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The Next R: Relationships
by Ferdi Serim, Editor, MultiMedia Schools
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Technology casts into stark relief those aspects of modern life that embrace change and those that resist change. As we in North America begin another cycle of schooling, controversy is no accidental companion: Education has become a battleground for political, economic, and cultural contests. Will the “teach to the test” movement triumph over the “constructivist, project-based learning” advocates? One wonders who will get custody of our nation’s children in what seems like the beginning of a bitter divorce.

Viewing the dispute as “technology versus traditional” misses the point. Placing the student at the center of his/her own learning without planning for and nurturing the relationships between a student and his/her family, community, and world merely reinforces the “technology as isolation” stereotypes that feed EdTech skeptics. The barriers to building effective teams, whether between parents, students, and educators or between teachers, library/media specialists, and administrators, are hard coded into the relationships our systems foster.
 

They Just Don’t Understand
For too long, parents have been typecast in the role of spectators and fund-raisers. A certain number of “pushy parents” penetrate the inner-workings of most schools, often taking on leadership tasks in exchange for a more prominent spot for their kids on the school’s radar screen. They see no other way to access the information required to understand what’s going on at school.

Taken beyond logical limits, a purely technological “fix” would be “school cam”—a live video feed of their child’s classroom, all day long. Being able to view the teacher’s every move might be less surprising to parents than seeing their child’s unvarnished classroom behavior! Forced viewing of either would not likely pass constitutional muster under the Fourth Amendment, which bars cruel and unusual punishment.

Surely there must be better ways to answer the legitimate questions, “What’s being learned?,” “How’s my child doing?,” and “How can I help?” Quarterly report cards don’t do it, and neither do annual high-stakes tests. One anticipated outcome of regular, effective, two-way communications might be demand for higher-quality measures of student progress, designed to shape individual efforts to improve rather than generate acceptably high “average” scores.
 

Perhaps We Just Don’t Understand?
Fortunately, technology has matured and permeated our society to a sufficient degree that new opportunities are at hand now. In the next three issues of Multimedia Schools, we will explore varied aspects of these capabilities and how we as professional educators can both contribute to and harvest the benefits from their use. We begin with ideas, individuals, and organizations that are bridging the metaphorical moat that for too long has isolated schools.

Just as the symbolic destruction of the Berlin Wall in 1989 opened our minds to the possibility for global shifts in power, the recent reality that a majority of our school classrooms are now connected to the Internet is a profound milestone. The fall of the wall didn’t end totalitarianism or oppression worldwide, and neither did the wiring of classrooms extend everywhere, or even adequately. Nonetheless, the real news is that a critical mass of homes enjoy even better computational power and connectivity than our schools, setting the stage for what just may be the next revolution in learning.

That revolution will be about people and how they relate, rather than about content or computers, and there are emerging models that light our way. WiredKids is a new umbrella, not-for-profit organization that can assist us in this effort. By helping people to place the risks and benefits of the Internet into perspective and then working to increase information literacy and empowering parents to more effectively contribute to the health of their schools, we enter a true “win-win” situation. K12Planet.com is a new model for providing parents, students, and educators with a secure, confidential window into student performance on a real-time basis and in linking school to home resources in ways that empower parents to support the learning needs of their children. Doug Johnson shares how we, as individuals, can begin to open these windows now, whether or not our schools and districts are ready yet to start down a large-scale path for opening communications. Angela Seydel, an active parent in her own right, begins an exploration of how the traditional parental fund-raising roles are transformed by e-commerce.
 

Bringing IT Home: We Can Only Understand Together
There is nothing anyone cares more passionately about than their children. At this very moment, privacy and safety concerns have risen to a fever pitch, largely on the basis of misunderstanding and partial information. As educators, our gifts are focused on helping people learn, so that they can make better choices in their lives. Our responsibility is to inform ourselves, so that we can involve ourselves in building relationships with the communities and families who touch our lives and who place with us their trust.
 
 
 

Communications to the author 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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