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October 2001 
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Technology Integration into the Curriculum: What Propels It?
by Rob Reilly Ed.D. 
Computer Education Teacher • Lanesborough (Massachusetts) School System 

[logo]There was a time many years ago when I was a classroom teacher. Then in 1980 I became a computer education teacher. I'm not quite sure how that came about. Perhaps it was that I knew how to turn a computer on and off and I also knew how to run programs. But I was always interested in techno-gizmos as a child and now I was in a position to be part of the technology revolution just taking root.

My school computer lab had what was then state-of-the-art computers—16 Atari 800s with floppy drives and color monitors. We had a few software-based programs and a few plug-in, cartridge-based applications (e.g., word processors and spreadsheets). But I must confess, much of what I had was a bit less than educational in nature. But, hey, we were learning how to run computers; we were not doing social studies, or reading, or spelling.

The lack of software did not stop me. I was a techie. I found magazines that had programming code for some cool games. I traded programs with other techies. My classes learned BASIC (Beginner's All-purpose Symbol Instruction Code) programming skills, and we learned how computers operated. We were learning to be techies.

It was clear that computers were coming to schools and businesses, and we had to teach the children about them. So the computer education curriculum varied from week to week—there was always something new. Whatever I found in trade magazines and the popular magazines that dealt with computers went into my "curriculum." I had a fine old time. I could play with computers all day long. And best of all, the children enjoyed it also. We were all learning new things together. We were really learning ... and we were having fun.

More. Give Me More!
My lab had quite a few Atari computers and life was grand. Then Commodore came out with the Commodore 64 computer. So, I bought a few of those. I wanted some of them as they would run a BBS. "BBS" stands for bulletin board system. A BBS was the forerunner of Web pages and e-mail. Some local techie would configure the BBS software on his/her C-64, which would be equipped with a modem and a dedicated phone line. Users would log into to the BBS and play some of the games and leave some e-mail for other BBS users.

These systems allowed one user at a time to connect and usually ran over 1,200 baud modems (as opposed to the 56,000 baud modems of today). BBSs were cool—there were always new features to incorporate. There were always new pieces of hardware to connect to the BBS. I remember when Commodore came out with a hard drive that was capable of holding 20 megs. That was heaven. After all, I'm a techie—and all this was fascinating. The students loved it. We were learning about technology. We were learning about computer technology.

After a few years of adopting new techno-gizmos, I was a bit afraid that my Commodore BBS was about at the end of its road. The computer was almost at the limit of its capacity. The Atari computer was also dying out at that time. I did not know what techie thing I would do next.

Then in the mid-'80s along came IBM computers (and IBM compatible computers), and these very quickly overshadowed the Commodore and Atari computers. Well, it did not take much. But I was elated that there was a new gizmo to tinker with. Remember, I'm a techie, so this was great as far as I was concerned.

Almost Heaven, IBM. . . .
For the last 15 years I have been in IBM heaven. All sorts of new techno-gizmos have come along. The modem went from 1,200 baud to 2,400 baud in very quick order. I remember the telephone company consultant telling me that he was fairly sure that the phone line could not support more than 2,400 baud transmissions, and he was really sure that 4,800 baud would be the upper limit.

Well, there were 4,800 baud modems produced, but they lasted about a month. Then 9,600 baud modems went onto the market and were very quickly followed by 14,400 baud modems. And, despite what the telephone guy told me, 9,600 baud modems worked just fine. So did the 14,000 baud modems. (Note: It does seem that 56,000 baud modems won't run over typical phone lines—the telephone guy was right that copper wire has its limits, but he was a bit off on the transmission rate.)

Oh, and by the way, I dumped my Commodore 64 BBS and configured one on an IBM computer. There were lots of incoming calls. This was heaven—remember, I'm a techie and this is what I love to do. The students loved it also. I did not need to make lesson plans, I just covered what I was working on that day. Even if I had made lesson plans, they'd change constantly. After all, this was computer education; the technology changed hourly. It's not history or math or reading.

Then in the early '90s along came the Internet. Being a true techie, I jumped all over this development. I finagled a UNIX server from a friend at Digital Equipment Corp. It was a trade-in, but I didn't care, as I was a techie and I was in heaven with all this new techno-gadgetry; and the Internet was a new playground. The students also loved it. We explored all sorts of new technology horizons.

Super-Techman Is Born
As time went on, the administrators all bought new IBM XT computers. These state-of-the-art computers were capable of doing word processing, managing databases, and running some basic educational software. It was then that the superintendent of schools began to notice me. I had a talent that no one else had—I was a techie, and could make these new gizmos work. I could teach the staff how to make their word processor or spreadsheets work. I could also help them out of trouble.

Life as a techie was great—there were always new things to tinker with!! And ... it appeared that there would be no end to the techno-toys that always on the horizon. There would be no shortage of new stuff to teach the students about, no shortage of lesson plans. Actually I still did not have to write lesson plans down, because even if I did they'd be obsolete a few minutes after I had finished them.

Boy, it's great to be a techie. It's great to be able to tinker and teach children about technology. There's always something new.

Super-Techman as Technology Coordinator
Then in the late-'90s, the superintendent decided that a technology coordinator was needed. No one was at all sure what this person would do, but we knew we needed one. The schools were acquiring lots of computers and printers and such, and they needed an electronic janitor and technical guru.

I became the technology coordinator for the school district. There were only a few technology coordinators in schools then, but many school systems soon followed suit. Life was great and getting better. I could now do techie things in lots of schools, or so I thought.

As I traveled from one school to another it was apparent that there were a number of teachers who were "early adopters" of technology—and we became fast friends. They liked what I had to offer. They wanted to push forward and integrate technology into their classroom curriculum. But the reality soon became apparent that even the "early adopters" had a different agenda. Or perhaps its fair to say that they did not have the same agenda that I had. They were not techies, and they were not as interested as I was in the next techno-gizmo. What they were interested in was finding technology that would improve their curriculum. No, they were not techies, nor did they really want to be!

I guess the basic difference is that typical teachers will adopt technology if it can improve what they want to do in their curriculum. They won't get on-board if technology is being adopted simply because it's the newest thing. Remember, they're not techies. I forgot this.

Hmmmm ... I was the technology coordinator ... I am a techie ... Virtually all the other technology coordinators that I know are techies ... All my colleagues are responsible for technology integration. Heck. Many state departments of education have created a certification for technology coordinator and/or instructional technology specialist or educational technology specialist. That seems to be a good thing. But ... these certifications are primarily focused on integrating technology into the curriculum. That seems to be a techie's point of view. I know, as I'm a techie and I love tinkering with techno-gadgets.

Carting Off Old Paradigms
But I have come to believe that technology integration into the curriculum seems to confuse the cart with the horse. Technology integration views the technology as driving factor. But to improve education is to improve the curriculum. The curriculum, not the technology, must be the driving factor here.

We must understand that it should be the needs of the curriculum that drive the curricular changes, not the thrill of the latest techno-gizmo. We should also understand that technology coordinators are techies, and we see things through a techie's eyes. I know this. Remember, I'm a techie and I love tinkering with the technology. That's different from a curriculum coordinator, who focuses on the subject matter and is also well versed in what techno-gizmos can be employed to support curriculum improvements.

I hate to sound like a middle-of-the-road guy, but I think that the middle ground is appropriate here—you need to have knowledge of technology, which all technology coordinators have. But ... but ... but ... technology coordinators must also have a well-grounded knowledge of curriculum development, which they tend not to have. Until technology coordinators become fluent in curriculum development, technology integration into the curriculum will not be scalable. It will not spread beyond those teachers who are the early adopters. It will not be adopted by those teachers who are minimally technology-literate.

Dr. Rob Reilly is the computer education teacher at the Lanesborough Elementary School in Lanesborough, Massachusetts. He is also a Visiting Scientist at the MIT Media Lab in Cambridge, Massachusetts, where he is conducting NSF funded research in the area of affective computing. Communications to the author should be sent to Dr. Reilly at e-mail: reilly@media.mit.edu. His Web site is http://www.media.mit.edu/~reilly.

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