work with graduate students who know far more about the use of computer-related technology in schools than do their College of Education faculty. I teach in a College of Education where most of the teachers who graduate are not adequately prepared to deal with the current level of use of computers in schools. I imagine that many of you face this same situation.

It surprises and saddens me that our teacher training institutions are doing so poorly in dealing with the onrush of computer-related technology. College faculty are bright, well educated, and strongly encouraged to keep up in their fields. However, on average they have failed in providing leadership for the major restructuring of our schools that is so sorely needed. There are many aspects to restructuring, and technology is only one component. For example, cooperative learning, multidisciplinary and team-based instruction, portfolio-based assessment, and site-based management are all quite independent of technology. However, all are facilitated by and facilitate use of computer-related technology.

Here are a couple of requirements that I believe the faculty of every College of Education should immediately lay upon themselves and their students.

1. Every preservice educator in a teacher training program should do at least one major multimedia project each term, where the multimedia include a range of computer-based technologies. We are rapidly moving toward a school environment in which all students will routinely do multimedia projects using computers, CD-ROM, videodisc, camcorders, VCRs, scanners, and other computer-related facilities. These students need teachers who are comfortable with and experienced in such a learning environment.

2. At least one term each year, and preferably each term, each teacher education faculty member should directly supervise a number of students who are doing multimedia term projects. Every faculty member must learn to help their students teach in a multimedia learning environment. It is not appropriate that faculty members should remain inept in the use of the tools that precollege students and their teachers routinely use.

3. Every College of Education faculty member and every preservice teacher should learn to make routine and effective use of computerized information retrieval and communication systems. Students and faculty should routinely communicate with each other via electronic mail. Computers are a powerful aid to problem solving and to information storage, processing, and retrieval. Many problems can be solved by retrieving information about how someone else has already solved similar problems. Many problems can be solved by appropriate use of information that is now stored in computerized databases. In these and other ways, computers bring a new dimension to problem solving and are a unique new aid to higher-order cognitive processes.

4. At least once each year, and preferably once each term, each teacher education faculty member should present a unit of study in which the primary mode of instruction is computer-based multimedia. We know that teachers teach in the way that they were taught. Without appropriate role models, preservice teachers will continue the pattern of instruction that currently exists in our schools. College of Education faculty must provide leadership in breaking this pattern.

5. Every College of Education should provide its students with substantial experience in learning from and teaching with Integrated Learning Systems and distance education. Computer-assisted learning and distance education are powerful additions to our instructional delivery system. We must prepare teachers to make appropriate use of this technology.

Almost every College of Education already has enough computer-related facilities to implement the above ideas. Many have adequate faculty to quickly bootstrap themselves into implementation of these ideas. Others will need to make extensive use of computer-knowledgeable teachers from local schools.

The International Society for Technology in Education has a mission of working to improve our educational system. This professional society stands ready to help you as you work on dealing with the types of issues addressed in this letter.

Sincerely yours,

Letter to Business People

Moursund, D.G. (1990). Letter to business people. Learning and Leading with Technology. ISTE.

Dear Business Person:

Did you know that approximately one-half of the work force in the United States has easy and routine access to a microcomputer or a terminal tied into a mainframe computer system? Did you know that more than one-fourth of United States households have a general purpose microcomputer? (This does not count the 40 percent that have a Nintendo!) More than half of these home computers are purchased for work-related activities, but there is also a very strong emphasis on educational uses.

Contrast these figures with the one computer workstation per 20 students that is average for the precollege education system in the United States. Factor in the fact that most teacher training programs lack adequate access to computer-related technology and the resources to prepare their faculty to use such facilities. Based on such data, it is not surprising that American business and industry are unhappy with the products of our educational system. The world of business and industry is changing very rapidly, but our educational system is not designed or funded for rapid change.

The private sector has recognized that it has a vested interest in improving our educational system, and it has much to contribute to that effort. The number of education-business partnerships has grown markedly in the past few years. Typically, when a school or school district enters into a partnership with the private sector, its primary underlying thought is acquiring resources such as equipment and money. However, the private sector cannot donate enough resources to modernize our educational system. Resources from the private sector can help, but there are other, more important things that these education-business alliances can accomplish. For example:

  1. Locally, regionally, and nationally the private sector should insist that we have a high-quality educational system. The typical American student does not believe that doing well in school will lead to getting a good job. American business and industry could lead to substantial improvement in our educational system merely by publicizing that they give preference in hiring to better students, and then actually give them such preference.
    It is evident that the private sector places major emphasis in the quality of the school system when they are considering the creation of new corporate sites or major movements of staff. This should be widely publicized, and sites that do not measure up should learn about their deficiencies. Nationwide publicity on the desired standards would do much to raise the overall standards for education that are being set throughout the country.
  2. The private sector has come to understand the benefits of empowering workers, of using quality circles, and of reducing the number of levels of management. It understands accountability and responsibility in a manner that is quite different from that used in most of our schools. Education-business alliances should focus on helping schools to use these modern business practices.
    Businesses compete; if they do not compete successfully, they go bankrupt. To a very large extent, schools do not compete, and there are few penalties for failure to compete. We cannot allow local school systems to have a large school dropout rate and to produce unemployable graduates. The private sector must help local educational leaders and taxpayers understand the standards that are needed for employment, and they must insist that these standards be met.
  3. The private sector has far exceeded our education system in learning to make appropriate use of computer-related technology. Appropriately designed education-business partnerships can provide both students and educators with a window into a world that is new, exciting, and challenging.

The typical worker who needs to make use of a computer has ready access to such facilities. As a rough estimate, there will be twice as many microcomputers and computer terminals installed in the private sector during 1991 as the total installed base used in all of our precollege schools for instructional purposes. Much of the equipment in schools is antiquated. The gap between what goes on in the classroom and what goes on in business and industry is growing. To a large extent, teachers and school leaders are not aware of this massive and increasing technological gap between schools and the private sector. Education-business partnerships can focus on education of teachers, educational leaders, and school board members.

The International Society for Technology in Education has a mission of working to improve our educational system. This professional society stands ready to help you as you work on dealing with the types of issues addressed in this letter.

Sincerely yours,

Letter to Government Officials

Moursund, D.G. (1990). Letter to government officials. Learning and Leading with Technology. ISTE.

Dear Government Official:

More than a hundred years ago, the United States set about to create a system that would provide basic educational opportunities to all children. We were reasonably successful, and the system served our country well. It accommodated millions of immigrants; it helped us become a world power and the world leader in science and technology.

Sadly, relative to our needs, the quality of our educational system has eroded badly over the past two decades. The educational demands being placed on our adult citizens have grown rapidly, outpacing progress in our educational system.

Now, about one-fourth of our students are dropping out of school. Many others graduate with totally inadequate basic skills and higher-order thinking skills. They are not prepared to deal with the pace of change in society or to solve the types of problems they encounter at home, at work, and at play.

This educational crisis cannot be solved by actions of state and federal government leaders alone. However, such leaders can and must play a major leadership role. Here are a few examples of things you should be doing:

  1. Confront and solve the financial equity issue. There are many school districts that have a per-pupil budget of less than half of the national average. These school districts cannot afford to have adequate facilities and to adequately pay their teachers. They have difficulty in attracting qualified teachers, and they cannot afford the staff development expenses to maintain the quality of their staff. This financial inequity is particularly troublesome as our schools work to provide students for adult citizenry in the Information Age. Computers and computer-related technology are simply too expensive for many schools. Equal access to technology is an absolutely essential aspect of addressing the issue of equity in education.
  2. To a large extent, our educational system is driven by assessment or testing instrumentation. Standardized objective tests may have been adequate to fit the needs of a school system focusing on minimal basic skills. However, our current testing system is totally inadequate to deal with the higher-order thinking skills, cultural diversity, and rapidly changing technological aspects of a good modern school system. For example, suppose that a school places great emphasis in having all of its students become adept at writing using a word processor and in using a computerized information retrieval system as an aid to solving problems. It seems only logical that these students should have access to such computer facilities when taking state, national, and college entrance tests. Sadly, such is not the case.
  3. Distance education is bringing a new dimension to our educational system. Both students and teachers can receive instruction beamed over the airways. Students in a small rural school can have the opportunity to take a physics course or study Japanese, even though the school does not have teachers in these subjects. Teachers can be given access to a wide range of staff development opportunities.
    Often such instruction is provided by instructors located in another state or perhaps even another country. Currently there are innumerable local and state political and regulatory barriers to distance education. These can only be removed by state and national action on the part of regulatory and governing bodies.
  4. On a nationwide basis, our teacher training institutions are woefully under-funded. They do not have the resources to acquire the facilities and train their staff to provide a modern introduction to technology in education. At both the state and the federal level there is a crying need to redirect some of the funds that are going into education.
  5. One of the most powerful messages that has come from business and industry is that workers are more productive when they are empowered. Quality circles and site-based management are very successful. Our schools and school systems have been slow to adopt these ideas of empowering teachers and students.
  6. Every state faces the issue of state versus local control of schools and the school curriculum. There is powerful evidence that education can be improved by an appropriate balance between site-based management that empowers teachers, and statewide standards for appropriate accountability. The United States as a whole must move rapidly toward national standards of accountability.

While this list could easily be extended, the message should be clear. Governmental leadership at the state and national level must address major issues such as inequities in access to technology and quality education. They must invest in the future of our educational system by providing better funding for teacher training programs. They must insist on all students having good access to a high-quality educational system. The International Society for Technology in Education has a mission of working to improve our educational system. This professional society stands ready to help you as you work on dealing with the types of issues addressed in this letter.

Sincerely yours,

Retrospective Comments 12/07/2004

All eight of these "letters" were written before the beginning of the publication year. Thus, it was relatively easy to work out the design and content issues to gain the consistency that I wanted to run through all eight letters.

I took me many years to come to understand some of the underlying political aspects of education. I suppose that this was because I grew up in a college math-oriented home, with both my mother and my father being on the faculty in the Math Department at the University of Oregon. I tended to think of math as being "God given" and more or less the same throughout the world. I also tended to think that the contents and methods aspects of math teaching were relatively similar throughout the world.

In other words, I was terribly naive about our educational system at the time I first begin to teach teachers and work to make improvements in our educational system. (This occurred in the summer of 1965, when I taught in a NSF-funded summer institute for teachers.) I had the attitude that if I could help teachers learn about computers in education, then they would quickly make changes in the their teaching—in the curriculum content, teaching processes, and assessment. I thought in terms of limitations of computer access being the prime barrier to the accomplishment of these goals.

It took me many years to gradually realize that our educational system is a "system" that has great stability and resistance to change. I read articles that discussed the idea that a significant change in our educational system takes 50 years or more. Moreover, in retrospect we might well laugh at some of the changes that have taken that long. When I was in elementary school, we had desks that were arranged in rows and bolted to the floor. The desks I used looked like they had been used for a very large number of years. Now, this fixed row arrangement of desks in elementary schools is mostly gone from schools in the US.

When I wrote the eight editorials for the 1990-91 volume of The Computing Teacher, I though I had a good understanding of the need to communicate with a wide range of stakeholders, and the need to have their support in efforts to improve our educational system. The International Council for Computers in Education reprinted this sequence of editorials as a small booklet, and a large number of copies were distributed for free. In addition, I inserted the collection of editorials into a book—The Technology Advisory Council—that I wrote in collaboration with seven students in an advanced seminar.

In terms of the feedback that I received, I must conclude that most of the distribution of these editorials fell of "deaf ears." I received a little feedback expressing appreciation for the letters. But, I don't recall receiving any feedback sharing stories of changes resulting through use of the letters.

However, I suspect that these letters may have made at least some contribution to changes that have occurred since they were written. The last of the letters contains six recommendations to government officials. There are listed in brief form here, along with brief comments.

  1. Confront and solve the financial equity issue. The Digital Divide has been, and continues to be an active issue in education.
  2. To a large extent, our educational system is driven by assessment or testing instrumentation. … It seems only logical that these students should have access to such computer facilities when taking state, national, and college entrance tests. Sadly, such is not the case. Progress has occurred in terms of use of calculators on tests. But, we are not seeing much progress on "open computer" assessment.
  3. Distance education is bringing a new dimension to our educational system. Substantial progress has occurred in the development of distance learning at the precollege level. It seems clear to me that this is a "megatrend" and that such use of ICT will continue to grow. Many states have made significant steps to implement and/or facilitate distance learning within their schools.
  4. On a nationwide basis, our teacher training institutions are woefully under-funded. They do not have the resources to acquire the facilities and train their staff to provide a modern introduction to technology in education. The Preparing Tomorrow's teachers to Teach Using Technology funding from the US Department of Education has provided a very large amount of help in addressing this problem
  5. One of the most powerful messages that has come from business and industry is that workers are more productive when they are empowered. Quality circles and site-based management are very successful. Many schools now make use of site-based management. However, there is still a huge gap between the potentials of ICT that have been achieved in business and industry, and the potentials that have been achieved in teaching.
  6. Every state faces the issue of state versus local control of schools and the school curriculum. There is powerful evidence that education can be improved by an appropriate balance between site-based management that empowers teachers, and statewide standards for appropriate accountability. The United States as a whole must move rapidly toward national standards of accountability. I have quoted this last item in its entirety. Unfortunately, I am quite unhappy with the "No Child Left Behind" approach that has been used to address this recommendation. I now have considerable better insight into the difficulties in trying to improve an educational system on a nationwide basis. I believe quite strongly in the ideas of empowering teacher and empowering students.

In summary, my six recommendations to government officials could be considered as a prediction of the future. As a set of predictions, the list seems relatively good. Unfortunately, I am not too happy about some of the outcomes.

David Moursund

December 2004