Education and Community: The collective wisdom|
of teachers, parents, and members of our community.
In response to the President's address, Sandra Feldman, President, American Federation of Teachers, commended President Clinton for his agenda and tried to shift the focus to matters of pedagogy when she added that "smaller class sizes provide for better learning." (Feldman, 1998) Riley addressed these matters in his address. Then in Virginia, Governor James S Gilmore denounced the deplorable state of teacher proficiency in his state. In addition to standards, he is asking for teacher accountability. (Melton, 1998) Across the nation parents are becoming more involved in their children's schools. (Ehrmann, 1998) Currently a word being bandied about is paradigm which means a set of rules that people use to guide their behavior. The term paradigm shift has been active in education recently in referring to adopting constructivism and in adopting computers into the curriculum. I find it ironic that on the technology side the term paradigm is being used in a similar manner. Thomas Wright wrote in March 1996 editorial, "Is Your Paradigm Shifting?" that teachers of technology will have to adjust their teaching to accommodate non technology applications. Although computers were slowly entering the field of education high technology areas were relatively untouched, until now. So just as some have to adjust their paradigm to accept computers, others have to adjust their paradigm to accept non-technology oriented users. The paradigm shift then is to the middle. (Wright, 1996) All this began in 1993, when President Clinton charged the United States Advisory Council on the National Information Infrastructure to evaluate education in this country. A by-product was the Kickstart Initiative which promoted the infusion of technology into every facet of American life. Schools, libraries, and communities were to be affected. The reports provided an outline for how and why we should proceed.
The matter of pedagogy is continued in an important essay written by Larry Cuban in 1993 titled, "Computers Meet Classroom: Classroom Wins." In this essay, Cuban provided three scenarios (technophile, preservationist, and cautious optimist) of how computers would proceed into the next century. (Cuban, 1993) His arguments were logical and well founded at the time. However, the times have changed. It is interesting to note, however, in a recent Phi Delta Kappa/Gallup Poll "Of the Public's Attitudes Toward the Public School" 71% of those responding believed that reform should come through the existing system, which supports Cuban's preservationist scenario. (Rose, 1997) In his summary, Cuban explains his projections because we do not have a national agenda and because we do not have the teachers, support, or infrastructure to include computers in our instruction. Well now in 1998, we have a national agenda and we have programs which are training teachers, providing the infrastructure and Netdays to do the wiring. At this point Cuban could write another essay titled, "Computers Meet Classroom: Students Win."
Pedagogy changes for Paul Starr who presents a different picture from the one Cuban paints. He contends that classes are more student centered and project oriented with the teacher serving as a guide. It is even suggested by Alan Collins, head of educational technology at BBN Corporation, an Internet services company for businesses, that we are moving in the direction of progressivism. Supporting this argument he cites a "shift from whole-class to small-group instruction" and "from lecture and recitation to coaching." Computers put the students at the center of learning. Further research of the Apple Classrooms of Tomorrow found that teacher-led activities dropped from 70 percent in classes without computers to less than 10 percent in classes with computers, and that activities facilitated by teachers, rather than directed by them, increased from about 20 percent to 50 percent of class time. Other trends, according to Collins, include shifts "toward more engaged students," "from a competitive to a cooperative social structure," "from all students learning the same things to different students learning different things," and "from the primacy of verbal thinking to the integration of visual and verbal thinking." (Starr, 1996, p57) The fears of Cuban are certainly availed here.
Moving beyond Cuban's scenarios and into more constructive possibilities of implementing the national agenda, one need look no further than Veenema & Gardner, Turkle, Starr. With these researchers dealing with pedagogy we get discussions about multiple intelligences, simulations, and two-way communications, as methods to realize the new national agenda.
Within the Kickstart report, the reference to multiple intelligences is clear. They recognized early that the computer and Internet connection would allow the teacher to bring in outside sources to help a student understand a point or to experience different points of view, not available in the immediate community. Taking the idea of multiple intelligences further we need to consult Veenema and Gardner. They concluded their essay by saying that "technology in itself cannot alter our scholastic trade deficit. But by reorienting our educational mission and judiciously designing and using technology that meshes with that mission, the United States -and other nations- can achieve far more success with much larger numbers of students. "Technology that meshes with that mission" is a very key phrase and concept which will be used later." (Veenema, 1996, p 75) The premise of the work with multiple intelligences, or as some say: "modules of mind" or "society of mind," is that individuals have numerous mental representations and intellectual languages for taking in information, retaining it, manipulating it, and demonstrating mastery of it. (p 70) They argue that over time each of us constructs our own amalgam of intelligence. One teacher cannot present the various multiple intelligences needed in one class. Knowing this then a one-size fits all education is senseless. We should try to find ways to let all the students reach their potential contend these two. So the solution becomes the task of the community. Students who become dependent on the teacher and single answers. They become flustered when confronted with choices and different points of view. In fact there are many answers to single questions, depending upon perspective. Multiple intelligences allows for various interpretations. Students need to weigh evidence, evaluate sources, and come up with interpretations and justifications. (p 72) Telementoring will provide for those multiple intelligences to be manifest. Through telementoring the learner will be introduced to many different people and cultures and will be provided with a variety of lenses to view a problem or situation.
Sherry Turkle's work with the computer and with the user, especially in her The Second Self and Life on the Screen, provides a great segue into her essay on the use of simulation to coax out understanding from the learner. Simulations allow the learner to approach a situation from many vantages. It allows the learner to try one thing, fail and try it again. Astronauts use this method ad nauseam until they go into space. Simulations also allow teachers to provide material heretofore unaffordable. As Turkle says, "Today, the debate about computers in education centers around the place of educational software and simulations in the curriculum." (Turkle, 1997, p80) Simulations borrow from Dewey's concept of "learning by doing" as illustrated in this example:
Tim's approach to SimLife is highly functional. He says he learned his style of play from video games: "Even though SimLife's not a video game, you can play it like one." By this he means that in SimLife, like video games, one learns from the process of play. You do not first read a rule book or get your terms straight. Tim is able to act on an intuitive sense of what will work without understanding the rules that underlie the game's behavior. His response to SimLife—comfort at play, without much understanding of the model that underlies the game—is precisely why educators worry that students may not be learning much when they use learning software. (Turkle, 1997, p81)
This country has thrived on using the "on the job" training method especially in education. The power of simulation is that it can involve many other students and teachers. On the Internet learners can access the skills of many minds to assist in the construction of solutions to problems. Simulation also taps into the concept of multiple intelligences. The next step for simulations is to actually allow the user to challenge the assumptions of the simulation. This idea becomes very stimulating as one considers it in education. Coupling simulation with telementoring opens up grand possibilities for all learners. It connects people who might never be connected and allows for collaboration which could benefit mankind.
Starr introduces an idea of equity and access especially for lower-income learners. He compares today's technology availability with yesterday's technology and predicts universality. The idea of telementoring immediately as one considers the value of computer communications to schools. Teachers are able to reach more of the parents of their students and more students can use the systems from home. (Starr, 1996, p59)
In his Fifth Annual State of American Education Speech, Riley challenged the colleges to make their graduates more teacher ready.
Our colleges of education cannot continue to be the "forgotten step children" of American higher education. We need more rigor, more practice, and a much greater attention to grounding of new teachers in the pedagogy of their chosen profession. Teaching teachers really has to be the mission of the entire university. (Riley, 1998)
But, of course, none of this will answer the truly important questions about learning. Here Postman and the other skeptics are right. Ultimately, the qualities of education that we care most about are not technological; they are matters of educational philosophy and practice and in turn depend on broader moral and political judgments. In thinking about education, we ought not to be preoccupied with computers at all, and if the technological transition is successful, we will not be. Because of all they make possible, we must make computers part of education. Then they should "disappear." (Starr, 1996, p60) Education is clearly a job for the community and the question is how do we involve the community. My suggestion is telementoring.
My research bears out much of what Turkle, Starr, and Veenema and Gardner discuss.