Reprinted with permission from Learning and Leading with Technology (c) 1991-92, ISTE (the International Society for Technology in Education. 800.336.5191 (U.S. & Canada) or 541.302.3777, email@example.com, http://www.iste.org/. Reprint permission does not constitute an endorsement by ISTE of the product, training, or course.
The school restructuring movement in the United States is gaining momentum. Education bashing and teacher bashing are in full swing. Almost everybody is convinced that our school system is woefully inadequate and is rapidly deteriorating. Frequent reference is made to student performance on test scores, comparing this performance with students in past years or students in other countries.
In addition, it seems that almost everybody has suggestions on how to improve our schools. We should have more testing (or less testing, or more relevant testing). We should have cooperative learning (or classrooms should be quieter). We should empower teachers (or we should require that teachers follow the prescribed curriculum). We should have site-based management (or we should have stronger administrators who will require the teachers to "shape up"). We should go back to the basics (or we should place more emphasis on higher-order cognitive skills). We should require all students to become computer literate (or we should stop wasting resources on such frills as computers). We should require all students to stay in school until they graduate or are at least 18 years old (or we should stop using classroom space and school resources on students who don't want to be there). Undoubtedly you can add your own recipes for greatly improving our educational system.
Why Isn't Education Better?
I wonder why, with all of these excellent suggestions, education isn't much better? Can it be that they all fail to address the underlying problems?
I am reminded of the time when the automobile was first being developed, and began to have an impact on the horse and buggy industry. I can imagine the Board of Directors of a buggy factory discussing the changes needed to make their product competitive. Undoubtedly they came up with a long list of suggested modifications to the product and to the manufacturing process. Perhaps people wrote learned articles on transportation reform to better fit the horse and buggy, and on buggy factory restructuring. Undoubtedly people talked about breeding stronger and faster horses.
Of course, it was all to no avail. The new technology was changing the transportation industry. To survive, the company needed to adjust to the "Automobile Age."
The Information Age
In the United States we have an educational system that was designed for the Industrial Age of about a hundred years ago. While the system has undergone a number of modest changes since its inception, its basic design and nature remains little changed.
Unfortunately for our educational system, the world has changed. According to Naisbitt (1982), the United States entered the Information Age in 1956. Even before that time, the nature of employment in the country was changing. Industrial manufacturing jobs were being replaced by service jobs and by information processing jobs. Information was becoming an increasingly valuable commodity. People who could think, solve problems, and adjust to new situations were in increasing demand.
The most important defining characteristic of the Information Age is information. The total amount of information that humans have collected is growing very rapidly and is of increasing value.
Information is of value when it is used to help solve a problem or accomplish a task. Thus, information needs to be stored, manipulated to fit specific problem or task situations, retrieved, and used. Interestingly, that is what computers are all about. Computers are excellent aids in the storage, manipulation, retrieval, and use of information. In these regards, computers are an extension of books, the human mind, and other aids to accomplishing these same tasks.
Restructuring Must Include Information Technologies
Our educational system was designed for an era in which the human mind, the book, paper, and ink pen were the major aids to the storage and processing of information. That is no longer the case. In an increasing number of information processing tasks, a person and computer system working together can far outstrip a human working without such an aid. No amount of tinkering with our current educational system will change this fact!
The starting point for school reform or school restructuring should be a good understanding of what has changed to make our current system inadequate. It is easy to compile a long list of changes, many having nothing to do with computer technology. Changes in family structure and in the amount of television that young people watch are two important examples.
However, the basic fact remains that information processing is a central part of education and that computers have changed information processing. Thus, any successful effort at school restructuring must include an adequate treatment of information technologies. We will address details of this in subsequent editorials.
Naisbitt, J. (1982). Megatrends: Ten new directions transforming our lives. NY: Warner Books.
Retrospective Comments 5/2/00
This series of eight editorials was outlined during the spring of 1991, and quite a bit of the writing of the eight editorials occurred during that spring. The series reflects an optimism about the continuing growth in the capabilities of microcomputers and in their increasing availability in schools.
A major focus in this series of articles is on school reform, school restructuring, and school renewal. That topic has continued to be very important during the decade of the 1990s, and continues to be so in the early 2000s. The US Federal Government has put some resources into supporting the school improvement movement.
There are various Websites that have been developed from Federal grants that focus on school reform. For example, see:
NWREL (Northwest Regional Educational Laboratory). Comprehensive school reform [Online]. Accessed 5/5/00: http://www.nwrac.org/pub/schoolwide/winter00/article2.html. A 200 page listing and analysis of school reform movements is given at http://www.nwrel.org/scpd/natspec/catalog/index.html.
The Internet had already existed for a long time by 1991. The World Wide Web was invented in 1989, but had not yet come into widespread use. For a history of the web and information about its inventor, see Accessed 5/5/00: http://www.w3.org/People/Berners-Lee/. The editorial series does not reflect any awareness that the Web exists. It was several years after I wrote these editorials that I became aware that there was a World Wide Web.
Education bashing was in full swing by 1991. Gerald Bracey has long argued that the US educational system is far better than suggested by the education bashers. For information about Gerald Bracey, see Accessed 5/5/00: http://www.america-tomorrow.com/bracey/gb.htm. His books and articles are quite useful if you want to argue that our educational system is a lot better than most people think it is, and it is doing better than the education bashers think it is.
In summary (of this retrospective section), it feels to me like our educational system has been slow to recognize the ideas given in this August-September 1991 editorial.
Think about some of the things you currently know about computers. For example, you are probably familiar with graphical, mouse-driven interfaces. You know that many microcomputers now have two to four megabytes of primary storage and 40- to 80- megabyte hard disk systems. You know that many schools have CD-ROM and videodisc players, networked computers, and laser printers.
You are probably familiar with such computer tools as word processing, graphics, database, and spreadsheet packages. You may use special software for desktop publishing and presentation, music composition and performance, or for helping students solve mathematics problems.
You may know that integrated learning systems are selling very well, and that many companies are successfully developing and marketing a wide variety of educational software. You know about hypertext, hypermedia, and that students are able to produce exciting products in a hypermedia environment. You know that the fields of television and computing are beginning to overlap.
Perhaps you have used an inexpensive graphing calculator that contains built-in functions that help to solve a wide range of math problems. You have heard of "virtual reality" and artificial intelligence, and know that expert systems are commonly used to help solve a variety of problems in business and industry.
Finally, you know that most teachers are not comfortable with computers. Relatively few teachers routinely integrate the capabilities of current computer systems into their professional activities. It is a rare classroom in which students routinely use computers as an aid to problem solving and to processing information. To a great extent, progress in computer hardware and software continues to outstrip our staff development system.
10 years Ago (A Thinking Exercise)
Now imagine that you could retain all of your current knowledge as you were transported 10 years into the past. You are given the position of computer coordinator. What decisions would you make and implement that would appropriately lead your school district into its future? How would you structure staff development? What hardware and software would you acquire? What changes would you attempt to make in the overall school curriculum?
What are common mistakes that schools have made in the past 10 years that you would avoid?
Building the Future
I find three things interesting about the above exercise. First, most of the hardware and software "advances" that have occurred in information technologies during the past decade were relatively easy to forecast. Most of the major ideas had already been developed 10 years ago. A person who was up to date on information technologies at the time and who understood simple forecasting techniques could have done a pretty good job of predicting what would become readily available.
Second, it is relatively difficult to accurately forecast the level of implementation of information technologies that will occur in schools. The school "market" is quite a bit different than the ordinary consumer market. One reason for this is that the consumers, be they students or teachers, are not the ones providing the funds. The second reason is that many of the major decisions that schools make are made for political reasons, rather than founded in a clear understanding of how best to improve the quality of education for students.
Third, major mistakes have been made, and some of them could have been avoided by more careful planning. Some mistakes have wasted a great deal of money. In many cases, schools have acquired inappropriate hardware and software. In other cases, programs of study have (predictably) failed due to inadequately trained teachers and inadequate facilities and materials.
Such mistakes have damaged the credibility of information technology leaders in education. The field has not "delivered" nearly as much as many of its proponents have promised.
I believe that the field of information technologies in education is in its infancy. The current and soon to be available hardware and software resources have the potential to make major contributions to the quality of our educational system.
The key issue is, will these potentials be reached? Will the current school reform and restructuring movements adequately address the potentials of information technologies? Can we, as leaders, successful guide our educational system in dealing with Information Age technology? What are the best decisions to be making right now, and what are major pitfalls to be avoided?
School restructuring must be firmly rooted in a careful examination of the current state of the art of information technologies. This will provide us with very good insight into the information technologies that schools can expect to have available during the next 10 years.
Retrospective Comments 5/2/00
This series of eight editorials was outlined during the spring of 1991, and quite a bit of the writing of the eight editorials occurred during that spring. The series reflects an optimism about the continuing growth in the capabilities of microcomputers and in their increasing availability in schools.
I find it interesting to see that many of the 1991 comments still hold today. We are putting more and more IT into schools. More and more people are saying, "Show me the evidence that schools are better because of this large investment in IT." The evidence is still hard to find.
This 1991 editorial does not mention a 1984 editorial that I wrote titled The Two-percent Solution. In that editorial, I analyzed how a school district might spend two-percent of its annual budget for IT hardware, software, training, technical support, and so on. In 1984, the average of such expenditures in the US was perhaps one-percent of school budgets. Interesting, by 1991, the two-percent figure had still not been reached on a wide scale basis. Indeed, it was not until the 1999-2000 school year that the nationwide IT expenditures in public schools in the US reached the level of approximately two-percent of total expenditures.
Equally interesting is the fact that Moore's Law is not mentioned in the 1991 Editorial. Moore's Law about the increasing capability of computers that can be purchased for a fixed price had proven to be accurate for many years before 1991, and has continued to hold since 1991. Indeed, there has been an acceleration in the amount of compute power (CPU speed, primary memory) that can be purchased for a given amount of money. Thus, projections in these areas based on Moore's Law have proved relatively accurate since the 1991 Editorial was written.
In a number of ways, this article was rather weak in helping the reader to plan for the future that actually came during the decade after its publication. The Editorial does not provide much in the way of detail on connectivity or disk storage. The World Wide Web has come into routine use. Something akin to Moore's Law for computer hardware has proven to be a good predictor of growth in hard disk capability and in network speeds. Thus, over the past decade (and, presumably for the next decade or so) we have had exponential rates of improvement in computer speed, primary memory, secondary memory, and networking.
By use of your web browser, you can find lots of articles about Moore and his "law." Here are two typical articles:
PC Magazine Online (June 22, 1999). Moore's Law will Continue to Drive Computing. Accessed 5/2/00: http://www.zdnet.com/pcmag/
Magnetic disk drives first became commercially available in 1957. During their early years, the rate of improvement in storage capacity was not as high as the rate of change experienced by integrated circuits during their early years (as summarized by Moore's Law). However, in recent years the rate of improvement in disk capacity has outpaced the rate of change of integrated circuits. An excellent summary of disk drive technology is provided in:Scientific American (Special Industry Report). Avoiding a Data Crunch [Online]. Accessed 5/22/00: http://www.scientificamerican.com/
Many people like to talk about how rapidly computers and computer technology are changing. They make fun of efforts at long-range planning, suggesting that such plans will be out of date in a few months. However, Naisbitt (1982) and Naisbitt & Aburdene (1990) argue that one can identify major, long term trends, and that planning can be based on these trends.
John Naisbitt characterized the Information Age by a major change in the nature of employment, with a steady increase in the percentage of information processing and service oriented jobs. According to Naisbitt, the United States officially entered the Information Age in 1956 when the number of white collar workers first exceeded the number of blue collar workers.
Actually, 1956 was merely a year of continuation of a number of related trends, including rapid improvements in telecommunications, transportation, and computers, that had been going on for many years and are still continuing even now, 35 years later. It is these trends that have changed the nature of employment and the demands being placed on the citizens of each nation. These trends underlie the need for school restructuring.
We are witnessing a remarkable growth in one-way and two-way telecommunication systems that link people and machines throughout the world. Every year sees advances in cellular telephones, communication satellites, electronic mail, fax, fiber optics, and other telecommunications technology. Each contributes to making the world "smaller."
Increasingly, the work force of a corporation is distributed throughout the world. These employees routinely communicate with each other using a full range of telecommunication facilities. Cooperative problem solving, where the people who are cooperating may seldom meet each other face to face, is a rapidly growing trend.
Another key aspect to telecommunications is access to information. Some of this information changes nearly second by second, such as available seats on the world's airlines. Other parts of this information grow rapidly but periodically, such as the accumulation of published research journals.
The educational implications seem clear. Students need to learn how to make effective use of these telecommunication systems as an aid to communication, information retrieval, learning, and problem solving. This means that such facilities need to be readily available to students and educators. Both students and educators need training in the use of such facilities. Much of this can be done in a "learn by doing" mode, through integrating use of such facilities throughout the curriculum.
World trade is steadily increasing. Goods and services, as well as people, are increasingly on the move. The trend is clearly toward a global economy and a global work force.
Workers throughout the world are increasingly competing with each other. There are many goods that can be produced in almost any country and cheaply shipped to other countries. Thus, production is apt to occur at the most cost- effective site. For example, the branch offices of an insurance company may gather together paperwork on insurance claims and transport it to a central site for processing. For a multinational company, the central site may be in a country located far away from most of the local offices. The central processing site is selected on the basis of a stable, reasonable cost, and well educated work force.
Computers: Visible and Invisible
A computer is a tool designed to aid in the processing of information. The tens of millions of computers and computer terminals sitting on the desks of workers throughout the world provide visible evidence of the value of this tool. In addition, computer circuitry is now commonly built into the products and tools used by consumers and workers. Worldwide production of integrated circuits now exceeds a half dozen circuits per person per year.
It is clear that educational systems are attempting to deal with computer-related technology. In the United States in recent years there has been a steady growth in use of computer-as-tool and of computer-assisted instruction. The average number of microcomputers in schools is now approximately one per 12 students. Handheld calculators are gradually being integrated into the curriculum. Many school districts provide calculators to students, and testing services are making progress on developing assessment instruments in which students are allowed to use calculators.
Our educational system has no control over the change forces that are fueling the Information Age.
It seems evident that these changes present a massive challenge to our educational system. Students need to receive an education that prepares them to compete in the worldwide job market. Students need to learn, and to learn to learn, in an environment in which telecommunications and computers are ordinary, everyday tools. School restructuring must include a major focus on using such tools for understanding and solving the diverse problems faced by the adult citizens of our nation.
Naisbitt, J. (1982). Megatrends: Ten new directions transforming our lives. New York: Warner Books.
Naisbitt, J. & Aburdene, P. (1990) Megatrends 2000: Ten new directions for the 1990's. New York: William Morrow and Company.
Retrospective Comments 5/5/00
Nowadays we take fiber optics and a rapid pace of improvements in telecommunications for granted. Such has not always been the case. Fiber optics were initially developed in the early 1970s. That was about the time the first microcomputers were being built, and it was before the time of the first "personal" microcomputers such as the Apple I and the Commodore Pet.
A short, free, self-instruction course on fiber optics is available at:Introduction to Fiber Optics [Online]. Accessed 5/5/00: http://www.siecor.com/traser/introfo.htm.
Moore's Law has proven relatively accurate in predicting the pace of improvement in Central Processing Unit speed for microcomputers, with a doubling approximately every 18 months. Bandwidth available through fiber optics has also followed an exponential rate of improvement. Thus, 1991-92 discussions about computer hardware and about telecommunications can easily be quite out of date a decade later.
This specific editorial recommends that students learn about problem solving for life in a world of connectivity and of computers. Students who gained such knowledge and skills during the early 19090s have been well served by their efforts. And, these educational recommendations are still important.
During the past decade, there has been a huge increase in the number of integrated circuits being manufactured per year, and the power of these circuits. For the year 2000, estimates appearing in a recent issue of Business Week are that 135 million microcomputers and 350 million digital cell phoneswill be manufactured on a worldwide basis. That is about one microcomputer for every 45 people on earth, and one cell phone for every 17 people on earth.
An extensive history of the telephone, including cell phones, is available at:The Telephone [Online]. Accessed 5/5/00: http://www.inventors.about.com/education/inventors/library/inventors/bltelephone.htm.
Mobile phones first came into use in the US in approximately 1947. But, the cell phone as we know it did not become available until the early 1980s. One very important aspect of cell phones is that they have allowed many countries to just skip over the "copper wire, landline" technology. This is an interesting development. The cost of a landline infrastructure is beyond what many countries can afford.
At its most fundamental levels, education is rather simple. The goals are to help each student to learn some basic facts and skills and to be a creative thinker and problem solver in using the basic facts and skills.
Even at the time of Socrates, about 2,400 years ago, two major quite different approaches had emerged on how to best accomplish these educational goals. In a mimetic approach--think of the word mimic--the teacher and the text are seen as unquestioned repositories of knowledge. Students are expected to memorize information and then, when requested, to feed back the information that has been presented to them.
The Socratic method is representative of a second approach to education, often called a "transformative" or progressive approach. In a transformative educational system, the teacher is more of a coach, and there is greatly increased emphasis on stimulation of each child's individual expressive, creative, and learning powers (Gardner, 1989).
The Mimetic Approach
When there is a fixed body of knowledge and skills to be learned, a mimetic approach is quite efficient. A behavioral learning theory can be used to carefully subdivide and sequence the materials to be learned. Almost all students can master the basic skills and learn the basic facts. Thus, almost every student can learn to perform at an acceptable level on a predetermined set of tasks.
This approach works well in an unchanging or very slowly changing society. Over a long period of time, perhaps many decades, the optimal curriculum content and instructional process is developed. Students who do especially well in the system, as measured by standardized competitive exams, are allowed to obtain the higher education and the leadership positions that allow them to perpetuate the system.
The Transformative Approach
The transformative approach is better suited to dealing with individual differences in students and to a more rapidly changing world. This approach is well suited to the incorporation of cognitive learning theories.
As mass public education developed in the United States well over 100 years ago, the mimetic system dominated. The name "Grammar School" is suggestive of the major instructional effort the elementary schools aimed toward having students master the basic skills of correct spelling and grammar. Even today, we still see a major emphasis on using basal texts to teach spelling and grammar in an (misguided) attempt to improve student writing skills.
Successive waves of immigration into the United States created a melting pot that lacked a uniform set of centuries-old traditions and that challenged the mimetic educational system. Thus, "progressive" educational systems developed, and these often incorporated many of the transformative approaches. Our current educational system is a blend of mimetic and transformative systems.
Information Age Infrastructure
The education of a student begins at home, well before the student enters school. Much of a student's education comes from outside of school. Thus, it may happen that a student is exposed to a mimetic approach to education in school and a transformative approach outside of school, or vice versa.
The same dichotomy may hold for education that is oriented toward being a creative problem solver using the tools of the Information Age. A student may receive extensive in-school instruction in the use of such tools, and yet have no access to them outside of school, or vice versa.
The Information Age tools require an extensive supportive infrastructure. This infrastructure can be created within a school, or it can be created within a community or nation. Thus, one might computerize a school, community, or national library. One might network a school, community, or nation. One might educate a few select teachers through a few select teacher training institutions in the use of the computer-based tools, or one might move toward all teachers mastering such technologies.
Throughout the world, the political and educational leaders in each country are working to develop a variety of solutions to their country's educational problems. Every country will need to have a number of citizens who are both global and national citizens who function well in global and national political and economic arenas. Such people must deal comfortably with the telecommunication, transportation, and computer systems that have become everyday tools in many parts of the world.
Thus, each country has to rethink its teacher education system and its school system. Moreover, each country is faced by the problem of developing and maintaining an infrastructure that allows and supports the Information Age telecommunication, transportation, and computer systems that are needed if the country is to participate in a global economy. Restructuring for the Information Age cannot be accomplished merely by changes to schools!
Students need an education that prepares them to deal with technology and with change. To prepare students to deal with technology, we need an extensive infrastructure both inside and outside of school that is designed to support such technology. To prepare students to be creative problem solvers in the face of rapid change, we need a transformative approach to education.
Gardner, H. (1989). To open minds. New York: Basic Books.
On April 18, 1991 President Bush released America 2000: An Education Strategy. It proposed six major, long-range educational goals. These goals can be grouped into three categories. First, there are two goals that focus on improving the plight of preschoolers and on making schools safe places to be. Clearly these are laudable and worthy of intense effort.
Second, there are two goals that focus on high school completion and on adult literacy. The general idea here is that functional literacy is needed for all citizens and that the overall average level of education needed by adults is increasing. These goals are consistent with changes being wrought by the Information Age.
Finally, there are two goals that focus on student achievement. Nationwide competency testing is strongly encouraged; there is a specific goal that "By the year 2000, U.S. students will be first in the world in science and mathematics achievement."
The America 2000 document calls for competency testing at the 4th, 8th, and 12th grades in English, mathematics, science, history, and geography. I find the list of subjects to be tested interesting because of what is omitted. For example, in the Information Age it would certainly be desirable that every student would learn one or more languages in addition to English. There is no mention of the arts or of international studies. The emphasis is on testing in specific subject areas rather that on interdisciplinary understanding of how to use these basic subjects to creatively approach and solve a wide range of interdisciplinary problems. The overall flavor of the competency testing recommendation seems closely aligned with a back-to-basics, mimetic approach to education.
There are two major difficulties with our current testing system. First, performance on the objective types of competency tests being used in the U.S. is not a good measure of preparedness for responsible citizenship in our Information Age society. Second, the tests themselves have increasingly shaped the curriculum. Curriculum content and process is increasingly being designed to raise test scores on the types of tests used for nationwide assessment. Taken together, these two difficulties, along with quite a lot of supporting research on testing, strongly suggest that increased use of objective types of competency tests will not improve our educational system
There are very good alternatives to ob-jective tests. The terminology "authentic assessment" refers to performance-based tests that closely resemble the area being tested. Clearly, it is not appropriate to use an objective test to determine if a student can draw and paint, compose and perform music, or perform well in athletics. Educational researchers have gradually come to realize that the same observation holds true for performance in writing, mathematics, and other academic areas. They conclude that the nation would be better served by a major decrease in objective testing, substituting instead authentic assessment.
Science and Mathematics
I read the America 2000 report while I was flying at approximately 600 miles per hour, at an elevation of 33,000 feet, on the way to a meeting several thousand miles away from my home town. During the same flight I read about an international track meet. At the track meet, by dint of a lifetime of intense physical training, the best pole vaulters in the world cleared nearly 20 feet and the best runners covered a mile in a little under four minutes. These outstanding human performances pale to insignificance when compared to machine-aided performances. This set me to wondering about international competition among students studying science and mathematics.
The "knowing and doing" tools used by scientists and mathematicians are changing very rapidly. The world's scientists are now quite dependent on computer-based instrumentation for the acquisition and processing of information as well as for controlling experiments in process. We now have mathematical software that can solve the full range of math problems that students study up through the first couple of years of college.
In light of the impact of Information Age technology on science and math, what should students be learning? Should students learn in a high-tech environment that includes routine use of the modern tools for knowing and doing science and math? Many people argue "yes." Students should be educated in an "authentic" environment that closely resembles the environment in which, as adults, they will be expected to per-form. There is a clear trend in this direction. For example, many school systems in the U.S. now provide students with handheld calculators and encourage their use throughout the curriculum.
To a great extent, we understand the challenges that face our nation's citizens in the Information Age. We know that education must prepare students to make effective use of an ever-improving set of tools to address an ever-changing set of problems. Thus, school restructuring must include restructuring for the Information Age. This means that students need to have appropriate access to the tools for knowing and doing that are routinely used by adults. It means that assessment must be authentic. Students must be assessed in the environment of the tools that they are learning to use and in the multidisciplinary problems that they are learning to solve.
Two major goals of education are to help each student learn some basic facts and skills, and to help each student be a creative thinker and problem solver in using those facts and skills. Over a period of time there have been major changes in both the basic facts to be learned and the skills needed to use these facts. However, for many years there has been agreement that the basics of a good education include a focus on reading and writing, speaking and listening, and representing and solving problems using arithmetic or math. The basics are useful over the full range of human intellectual endeavor.
The basics are fundamental tools, applicable to knowing, doing, and creative problem solving in every academic discipline. Gradually, educational leaders have come to understand that knowing, doing, and creative problem solving are active processes. Because of this increased understanding, for example, many schools now teach "process" writing; in progressive educational systems, there is increased emphasis on process throughout the entire curriculum.
Computers are designed to aid in the acquisition, storage, processing, and communication of information. In 1972, Arthur Luehrmann coined the phrase "computer literacy" to help focus attention on computers as an emerging basic of education. During the 1970s, and continuing on even today, many people have suggested that all students need to become computer literate. A number of states and school districts require all their students to satisfy a computer literacy requirement.
The most commonly used definitions of computer literacy have changed over the past 20 years. In 1972 there were few computer facilities in schools and fewer still in homes. The personal computer had not yet been invented. Computer graphics was in its infancy and computer-based multimedia was just beginning to display its potential.
Now, of course, the personal computer has become commonplace in homes and on the job. There is approximately one microcomputer per 12 students in the the U.S. public schools, and the number of computers in schools is rapidly increasing. What definition of computer literacy is most appropriate to help guide school restructuring?
One of the goals of education is to help students become better at solving the wide range of problems they encounter or will encounter. Perhaps the most important idea in problem solving is building on the previous work done by oneself and others&emdash;for example, using reading, writing, and the other basics.
A great deal of accumulated knowledge is stored in print, audio and video recordings, and film. Gradually the technology has been developed to digitize the information. This makes it much easier to store, process, and transmit this information, particularly using computer technology.
The term "multimedia" is now used to refer to a wide range of computer-based digitized media. With modern microcomputer facilities one can read, create, and edit hypermedia text that includes print, sound, graphics, and motion video.
From this analysis, it follows that computer literacy is a functional level of knowledge and skills in using computers and computer-based multimedia as an aid to communication with oneself and others for the purposes of learning, knowing, and for using one's knowledge.
The goal is for all students to be computer literate at a level consistent with the overall level and content of all of the education they are receiving. This means that students who study varying courses at the secondary school level will develop varying computer and computer-based multimedia knowledge and skills.
Students at all grade levels can develop an appropriate level of computer literacy that is consistent with and supportive of their overall levels of education. Two general approaches are needed:
The computer-based multimedia definition of computer literacy fits the needs of students being educated for life in our Information Age society. Thus, school restructuring should include a major focus on helping all students to achieve this type of computer literacy.
In the United States, President Bush is promoting competition among schools for student enrollment. He is using the argument that if parents have an increased number of choices of which school their children will attend, this will lead to improvements in schools. This is somewhat analogous to customers being able to select which grocery store they will use. The better store will get the most customers, forcing other stores to change or go out of business.
Choice of school is an important issue. Its importance is increasing due to the growth in "magnet" schools, corporate non-profit or for-profit schools, and home schooling. However, for most parents/students the number of schools that are conveniently available is quite limited, and there is limited variability in the schools that are available.
Fortunately, there is a different type of competition that is rapidly entering our educational system. It is being provided by distance education and computer-assisted learning (CAL).
Multimedia Delivery Systems (MDS)
The history of distance education is rooted in correspondence courses where the interaction between student and teacher was via print materials delivered by mail. However, steady improvements in telecommunications and electronic technologies have gradually changed distance education. Now distance education may incorporate two-way audio and one-way or two-way video, perhaps supplemented by print materials and videotape.
The history of computer-assisted learning is rooted in programmed texts. Such programmed texts are a far cry from today's interactive, multimedia CAL systems. The breadth and depth of CAL-based curriculum materials, including whole courses, is rapidly increasing. Progress in artificial intelligence is contributing to improving the quality of CAL.
It is clear that distance education and CAL are now closely related. For convenience in this editorial, we will call any combination of distance education and/or CAL a Multimedia Delivery System (MDS).
MDS allows a more "fine tuned" type of competition than does choice of school. Through MDS, an individual student can have increased options both as to what courses are available and how and when they are taught.
MDS for Students
It is clear that one goal of education is to help students learn to learn and to become lifelong learners. MDS will provide the individual student with a wider range of choices of what to learn, when to learn it, and what assistance is available in the learning process. It is not difficult to imagine that eventually every subject a student might want to study would be available in an MDS mode and at an instructional level appropriate to the student. Thus, it seems clear that one major thrust of education should be to help students learn to make use of MDS. Each student should learn what is available through MDS and how well they can use MDS to help themselves learn.
MDS and Teachers
In an earlier editorial in this series, I discussed mimetic and transformative approaches to education. MDS developers are aware of these two approaches. Some are developing systems that strongly support a mimetic approach to education. We see such use of MDS in the videodisc-equipped classroom where the teacher holds the hand controller and steps students through an instructional sequence. All students cover the same materials at the same pace, and the teacher is fully in charge.
However, it is also clear that MDS can bring a new dimension to a transformative educational system. Students can learn what is available through MDS and how they, personally, can most effectively make use of MDS. As students progress in the transformative educational system, they have the added choice of MDS as an aid to learning. We see such use of MDS as groups of students, perhaps located at widely varying locations throughout the world, work together to learn material being presented via distance education. We see this in a school as a group of students work together, and then one or more of the students make use of CAL to study ideas that have arisen in the group activities.
MDS brings a new type of competition into education. It is a competition between the individual teachers in a school building and MDS as an instructional delivery system. Some teachers will find this quite threatening, while others will find that appropriate use of MDS helps them to better facilitate the learning of their students.
Research on school improvement and change strongly points out that both students and teachers resist change. Students want to be taught in the way they have been taught in the past, and teachers tend to teach in the way that they were taught. Both will need help in learning to take advantage of the added choices that MDS bring.
It is clear that MDS can be incorporated into conventional public and private schools, magnet schools, corporate schools, and home schooling. If MDS receives appropriate financial support at state and national levels, it can greatly increase the learning opportunities available to students in impoverished schools. Appropriate use of MDS can empower the individual learner. Thus, school restructuring must pay careful attention to MDS.
The ultimate goal of school restructuring is to improve the quality of education that students obtain. How can we tell if education is getting better? What are the appropriate measures of success?
People often compare education to business, arguing that education would be better if it were run more like a business. Business has the "bottom line" profit. Of course, every business has other goals, such as serving its employees, its community, and its customers. However, continued failure to make a profit usually dooms a business.
Things are not so simple in education. There is no single, universally agreed upon, bottom line in education. For example, what are the relative importances and appropriate levels of student attainment in learning reading, writing, arithmetic, speaking, listening, art, music, and sports? What about mastery of basic skills versus attainment of higher-order cognitive skills? Are schools responsible for values education and sex education? Is the percentage of students who graduate from a high school a good measure of a school system's success?
The major stakeholders in a private sector business include the owners, the employees, the community where the facilities are located, and the customers. All must be taken into consideration in running a successful company. Thus, the bottom line is but one measure of the success of a company. Increasingly, the successful business invests heavily in development of its human capital (the employees), and in customer and public relations.
Similarly, there are many stakeholders in our educational system. These include students, teachers, school administrators, parents, school boards, tax payers, politicians, business people, the school district, the state, and the nation. The needs of each must be addressed, and often these needs are contradictory. For example, suppose that a student grows up in a community in which most of the adults hold clerical positions. Should the student's education be strongly oriented toward preparing for such a clerical position, no matter what the particular talents or interests of the student?
We must not forget that the most important stakeholder is the student. I believe that education will be greatly improved as we move toward empowering students by appropriate use of technology.
Imagine two workers each assigned a graphic artist task. One is equipped with a set of by-hand tools while the other is equipped with computer-based tools. The education and training of the two workers have much in common. Both have learned underlying concepts of graphics design and what constitutes a successful, high quality product. However, the education of one has focused on by-hand tools, while the education of the other has focused primarily on by-computer tools.
Over a broad range of tasks it is evident that the computer-equipped worker will far out perform the other worker. In addition, the amount of training time needed to master the computer tools was most likely less than needed to master the hand tools. Thus, the worker empowered by computer tools gains the dual advantages of reduced training time and increased productivity.
The above scene can be played out in every aspect of our educational system. The story varies with the productivity tool under consideration, from desktop publishing to the spreadsheet and accounting package to the microcomputer based music (MIDI) lab. In all cases the student faces learning both concepts and processes. Our schools are better if students are receiving a high quality education that includes a focus on both underlying concepts and on learning to use modern productivity tools.
Now imagine a different scenario, one in which the same two workers are faced by a relatively new type of graphics problem situation. The workers have had equal levels of education and have approximately the same innate abilities. However, one worker was educated in a school system that was strongly mimetic oriented, while the other was educated in a transformative (progressive) school system. As a consequence, one worker is stronger at carrying out routine tasks while the other is more creative and more readily adjusts to changing situations.
Again, it seems clear which worker will do better. A mimetic educational system works best in times of relatively little change; a transformative educational system is designed to help students become more adaptable and to better deal with change. The Information Age is a time of rapid change; thus, we need an educational system that helps prepare students for change.
The various stakeholders in our educational system each have their own definitions of a successful educational system. Thus, it is inevitable that we will not have universal agreement on how to restructure schools to improve our educational system.
The bottom line, however, is the quality of education being obtained by students. We can empower students by helping them to gain an appropriate combination of basic skills and underlying concepts, along with increased creativity and higher-order cognitive skills. We can empower students by providing them with good access to modern intellectual productivity tools and instruction in their use. School restructuring must include a major focus on accomplishing these tasks.