Ferdi Serim
What a Difference a Decade Makes
by Ferdi Serim Editor, MultiMedia Schools
Volume 9, Number 3 May/June 2002

I write this editorial, returning from the Consortium for School Networking (CoSN) Conference, anticipating the NECC conference that will be held in San Antonio as you read this. I was tempted to invoke imagery of a new era, on the basis of what I saw and heard. Instead, to fully grasp what has happened, let's pull back to the pre-CoSN era: the Internet is a word as yet unspoken in schools, personal computers have themselves just arrived, and networks (if they exist) are for labs dedicated to what is derisively known as drill-and-kill courseware (paid for by Title I funds to help inner-city kids achieve).

The pivotal point in changing this situation, as Linda Roberts told us at CoSN's 10th birthday, wasn't done by any one person, it was the work of an army. A coalition comprised of higher education, K-12 innovators, visionary vendors, and public policy pioneers fought a tough, sustained battle, resulting in the 1996 Telecommunications Reform Act. Without this advocacy, the billions of dollars of E-Rate funds that allowed our nation's schools and classrooms to connect to the Internet would never have happened. For this alone, we all owe CoSN a debt of gratitude. However, I'll suggest a more fitting response later.

No Child Left Behind
As enormous a change as the ubiqity of the Internet may be, it pales in comparison with the change that happened with the passage of the ESEA "No Child Left Behind" Act. Coming 2 decades after "A Nation At Risk," the education landscape will be profoundly altered by the shift of focus away from "inputs" and onto student results. "No Child Left Behind" fundamentally changes how education is paid for, as well as how technology fits into the process. The profound, yet subtle shift from researching "does technology work?" to "what are the conditions under which technology improves student learning?" opens an enormous opportunity for everyone in our profession.

The best perspective on this issue I've found is the new ETS report, "Facing the Hard Facts in Education Reform" [see http://www.ets.org/research/pic/facingfacts.pdf]. As Drew Gitomer, senior vice president of Research, says in the preface, "If we only focus on the test scores, and not on the alignment of educational policies and practices that influence those scores, we will do nothing more than blame those who have not benefited from the system."

In pursuit of improving student results, particularly in schools that are not working, or among students who, despite our best efforts, remain at risk, everything else must justify its existence. Bob Moore, executive director of Information Technology Services, Blue Valley School District, Overland Park, Kansas, attributes success at his district to a decision taken several years ago. "If it doesn't contribute to student achievement, we don't want to be doing it. No matter what it is." This mandate is now national in scope, backed up by funding. Money now goes directly to the states. Funds can be shifted in any way needed to meet priorities determined locally. Any technology funds must dedicate 25 percent to high-quality professional development. Who will define "high quality?" Unless we demand ties to achievement, unless we participate in developing a new breed of product, "high quality" will be a self-nominated accolade.

It Takes an Army
In order for these changes to be more than cosmetic, it will again take an army. Ours is a war against ignorance, and we can afford to take no prisoners. No prisoners held back by unwillingness to examine their practice. No prisoners held back by reluctance to give up that which doesn't work. No prisoners held back by habits of spending.

The reverberations of this revolution will be seen on a screen near you, as the choices of what you can see and do with technology go one of two ways. Either old practices will be given a fresh coat of PR "happytalk" with buzzwords about standards, accountability and achievement prominently displayed, or new potentials for windows into student performance and new tools for making sense of this information will guide us to helping students succeed. Don't expect improved products unless you demand them, unless you partner with your administrators to make clear to vendors precisely what information is needed from software, hardware, and courseware and what quantifiable outcomes are needed from professional development. Just as the three largest states determine what goes into the textbooks all of us use, the 1,000 largest districts will shape the capabilities that are built into the tools we will use to bring every child forward. However, organizations like CoSN provide all 15,000 of our districts with the potential voice to improve the knowledge base from which these decisions will be made.

It will take an army to make this happen, but the battle has already been joined, and we share in this issue some early victories.

Big6 Transformations
Bob Berkowitz shows us in our cover story that student results can improve by improving the quality of thinking, both by students and their teachers. Shunning the temptation to "teach to the test" the Big6 transforms the task of raising performance into an information-based problem.

The war against terrorism has been remarkable in terms of unprecedented cooperation among nations who just a short while ago had difficulty agreeing on anything. Faced with mortal danger, priorities come into different focus, and the range of actions placed on the table for collaboration expand. The war on ignorance, with respect to mindless technology and instructional choices, requires new levels of understanding and relationship between educators, vendors, and decision-makers.

When the average time a student spends in front of a computer at school remains stuck at 1 hour per week, it is of critical importance what goes on in that hour. If that hour doesn't provide evidence that can be examined to see student growth (or the lack thereof), don't do it.

When the average time a student spends at home in front of a computer is 14 hours per week, it is of critical importance that students be provided meaningful tasks and the information-literacy skills to succeed at these tasks. If some of these hours don't provide evidence that can be examined to see student growth (or the lack thereof), we are missing a tremdous opportunity. Some products build in the potential to link activities from school to home. Learn about them. Use them.

For example, among the most exciting developments I witnessed at the Florida Educational Technology Conference was LeapFrog's LeapTrack Assessment and Instruction System. The thoughfulness and research basis that went into developing this program is astounding, allowing teachers to understand the early literacy process on an individual level among their students in ways simply impossible without such visionary uses of technology. Look for a feature on this remarkable system in the fall!

Similarly, the Learning Management System built into Riverdeep's existing Destination Math and its soon-to-be-released Reading component use the power of technology to assess student learning and shape instruction so that every child moves forward.

This summer in July, you have an opportunity to see how what's available now may profoundly expand our future choices. ThinkquestLive [http://www.thinkquest.org/TQLive/], held in Seattle July 20-21, will create an environment where powerful technologies are brought together to be experienced by 400 on-site participants, and potentially by vastly larger numbers through the Webcasts during the event, and two 1-hour segments that will be broadcast by SERC this fall. It may be the most important $250 you or your district spends, in terms of raising expectations and charting a course for how your district will shift its money toward more effective technology investments.

Halfway through the decade now complete, we managed to wire our schools. Halfway through the next decade, we must deliver on the promise that came with the wires...to help move all children into their brightest possible futures!

Communications to the Editor may be addressed to: Ferdi Serim, MultiMedia Schools, 11 Palacio Road, Santa Fe, NM 87505; 505/466-1901; fax: 505/466-1901; ferdi@infotoday.com.

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