Vol 3 . . . No 10 . . . June, 1993

1. Monthly Comments

2. Newtonian Possibilities: Frontier Technologies and Schools

by Jamie McKenzie

----- Monthly Comments ----

Last week I had the pleasure of working with more than 40 Kentucky math and science teachers who had been selected from a large field across the state to serve as technology specialists who will provide colleagues with support, encouragement and suggestions for the integration of technology across the curriculum. For an entire week we delved into PEMD Discovery(TM) and DataDesk(TM) in great depth and tasted the power of number crunching with good computers and software. Given the continuing failure of most districts and states to provide such extended quality time as a foundation for our transition to a technologically appropriate educational experience, I sometimes find myself wondering how we are going to make the journey. We surely need to find new models for the provision of adult learning, models which extend beyond the workshops we have relied upon in the past.

Seamless integration of technology throughout curriculum is unlikely to occur until we establish a learning culture, one which sparks and supports learning daily.

FUTURE ISSUES Topic Deadline

SEPTEMBER Barriers to New Technologies, Part One Sept. 1

Staff Balkanization

OCTOBER Barriers to New Technologies, Part Two Oct. 1

Skill Fixation in Staff Development

NOVEMBER Libraries of the Future Nov. 1

DECEMBER Traveling the Electronic Highway Dec. 1

Copyright Policy: Materials published in From Now On may be duplicated for educational, non-profit school district use only.

Newtonian Possibilities:

Frontier Technologies and Schools

by Jamie McKenzie


Why do school technology plans so rarely mention the cutting edge technologies of the day, let alone those upon or beyond the horizon?

In a dozen recent presentations I have asked audiences from a mixture of districts how many mention Apple's Newton in their plans, for example, and it is rare to find a single hand extended.

Inappropriate Planning Models?

Can this phenomenon be traced to planning which too narrowly focuses upon purchasing decisions? Do we send groups out to see the latest technologies in neighboring districts and then incorporate such models in our plans? If we follow such a process, eventually waiting another year before acquiring the equipment, we are doomed to experience premature obsolescence.

Previous columns in From Now On have persistently argued 1) that philosophy and learning (not instructional) goals must drive the planning and 2) that a Future Perfect perspective must elevate the planning team's sights, employing scenarios (stories of the future) to stimulate thinking about the infotecture and technology systems.

Stan Davis claims that strategic planning provides a poor basis for innovative thinking about the future because it is too closely wedded to the past. As long as we keep asking how we can improve the delivery of instruction with new technologies, we may overlook the potential of new technologies to transform learning.

If the premise of teacher-dominated instruction remains unchallenged as a paradigm or mind-set, technologies will be selected to fit that mold or twisted to fit that mold. Media, for example, can be searched in powerful ways by students using hyper-navigation skills if the premise of student-centered learning is adopted, but videodiscs may just as easily be used to support didactic teacher lectures.

If we do not begin by asking how students may learn better rather than how teachers may teach better, our questions and our answers may be off target.

"Pie in the Sky?"

After a brief and disastrous flirtation with experimentation in the 1960s and 1970s, schools became one of the most conservative institutions in the society. Innovation became a code word for reckless, open-classroom type ventures which allegedly resulted in a decline in student performance and skill.

The wreckage from open classrooms lingers like ash in the air after a volcano eruption. We have learned to play it safe. While bandwagons still rush through with great sound and fury, we pay lip service to these superficial diversions, knowing that "they too shall pass."

Playing it safe regrettably often means copying our successful neighbors rather than taking a truly experimental or inventive approach. Our experimentation is too often limited to the walls of existing practice. We dare not venture to Farmer MacGregor's garden or taste the forbidden vegetables.

Few district possess what might be called "innovation infrastructure" - the staff, the resources (time, money, training) and the culture to make open-minded exploration of new technologies a basic mission.

Vendor Secrecy?

It would help a great deal if the software and hardware vendors would establish more experimental partnerships with school districts, allowing for more beta sites, but the relationship is all too consumer-oriented. It is almost as if too much of a future focus might threaten profits by undermining sales of items already on the market.

How many of us have been invited to work with Apple on the educational potential of the Newton, for example? Wouldn't you appreciate such an invitation?


The division of staff members into factions which either support or resist various innovations often blocks meaningful progress, as energy is poured into conflict rather than exploration. Until we develop more collaborative learning teams willing to consider new possibilities with an open mind, horizon technologies such as hand-held assistants may remain obscured from view.


Banks were happy with bankers' hours far longer than their customers. When ATMs first appeared upon the scene, many bankers shook their heads in doubt and displeasure. When a few enterprising banks started making good profits and captured market share by pushing the new technologies and more convenient hours, the others awakened and began copying their example. Today the business has been transformed.

Many teachers seem divided on the value or importance of the new educational technologies. Some teach on as if it were 1968 and nothing much had changed. Others embrace electronic text and media as if it were a blessing.

If we are basically satisfied with existing practice, there is little incentive or inclination to bother with the horizon. Early settlers of this country must have shaken their heads, too, at those who kept moving West, giving up the sanctuary of settled lands for uncertainty, danger and hardship.


The promises of new technologies extend far beyond improved instruction, but an understanding of their potential requires a shift in perspective, a willingness to let go of what we have been in order to consider what we might become. Imagine Newton ignoring the apple falling! Can we afford to ignore the Newton?

Credits: The background is from Jay Boersma.
Other drawings and graphics are by Jamie McKenzie.

Copyright Policy: Materials published in From Now On may be duplicated in hard copy format educational, non-profit school district use only. All other uses, transmissions and duplications are prohibited unless permission is granted expressly. Showing these pages remotely through frames is not permitted.
FNO is applying for formal copyright registration for articles.

From Now On Index Page