Teaching in a Digital Age:
New Resources for Envisioning Change
by Mark Sargent and Sara Armstrong
The George Lucas Educational Foundation • San Rafael, California 
MultiMedia Schools • October 2000 
[Editor’s Note: When the Internet began to arrive in schools, it was embraced by educators already seasoned in the challenges of change. Pioneering library/media specialists, as well as innovative classroom teachers, comprised the majority of professionals identified in Margaret Honey’s 1994 first-ever national study of educational technology use, a trend which has persisted in Hank Becker’s 1999 study. They saw technology as a lever to amplify the forces for education reform. However, the positive changes have predominantly happened at the individual classroom level and have not extended to the system, district, or even school-wide level. 

This pattern is about to change, if the George Lucas Educational Foundation’s “Teaching in the Digital Age” project has its way. Moving beyond individual improvements requires both leadership and community support, each of which are contingent upon the availability of compelling models. Using a powerful combination of Web-based, video, and print media, we now have an extensive toolkit from which to build local efforts to increase understanding of our work among parents, administrators, and decision-makers. In this issue of MMS, we introduce the site. In the November/December issue, we will publish a guide to provide specific strategies you can use to organize public events to build support for your efforts in your community. The job is too big to tackle alone and too important to leave for later. By familiarizing ourselves with this toolkit, beginning with how one school made the transformation, we can prepare ourselves to pursue practical, effective strategies to get the support we need. ]

It’s 11:30 a.m. at Sherman Oaks Elementary School in San Jose, California, and not a teacher is to be found in a classroom or on the green lawns and pathways outside. Visibility aside, however, they are doing some of their most important work.

Every school day between 11:30 a.m. and 1 p.m., Principal Peggy Bryan and all Sherman Oaks teachers gather in the teachers’ room for 90 minutes of professional development—a rare occurrence in most schools, despite the widespread call for more teacher professionalism. The teachers debate instructional theory and practice, try to solve problems that have come up or are likely to come up in their classrooms, discuss curriculum, commiserate, seek advice, offer encouragement, or quietly reflect on or refine a lesson plan.
The George Lucas Educational Foundation
The George Lucas Educational Foundation (GLEF) is a non-profit operating foundation dedicated to promoting a vision of inspired learning and teaching—where students are challenged and engaged, have access to interactive technologies, and are supported by inspired teachers and involved parents and communities. Established in 1991 by filmmaker George Lucas, the foundation produces and distributes materials sharing hundreds of powerful examples of learning and teaching already successful in our nation’s schools. We hope this information will stimulate active involvement and guide choices in school reform.

What is your story? 
And what is the best way to tell it?
I have been an educator for nearly 30 years—first as a classroom teacher, then as a staff developer, curriculum developer, and technology advocate. At the George Lucas Educational Foundation (GLEF), my job is to locate and share stories that tell the good news in education—for the purpose of shining the light on solutions to problems and avenues that lead to successful change. Anyone who cares about education and has worked for any length of time to support students and teachers has a story to tell. When we all tell our stories—what worked, what didn’t, where we found unexpected support, where we encountered challenges and overcame them—that many more possibilities are opened up. The work in education continues to increase student achievement and understanding, to identify more effective uses of technology in curricula, to tap library media specialists in the ongoing task of helping us all think critically about the information we take in from a variety of media, as well as honoring the work of teachers, technology coordinators, school staff, principals, superintendents, legislators, parents, students, community members, and others. As worldwide citizens—brought together through the Internet—we have stories to share with one another for the benefit of our students and colleagues. Through film, text, audio, and visuals, GLEF continues to share stories about teaching in the digital age—and all the people and skills necessary for success. Please add your stories to the mix. Let others know what you are doing—it benefits us all.  

—Sara Armstrong, Ph.D., Director of Content
The George Lucas Educational Foundation

While many school administrators say that building time for teachers to join together as professionals during a jam-packed school day is practically impossible, Bryan says it was easy. Teachers meet while students have lunch and a recreation period. Paraprofessionals—usually parents—come in during that time and oversee the children. “It’s simple, inexpensive, and it makes all the difference,” she says.

Sherman Oaks is the first featured story in a new Web-based project from the George Lucas Educational Foundation (GLEF), called “Teaching in the Digital Age.” Launched in September, GLEF’s new site is intended to provide a broad base of digital resources for all of us who are engaged in education reform. The premise behind “Teaching in the Digital Age” is that transforming our nation’s schools depends on a new and much broader vision for places called “schools.” To achieve this vision, every stakeholder group must assume a new and different role, from school administrators to school board members, from teachers to students, from higher education to businesses and community groups. Happily, this vision is a reality in today’s most innovative schools—places like Sherman Oaks Elementary School.

Sherman Oaks is in fact what a school can look like when a passionate, creative principal is given free rein by her superintendent to “go forth and be different.” Under Peggy Bryan’s leadership, the school has established a culture where parent involvement and getting to know the whole child are so valued that teachers make house calls; where teachers are equal partners in running the school and are supported in their professional growth in many ways, including through the daily 90-minute period for planning and collaboration; and where technology pervades all aspects of learning and teaching—an unusual occurrence at a school comprised of low-income students, many for whom English is a second language.

The “Teaching in the Digital Age” site explores Sherman Oaks from a variety of perspectives, using a range of digital media. In-depth feature articles address the school’s approach to project-based instruction, assessment and standardized testing, dual language immersion, parent and community involvement, and the design of the school building. Digital video clips, around 5 minutes in length, provide further depth on selected issues and a flavor of the vibrant life of the school. The site also provides for asynchronous interaction with key figures at the school. Later this year, GLEF will complement its online offerings with a video cassette, including a 30-minute documentary on the school, plus all the Web-based digital video clips.

Other Web content expands the topic of “Teaching in the Digital Age.” Voices representing school boards, parents, students, administrators, teachers, business members, and others appear in stories that support the idea that good teaching and learning, resulting in higher student achievement, is made possible by home, community, and school partnerships. Promoting appropriate and effective technology use in education, along with thoughtful technology training for students, teachers, and administrators, is also a key theme in many of these stories. Search and browse features on the site allow users to readily access text, audio, and digital video resources on a wide range of topics.

The Web site also includes stories in English and Spanish that appeared in Edutopia, the newsletter of the George Lucas Educational Foundation. Users can go to the Web site to subscribe to this free newsletter. Learn & Live, an hour-long documentary film accompanied by a 300-page user guide, features five schools from across the country where such innovative practices as school-to-career programs, working with experts online, project-based learning, and school as community center are taking place. The online “Digital Toolkit,” as well as the GLEF CD-ROM, features short film segments from Learn & Live, with accompanying resources, information about how the programs are implemented, links to articles, and suggested discussion questions.

In college classes, teacher professional development sessions, parent programs, and presentations to legislators, among others, users have found GLEF film segments and articles helpful in exploring important educational ideas. Since each educational setting is unique, by providing a variety of viewpoints and resources, GLEF hopes to offer ideas and examples to start and further discussions for reinventing all aspects of schools.

New stories and film segments highlighting outstanding schools and programs will appear on the Teaching in the Digital Age Web site on a regular basis. Telling the “good news” in education—sharing stories of what works and how schools got there—continues to be central to GLEF’s mission. We invite you to visit the Web site [www.glef.org], join in the discussion, and share these resources with your colleagues.

Communications to the authors may be addressed to Mark Sargent, Director of Communications, and Sara Armstrong, Director of Content, The George Lucas Educational Foundation, PO Box 3494, San Rafael, CA 94912; phone: 415/444-8941; fax: 415/507-0499; e-mail: msargent@glef.org, saarmst@glef.org.

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