In a tribute to freedom of thought and speech, “Banned Books Online” offers a representation of texts that have been–or still are–kept from readers by nervous authorities. The site was created by free speech advocate John Ockerbloom and includes a section called “Unfit for Schools and Minors?” which should be of special interest to educators. Ockerbloom notes that Merrimack, N.H., schools pulled Twelfth Night from the curriculum in 1996 as a violation of the district’s ban on alternative lifestyles, for example, and he includes a link to a site that chronicles attacks on Mark Twain, whose Huckleberry Finn remains one of the most censored books in American schools.
T.H.E. Journal, June 1998, p. 14A
Few people can foresee all the steps involved in building a school’s technology infrastructure, but this detailed article by Eddie Esquivel, a telecom specialist with the Texas Dept. of Information Resources, goes through those steps with great specificity.
But before you sweat the details of wiring, Esquivel says planning is the most crucial step in building the technology infrastructure. Without it, your school could end up wasting valuable time and money. Esquivel recommends:
- a central project manager at the district level to ensure consistent and compatible equipment purchases across schools.
- outlining a school’s particular needs or special circumstances that would impact the type of technology used.
- a strategic plan that discusses long-term goals and missions and includes input from parents and the community.
- agreeing on standardized equipment and platforms (such as PC vs. Macintosh).
Esquivel then explains what makes up the core of a school’s network infrastructure. These are the cabling itself (including inter-building, intra-building, and classroom wiring), network hub equipment, network servers, and Internet connections. Last but not least, you’ll need an administration and support arm to manage the software and hardware, train users, and troubleshoot the system.
Educational Leadership, May 1998, p. 71
The challenges of wiring schools in rural, economically underdeveloped areas are considerable. But the residents and students in rural Christopher, Ill., are enjoying the effects of two community-based technology programs.
Marla Harp, the architect of the program and technology coordinator for the regional education office that includes the Christopher High School District, says their award-winning technology programs depended on a strong vision, an army of volunteers, and these key ingredients: community involvement, engaged learning, professional development, and successful technology deployment.
The most difficult parts of the plan, according to Harp, were the engaged learning and professional development components. These required not only making students and teachers computer-literate, but also integrating those new skills successfully into the school’s curriculum.
American School Board Journal, July 1998, p. 30
An education research consultant writes in American School Board Journal that setting up the hardware, software, and wiring for distance learning is probably the smallest barrier to managing an effective distance learning program. Several “intangible” problems almost always crop up, which include contract disputes, conflicting schedules among participating schools and instructors, inter-district rivalries, competition for limited funding and training resources, cost overruns, and curriculum disagreements.
In fact, many school administrators are finding that distance learning often doesn’t live up to the promises, and there is little concrete evidence on distance learning’s effectiveness in the classroom.
The author’s attempt to find serious documentation that validated distance learning’s promises usually resulted in reports that merely described programs, not their efficacydocumentation of equipment preferences and numbers of students abounded, but there was barely anything with comparative data on student achievement.
What the author did find was plenty of first-hand evidence that distance learning has a long way to go: from a school where technology glitches and busy signals interrupted class, to students who spent most of their time vandalizing the distance-learning hardware, to teachers who simply aren’t trained to teach effectively in front of a camera.
The author also includes the web site address (http://www.uwex.edu/disted/cybela.htm) of a report by a University of Wisconsin distance education specialist who gives suggestions and a list of resources for those trying to implement distance learning programs.
Curriculum Administrator, April 1998, p. 30
Perhaps the most frustrating aspect of staff development is the difficulty in seeing tangible effects on the classroom learning process. According to Apple Classrooms of Tomorrow research, merely instructing teachers on how to use a specific software application or piece of hardware does not imply an improved learning experience for students and teachers alike.
The key is training that shows teachers how to integrate technology into their lesson plans and curricula, as well as foster skills in students beyond the traditional math, reading, and writing set, such as information processing, problem solving, and other higher level mental skills.
Education Week, June 24, 1998, p. 36
Assistant principal and building technology coordinator Jeannine Clark tells how her New York school has been handling the increased problem of student misconduct involving school technology systems.
Defining this relatively new area of discipline has proved somewhat difficultyet necessaryas more schools become wired and employ technology in their teaching and administration.
Clark mentions problems in her district that range from infractions as minor as printing too many pages without permission (worth three days of detention), to ones as major as repeated and malicious placement of electronic “time bombs” that crash networked classroom and administrative computers and erase their data (disciplinary action still pending, but could easily result in dismissal). Other problems range from downloading/printing pornographic material, to installing computer programs that circumvent filtering software, to hacking students’ personal data files.
Clark says one common form of disciplinerevoking computer privilegestoo often affected students enrolled in computer-related classes by hurting their grades and class rank. Instead, they instituted “monitored probation” where students must work on non-networked machines under close supervision.
And since students guilty of these infractions tend to be higher-achieving college-bound students, another effective tactic is the subtle threat of negative college recommendations that could jeopardize admissions and scholarship eligibility.
Electronic School Magazine, June 1998, p. A31
A recent telephone poll of about 20 school districts by Electronic School magazine shows two basic approaches to managing web sites: centralized and decentralized management.
What’s best? In the short term, the authors recommend a centralized model, where a “web master” at the district level (such as a supt., asst. supt., tech. coordinator) culls content from the various building-level administrators for the central district-level web site.
While this method gets a web site up and working quickly, it becomes labor intensive and inefficient over the long termwhich is where a decentralized approach is more suitable.
In the decentralized model, building representatives implement their own school-level web sites, consulting with the district-level webmaster whose main responsibility is the district’s web site, not those of the schools. Although this method requires more training and time from building-level staff, those staff members do not have to depend on the district to update or change their building’s content.
The authorsa superintendent, an asst. supt., and an education technology consultantoutline a seven-step model for developing decentralized web management:
- tap people to be members of district-level and building-level web teams.
- train these teams to develop content and learn web authoring skills.
- clearly articulate goals for the web site.
- outline the flow of content-writing to web-publishing.
- identify other school/district web sites to emulate.
- use the same web software at all locations to ensure consistency and compatibility.
- make frequent website updates.
Electronic School Magazine, June 1998, p. A24
A former Indiana superintendent turned college professor and education consultant outlines the potential pitfalls and perils of implementing technology in a school without enough planning.
His lessons are:
- technology won’t automatically make a mediocre school a good one, and if your principal isn’t backing your technology initiatives, you’re just throwing money away.
- before spending money on technology, decide why you’re getting it, get people excited about it, and make technology a “high-visibility” item in the school district’s agenda.
- introduce technology into a school in a way that’s most compatible with that school’s management culture.
- a minimum of technology-savvy in a principal goes a long way to spelling a successful technology launch, and for those principals who are lagging in computer skills, introduce programs to get them using computers.
- technology will require hiring dedicated technology staff not doing so will lead to frustrated users and a wasted technology investment that no one uses.
- spend more on staff development since the teachers and staff you train can help others on-site, and do this before the technology is fully installed.
- draft long-range plans to handle such issues as aging machines, software upgrades, emerging technologies, and support budgets.
Educational Leadership, May 1998, p. 74
One elementary school solved the problem of educating parents and community members on its technology initiatives by hosting an evening showcase dubbed “Technology Night.”
McNair Elementary school in Montgomery County, Md., found that the best way to ensure parent and community attendance was to have the students demonstrate their skills live to attendees. At the same time, circulating school officials talked to the community and answered their questions about the school’s policies, goals, and vision for using technology in the classroom.
The school also obtained support from local businesses, which donated door prizes and set up vendor stations at the event.
Electronic School Magazine, June 1998, p. A14
David Thornburg, senior fellow at the Congressional Institute for the Future, theorizes how emerging technologies are going to impact the future of education and how they can address social issues such as salary gaps, information gaps, and the continuing mergers/downsizing of Fortune 500 companies.
According to Thornburg, the key developments in technology that are going to (and already do) impact education most are:
Given this continued technology growth, Thornburg charges schoolsfrom the pre-K to college levelto strive for not only computer-literate students, but also “computer-fluent students” who can sit down and work a computer as easily as they can read a book.