Ferdi Serim
[DirectConnect]
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Technology Across the Curriculum
by Ferdi Serim Editor, MultiMedia Schools
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Curriculum Integration is the Holy Grail, sought alike by users (teachers, students, districts, and states) and providers (corporate, governmental, and not-for-profit). When the goal of high-quality content that spans the curriculum encounters a plethora of standards, we see a contemporary Tower of Babel scenario. "Whose curriculum is it anyway?" is a prerequisite question to selecting suitable solutions and products.

"Too often in North American classrooms today, increasingly sophisticated technological machinery is used for trivial purposes, for want of a coherent instructional and social vision to drive it." So write Jim Cummins and Dennis Sayers in their book, Brave New Schools (St. Martin's Griffin, New York, NY, 1995).

This situation is the result of conflicting approaches to the mission of education, each of which will fashion the introduction of technology toward very different ends. Understanding the three approaches, and the historical precedents whose philosophies they play out on the contemporary stage, is crucial to devising effective strategies for technology integration and professional growth. It is important to understand that none of these approaches are inherently superior or flawed with respect to the other; rather, each approach is best suited to a particular context and can only be evaluated in terms of the context within which it is applied.
 

Three Approaches: Traditional, Progressive, Transformative

Traditional approaches, which often advocate a return to basics, share an underlying assumption that what is required of education is the transmission of knowledge and proven practices. When questions are asked, the answers are known beforehand, and it is the job of the educator to guide the students to think in such a way that they arrive at appropriate, correct answers.

Application Example: Much drill and practice software is based on meeting the needs of this type of curriculum. The addition of multimedia, immediate feedback for both learner and teacher, allows teachers to "offload" these classroom activities to independent use by students, at home as well as in the classroom, and to devote more time to the other, more challenging levels of learning. Students who are having difficulty mastering the fundamentals can get the help they need in this way, thanks to the technology.

Progressive approaches often stress process over product. How one arrives at an answer is more important than achieving the answer in the shortest possible time. The assumption is that by internalizing the processes that lead to correct answers, learners will be better able to solve problems independently. The role of the educator is to manage the processes in the learning environment so that the prescribed learning objectives are attained with the maximum flexibility.

Application Example: Software that has assessment built into instruction can provide a level of analysis that shapes instruction on the basis of student progress. Additionally, simulations that involve sight, sound, interaction with concepts made visual by seeing the results of "what if" scenarios all represent powerful uses of the technology to extend the mastery of concepts. One of the most impressive uses I've seen is how APEX has harnessed both the interactive and coaching models in its AP courses for Physics, Calculus, and other subjects.

Transformative approaches stress questioning over process or product, by placing the acquisition of skills and concepts within a context of authentic, challenging tasks. The assumption is that people learn best when engaged in activities which they care about, and which make a difference in people's lives. The role of the educator is to place the students at the center of their own learning, as facilitator rather than instructor or manager.

Application Example: Web-and-Flow is both a tool and a process which guides teachers and students through six different activity types (from basic all the way up the evolutionary scale to WebQuests) in a manner that makes for meaningful learning. [See http://web-and-flow.com.]
 

Technology Across Each Curriculum
As a profession, we spend far too much time arguing about which of these approaches should be used. The back-to-basics folks decry the project-based or technology-enhanced solutions as distractions. The higher-order thinking folks want to end memorization and rote learning. This is absurd. We need them all, in the proper mix.

The metaphor I make is musical. As a jazz musician, I celebrate freedom and can create responses to a variety of situations on demand. However, this higher-order musical thinking came only after thousands of hours of practicing scales, chords, rhythm, and the fundamentals of performance. This represents the Traditional approach. Next, studying repertoire and performing with others provided me with the Process fundamentals required to turn skills into music. Finally, the Transformative level of applying what had been learned through study of a host of musical traditions (western classical and contemporary, world music, blues, and the history of jazz itself) unlocked the keys to jazz.

Whether you are a musician or not, to drink deeply of the benefits technology can provide requires new skills for new kinds of teaching and learning. Here are some resources to expand your vision of what's possible regarding technology and the curriculum:

AEL Curriculum Snapshots
http://www.ael.org/snapshot/index.htm
Imagine your in-box stuffed with educational software, Web site listings, and descriptions of new technologies. If you prefer to observe teachers using these technology resources, Curriculum Snapshots is the guide for you. It allows busy teachers who want to integrate technology into their own classrooms to "visit" other classrooms for ideas and inspiration.

TERC
http://www.terc.edu/
TERC was founded with a vision of creating innovative instructional programs and materials and this commitment continues today: TERC develops, evaluates, promotes, and supports implementation of exemplary, inquiry-based mathematics and science curricula. Learn more about curriculum at TERC. In its Curriculum area, you'll find links to current and completed projects, products, and publications.

GEM
http://www.thegateway.org/
The Gateway to Educational Materials is a consortium effort to provide educators with quick and easy access to thousands of educational resources found on various federal, state, university, non-profit, and commercial Internet sites. GEM is sponsored by the U.S. Department of Education and is a special project of the ERIC Clearinghouse on Information & Technology.

Pathways to School Improvement
http://www.ncrel.org/sdrs/pathwayg.htm
NCREL (the North Central Regional Educational Laboratory) provides Pathways, an incredible resource for backing your curriculum plans with the best research. Its Critical Issues in Curriculum are organized around Integrating Standards into the Curriculum and Developing an Applied and Integrated Curriculum. [See http://
www.ncrel.org/sdrs/areas/cu0cont.htm.]

Conclusion: Curriculum Beyond Category
As you work your way through the curriculum as it is taught in your building and district, make sure you match the tools to the learning objectives. Our challenge is not so much a shortage of high-quality materials as a mismatch between products and purposes. One size does not fit all, any more than one style of music satisfies all audiences. In the pages that follow, we'll do our best to provide you with real-world feedback from our peers, showing how each has used technology to meet challenges across the curriculum. The ideas you find here will help you orchestrate learning in a way that matches Duke Ellington's highest words of praise: "beyond category."
 
 

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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