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 From Now On
The Educational Technology Journal

Vol 9|No 1|September|1999






The Failure of IT
(thus far)
to Transform Schools

by Jamie McKenzie

(About the Author)

(Information Technology) does not transform schools
(by self).

Great teaching combined with a solid familiarity with information literacy skills might transform schools, but there has been entirely too much focus on the promise of wires and cables, laptops and desktops.

There has been far too much spending on equipment and too little on professional development and program development. We have seen too little in the way of pilots. Too little in the way of assessments. It would help school leaders if we had data showing what works and what fails.

Three years into a global rush to wire schools, we still have scanty evidence that the huge expenditures have changed student performance. Politicians wax eloquent about "knowledge economies" while squandering money on poorly conceived educational ventures that ignore what we know about teachers, teaching and change in schools. (see June issue of FNO)

It is time we replace the term (Information Technology) with (Information Literacy).

is mainly about flow - the movement of information through networks of various kinds. But information in a time of info-glut and data smog (Shenk, 1998) can actually interfere with learning and understanding. Information abundance can overwhelm and drown the learner in irrelevant and unreliable information.

(Information Literacy) is mainly about developing understanding and insight. Literacy is about interpretation of information to guide decisions, solve problems and steer through uncertain, complex futures.
What we need most now is a commitment to (Information Literacy) by schools as they strive to improve the reading, writing and thinking of their students. This will entail a sincere and robust investment in professional development to help this generation of teachers learn how to use the new electronic tools in ways that count.

To understand more about what is required for schools to make (Information Literacy) central to purpose, consider this article in the Connected Classroom Newsletter.

Problems of Readiness and Preparation

The September, 1999 report of Market Data Retrieval claims that more than 60% of the teachers replying to a survey indicated that they were not well prepared to use these technologies in their classrooms. See New York Times article.




Also read the excellent report from Education Week, Technology Counts '99: Building the Digital Curriculum which makes it clear that we have much work to do before we see widespread integration.

We are witnessing an equipment shopping spree that violates good sense and ignores what we know about changing schools. Schools have become the target for an unprecedented technology binge that is too often about decoration and status rather than achievement. Early adopting states are now (belatedly) commissioning "audits" that do little to demonstrate any return on investment.

Changing classrooms from "sage on the stage" traditional models to include "guide on the side" student-centered strategies and activities requires a prolonged commitment to professional development - one that is well beyond the resources and the savvy of most school districts, many of which are still fixated on the software trap mentioned earlier. We have few models to emulate and little evidence that this transformation of teaching styles is even possible.

Adding to that issue is a widespread failure to move computers about strategically in order to optimize maximize benefits. In far too many cases, computers are spread thinly across classrooms without regard for readiness and with too little "cultivation" of the classrooms or their occupants. (See May issue of From Now On.) "Strategic Deployment of New Technologies."

Problems of Philosophy and Inclination

Many teachers are inclined to stick with traditional teaching. Hank Becker's research shows that "traditional" teachers are three times less likely to use new technologies than "constructivist" teachers. (see April issue of From Now On) also (click here to go to "Internet Use by Teachers" Web site at University of California Irvine) We apparently suffer both from poor preparation and a lack of inclination.

While many "traditional" teachers in Becker's study express some desire to spend more time on student centered learning, they complain that new state curriculum standards and tests leave them little time or room to support such activities. Their "wishful thinking" does not translate into robust technology usage or (Information Literacy).

Inclination is rarely addressed as a technology challenge. Sadly, there is little written about the reluctant, late adopting, traditional teachers and how to enlist their support in the effort. (see summer bonus issue of From Now On) This failure helps to explain their lack of use.

Problems of philosophy and inclination are best addressed by clarifying purpose. Schools that focus their efforts on (Information Literacy) should be able to win the support of all teachers as they see the connection between literacy and performance.

As was fully outlined in the April issue of From Now On , many of the new, tougher tests require inferential reasoning skills. Students must learn to read between the lines and employ strategic reading.

The thought process is akin to Sherlock Holmes solving a murder mystery.

Sherlock begins with seven suspects. He checks everybody's story. He narrows it down to the butler and Aunt Gertrude. He gathers more evidence. He and Dr. Watson consider the clues. They test their theories. They combine clues.

They zero in on one suspect, lay a trap and find their woman (or man.)

Whodunit? The butler? Aunt Gertrude?

These same skills are central to problem-solving and decision-making. They are basic to (Information Literacy).


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