Bonnie Replies

Bonnie Responds

Article written in collaboration by Bonnie Bracey and Arthur J. Galus

As Ted Oppenheimer was researching material for his article, 'The Computer Delusion' in the July 1997 issue of Atlantic Monthly, he took time to interview me. I shared my experiences as a member of the National Information Infrastructure Advisory Council with him. After years of fighting to get even the most rudimentary technology for teachers, I was so very hopeful that this article would pave the way for more technology adaptation in the classroom. Needless to say, I was quite shocked when I finally read Oppenheimer's words.

What I didn't understand of what I read is Oppenheimer's contention that teachers, administrators, and school children see technology as just a glamorous tool, a toy. Where did Oppenheimer get this idea? It certainly wasn't from a recognized educational authority or a facilitator of educational technology, such as, say, a Chris Dede, a David Thornburg, a Sally Ann Law, a Jenny Grogg, a Marilyn Schlief, a Robert Pondiscio, a Mark Leon, a Larry Anderson - people in the world of education - people who understand the classroom and technology's place in it or who facilitate, observe, the transfer of technology to education from telephones to the many kinds of technology that are component parts of the information highway. ( Kickstart Report( Under Communications Policies) There was also a video, created by Disney and AT and T with Bill Nye the Science Guy that was designed for the non computer user to understand the use of technology as ladders to learning.


A work that is online, free to teachers, that is rich in educational vignettes is that of the George Lucas Educational Foundation " Learn and Live. This work is a compiled working set of information gathered by a series of meetings, the bringing together of higher ed, classroom teachers, members of communities and industry people who all had the same concern, learning. Technology in the report is shown as the tool that it is. Robin Williams is the narrator of the very rich documentary... which was produced by the foundation ( information on this is on the webpage as well.)There is a video and there is a book a matched set which was previewed to educators at NECC by the foundation.


We know that the computer is not perfect. We also know that you can't just drop it into a classroom and expect it to influence anything. Touching a computer does not transform the toucher. A teacher must integrate the computer into the curriculum, utilizing technology to do what technology does best. To understand how to do that, teachers must be trained. This training has to include time for practice under the supervision of a mentor. Training, practice, more training, more practice. Then and only then can we investigate and comment on the usefulness of technology in education. When will that time come? It may be sometime before we can accurately evaluate the usefulness of technology in the classroom. Only 14% of our nation's classrooms currently have computers in the classroom (US Department of Education statistics), and computers themselves are still evolving.

Those classrooms that make up the remainder, the 84% without computers, raise a bigger question about access to technology. Chris Dede cautions us that we are dealing with other social issues . The lack of technology in our classrooms increases the potential for a society of have and have nots. Since access to information is power, this disparity creates a power gap. School teachers without access to grant materials, contest information, and government documents or students without access to NASA science materials, National Geographic ( or social studies information, online math tutors, and metropolitan newspapers are ata distinct disadvantage when compared to the other 14%.


Imagine the joy, the wonder of the children as the Mars Pathfinder landed, especially the joy of children who had been participating in classrooms where the Challenger Center Mars City Alpha, or Marsville was a part of their curriculum. Many of those classrooms prior to the landing , had their own Mars Rover( Planetary Society Home Page) and had virtually done planetary exploration using technology, but learning was the base. There were classrooms that used Passports to Knowledge ( Mars) satellite transmission , computers, and project based materials to understand Mars. But there are individual teachers who have enhanced their knowledge through online learning from NASA, and other science/planetary resources. Surely this is an improvement in teacher professional sharing and learning.


Computers are tremendous tools in the classroom. Critics contend that little real research exists to bolster this claim, but every classroom teacher who has seen the interaction between students and machines has witnessed dramatic changes in student behavior; changes that increase on- task time, that improve retention, and that leave students more ready for next level in learning. Currently institutions, like Boise State University and its Educational Technology Outreach Program, are conducting studies that will provide the missing quantitative data to answer technology's critics. I am not speaking of technology as cure-all. I am speaking of technology as a tool that serves both the teacher and the learner.


* Technology can enhance discovery through simulation and exploration of new concepts. (Examples: Mars Rover, Jason Aquanauts) Knowledge is applied in purposeful activities with students contributing to their community and developing global understanding. Students gain an awareness that their education has relevance and value to their society. Technology puts vast amounts of knowledge at students' fingertips. Data bases on every subject imaginable are made available for study in all curriculum areas. Encyclopedias and complete collections of literary works on compact disk and telecommunication satellite links expand the walls of classrooms out into the world. Many teachers have VERY limited access to currently published materials.

* Technology allows individual students to connect to experts and ideas and to expand content beyond what was previously available. (Examples: NGS Kidsnetwork units; Globalearn Project; Global School Network's CyberFair; National Geographic resources such as 'Fabric of a Nation' Laser Disk, World Picture Atlas, and ZIPZAP MAP; Microsoft's Encarta; MECC's 'Africa Trail' interactive CD; the Learning Company; NASA's 'Live From Mars' and 'Live From Antarctica 2'.) Teachers can be creative and tailor these projects to fit their students needs. If you don't believe me, ask Dot Perreca at the National Geographic Society for the video of Kidsnetwork that shows children at work in the classroom.

* Learning environments extend beyond the walls of the school. Community members and others not normally associated with student learning can be included as part of the circle of learning. Technology allows for greater breadth of study. Using technology, students can be exposed to a wide range of subjects that enables them to master ideas and skills necessary to become competent learners. Throughout a school year a student, with guidance, can cover a wide breadth of information and begin to see relationships between seemingly unrelated subjects.

* Technology links curriculum with realistic experiences both inside and outside the school. Using telecommunications and computer networks, students can work together in cooperative learning situations to help solve real problems, tying their education to real-life situations and giving them invaluable learning experiences.

* Technology CAN promote equity by providing a diverse array of resources and experiences to those who might not otherwise be able to afford them. (Examples: WorldFlight/You Can Soar, The Promised Land, Passports to Knowledge's Antarctica, MayaQuest.) Technology puts vast amounts of knowledge at students' fingertips. Databases, telecommunications networks, and satellite transmission systems can bring much of the world into any school and expand the scope of knowledge for wider range and greater depth.

* Technology is used to serve all learners, including students at risk of school failure and the disabled, to reduce the gaps between the information-rich and information-poor. There are websites and technologies that assist students who need assistive technology to learn right in the classroom with the other students.

* Technology CAN be used to adapt to and accommodate different learning styles through modularized selfpaced, just in time learning and nonthreatening learning environments. (Examples: Keyboarding programs, Rainforest Researchers by Tom Snyder- there are terrific ways within the program to cover the same material using a different research group, or a skilled technology teacher can differentiate learning using a combination of resources that are based on the Rainforests - rainforest posters, books, centers for individualized inquiry, art materials and projects, templates for creative writing and purposeful writing, as well as hands on lessons that may involve the whole class, exercises in geography, use of GIS, and web sites that have information and resources and access to scientists that NO classroom has, plus music. In addition there are CUSEEME meetings, and technology exchanges that the teachers can facilitate using a number of technologies. Information is more available to the students; teachers assume responsibility for helping them better organize it and look at it in alternative ways.)


- It facilitates administrative tasks. Are we supposed to still be writing report cards and keeping records by hand? Look at this. Need information on any topic in education? "AskERIC" is a personalized Internet-based service providing information to teachers, librarians, counselors, administrators, parents, and others throughout the U.S. and around the world. It began as a project of the ERIC Clearinghouse on Information & Technology at Syracuse University (New York). Today, it encompasses the resources of the entire ERIC system and beyond. Do you need to know the latest research on special education, curriculum development, or other education topic? All you have to do is use your e-mail account to "AskERIC." You'll receive a personal e-mail response from one of their network information specialists within two business days. They will send you a list of citations that deal with that topic, and will also refer you to other Internet sources for additional information. Send your question(s) to: It's that easy! Have fun!

* Technology facilitates teacher and parental contact as well. Technology provides teachers with a way to keep student records, organize lessons, and communicate with other teachers, parents or facilitators to share ideas and information. Technology compels that curriculum be more flexible. Technology provides teachers a tool to create their own teaching materials, to go beyond required textbooks and use alternate resources, and to reorganize information in new ways. A central focus is placed on students and individual learning styles, and technology is used for self-directed, integrated, collaborative and distance learning. Students can also manipulate and reorder what they learn, giving them greater control over their learning.

* Teachers can find wonderful opportunities available on line. Grants, expeditions, resources, NCREL, ENC, Ask Eric, NASA... should I go on here?

* Passive learning or pretend sitting which acts like passive learning is verboten. When technology is used as described above, students assume increased responsibility for their own learning and the learning of others. Much of the technology available for drill and practice already has built-in assessment mechanisms that let both students and teachers know how students are progressing. More creative uses of technology which challenge students to organize, analyze and synthesize information will require new means of assessment.

* Technology can have assessment built in for IMMEDIATE feedback, and correction. Students may move as quickly as they can using computers to assist them with basic instruction, or progress more slowly to use technologies to explore a topic in depth. In addition, with compelling software, students can compose their own electronic presentation or multimedia programs to share what they have learned. A different thinking process is created. They have to transform the knowledge that they have learned into a form that will make sense to others. It requires a different level of thinking.

* Technology can increase the self motivation of learners. I used to be a teacher of the gifted prior to the use of technology. (Science'83 - Article titled 'Schooling the Gifted') When technology entered my life I learned more about personalizing education, increased the depth of my own knowledge because of the resources available to me, and was able to step back from the lecture mode and use many other types of delivery. (My first personal computer was won for me by a student who had been erroneously placed in special education. He came in second in a national contest in which he wrote a futuristic essay on Acid Rain!) Students are given increased responsibility for their own learning and the learning of others. Much of the technology available for drill and practice already has built-in assessment mechanisms that let both students and teachers know how students are progressing. More creative uses of technology which incorporate higher-order thinking skills challenge students to organize, analyze and synthesize information. Such technology will require new means of assessment.

* Technology can promote collaborative learning. As more and more technology is introduced, guiding students through a wider range of knowledge is made easier. You ought to talk to Governor Gaston Caperton of West Virginia who says "We used to fight with Mississippi for the last place, but now we are 18th overall in the nationwide rankings for reading, writing, math, and computer skills." (The Aspen Report, 'Creating a Learning Society'.) And don't look for Mississippi to be in last place. With the use of grant materials, creative projects, and great thinkings and innovators in education last place is left to another state.

Bonnie Bracey
The McGuffey Project
888 17th Street, 12th floor
Washington DC 20006
Fax 202 - 296-2962

Arthur J. Galus
Boise State University
Educational Technology Outreach Program
1910 University Drive
Boise, Idaho 83725

(The points about technology are based on the Aspen Report, 'Creating a Learning Society: What Technology Can Do to Enhance Learning'.