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OnCUE Archive - 2005, Spring

The
Transforming Classroom


CUE members take aim at a shifting target: the future of educational
technology.

by Brian McDonough

Computer Using Educators has been serving teachers
and administrators — has helped educators serve one another
— for a quarter century now. One might have hoped that in
those 27 years — 25 years of CUE Conferences — events
would have overtaken the organization and made it as obsolete as
Pencil Using Educators would be. Anyone who's been in a classroom
or a district office knows that, despite valiant efforts and real
dedication at all levels, that's just not the case. There's as much
need for CUE during what might be seen as an intermediary stage
as there was at the beginning. Ahead of our 2005 conference in Palm
Springs in March, OnCUE talked to a number of members and conference
presenters about the challenges ahead and what CUE can — and
should — continue to bring to the table.

There are a lot more computers in classrooms these
day, Executive Director Mike Lawrence notes, but that's not the
end of the story. "Most teachers I encounter have had some
training in the basic skills of using technology," he says,
"but I believe our next challenge will take us to more specific
training."

Part of the challenge has been fitting what technology
can do with what teachers have always done. These days, there seems
to be an increasing awareness of how technology can not just supplement
teaching, but transform it.

"With content standards, we have been able
to focus on the use of technology to help students meet those standards,"
notes Gerald McMullin, technology coordinator for the Castro Valley
Unified School District. "That makes a stronger case for technology
than, say, simply completing a multimedia project, where it's harder
to evaluate if the student actually learned the content."

McMullin, president of East Bay CUE, adds that
those who have embraced tech have to help lesson plans catch up.
"If you are a technology advocate, you need to be at the table
when the core curriculum is discussed."

The Story So Far

There's been action. There's been wiring. There have been seminars.
Grants have been written, hardware has been bought, software has
been unboxed. There's been experimentation. Seminars. Symposia.
Yet still, the job's not done — and in some districts, it's
less done than in others. And you'd be hard-pressed to find even
the best-outfitted schools using what they've got to its best potential.

"I believe it's more than 'build it and they
will come,'" says L. Antwon Lincoln, technology curriculum
specialist for the Paramount Unified School District and an adjunct
professor at CSU-Long Beach. "That mentality is not working
like we originally envisioned it."

Lincoln, a CUE Conference presenter, says that making the technology
really work is the next step. "I believe we need to take it
a step further ... 'Support them and they will overcome.'"

But while hardware makes its way onto campus and
teachers try to find time to learn what to do with it, their students
are far ahead. "We're living through an information revolution,"
says Bob Blackney, Chino Valley USD's technology director. "While
students generally take it as second nature that information is
readily available, many adults still struggle to adapt to an information
age."

Which was why technology advocates have felt
like voices in the wilderness. Lynell Burmark, a former CUE executive
director and a presenter at this year's conference, says the audience
is changing. "I think the difference today is that they come
already predisposed to adopt technology," she says. "Their
questions now focus less on whether we should use technology than
on how we can use it most effectively."

Tech advocates started out as voices in the wilderness,
but in recent years, they've been getting a better reception, says
Jason Ediger, coordinator of education technology for the Orange
County Department of Education. "The time of urgency is past,"
he says. "I almost feel that people understand that technology
is important, and as more digital natives enter the teaching profession,
they will demand digital tools."

While there's some hope that newer teachers entering
the profession will bring the perspective of the Internet age, Ediger
isn't sure he's seeing the creativity Burmark describes. "I
see the new crop of teachers coming into the profession, and they're
asking about email, laptops and Internet access," he says.
"My first impression is that they're primarily asking about
access to professional tools to do their job. I'm not sure that
they see the massive impact that technology could make on their
instructional practices."

Changing Tools, Static System?

Despite the ongoing effort, there are still obstacles, both to tech
adoption and to education in general.

"Unfortunately, the thing that schools and
districts are being held responsible for is not the thing that will
translate to real-world success, or that technology is best at delivering,"
Blackney says. "The high-stakes testing craze is based on dipsticking
a student's knowledge as an indicator of greater understanding,
rather than evaluating a student's knowledge in context. Although
we may evangelize, technology will be judged by how it increases
test scores and not by the quality and volume of information it
delivers in the classroom."

"I think the challenge now is to continue
this beyond the surface understanding - that technology is good
for teaching and learning - to achieve the deep understanding that
it can be integrated in a way that changes the very nature of classroom
experiences," Lawrence says. "The idea that we can achieve
core curriculum standards using technology in new and innovative
ways should be the focus, not making sure that each tech proficiency
standard is addressed in the lesson."

"The area that needs more attention is the
motivating aspect of using technology in an educational setting,"
Lincoln adds. "You motivate teachers by speaking at the foundation
of what makes a good teacher."

"I think professional development is at the
heart of the change we need," Burmark says, hitting on a theme
that educator after educator brought up in the discussions informing
this article.

Tomorrow's Tech Today

What are the tools teachers should be getting ready for? The general
assessment of emerging technologies on their way to campus is that,
finally, "doing more with less" won't have a downside.
Ediger's watchwords are "small" and "mobile"
- handheld devices that will support quick, convenient applications.
"Wireless devices and an infrastructure that will support immediate
access to publishing tools, content and assessment," he says.
"Moblogging is an example of this in the near term."

Lawrence concurs. "I think the most exciting
recent developments in technology would be the proliferation of
easy-to-use multimedia publishing tools such as blogs, podcasts,
DVD publishing and content-management systems."

"I'm extremely excited about the direction
Apple is going with the design of their iMac line," Lincoln
says. "I've always believed that until technology is presented
more like an appliance, as opposed to a clunky box ... the computer
will always be an intimidating machine."

"I'm more excited about software than hardware,"
Burmark says. "I just did a Google search on 'Einstein' and
got 10,800,000 hits. After a good laugh, I logged onto netTrekker,
where I got 192 hits, 142 of which were illustrated sites. No porn.
All educator-approved."

McMullin looks less at the ever-changing tools
than at the underlying value. "I see information as the emerging
technology," he says. "Schools will move toward content-management
systems and/or data warehouses that allow information to be processes
and presented."

And they'll do it with Star Trek props.

"Each student will have access to their own
processor-based computing tool," Lawrence says. "We will
see constant wireless connectivity."

Blackney predicts a shift in teaching methods.
"The

educational pendulum will eventually swing away from the current
testing mania and refocus on practical application," he says.
"When that occurs, technology will play a greater role."

Looking Within

Looking at the mission ahead of tech advocates leads one to consider
CUE's function as an agent of change. With its original challenges
not fully met, and new issues always arising, CUE needs to be adaptive.

Lynell Burmark considers how CUE pursued its goals
in the years she led it, and how those strategies might be repositioned.
"One of the things I did was to organize high-volume purchase
agreements, with deep discounts for CUE members," she says.
"In those days it was for hardware, but I'm thinking, today,
those discounts could spill over to software and training. We could
pull together our members who have expertise with that kind of thing
and design a leadership role for CUE to play."

Bob Blackney says keeping up with society's shift
to a 24/7 information culture will be a considerable challenge for
the organization. "Professional organizations will be challenged
to take advantage of the network to accomplish their goals,"
he says. "The core function of CUE is to disseminate information,
not to hold a conference."

Ediger agrees that CUE should make better use
of the information dissemination tools at its disposal. "CUE
could better model what it promotes," he says.

Mike Lawrence says CUE is committed to keeping
up with technology and the evolving priorities of educators.

"CUE's role can and should change and adapt
to the needs of its membership," Lawrence says. He offered
some hints of what's on the horizon in his introductory letter to
this issue of OnCUE.

The Future's So Bright ...

With so much left to do, it's no surprise that many veterans of
this cause are pessimistic about the short term, in which money
is a key issue, even when they remain hopeful about the eventual
transformation of the classroom.

"I'm optimistic that educational technology
is a force that cannot be stopped," Blackney says. "Though
I am convinced that in California, that progress will be delayed
by funding, which will be a political issue and not a policy issue."

"I remain pessimistic," McMullin admits.
"I believe that the powers that be still view technology as
a special interest that competes with other interests. Technology
is not yet viewed by all stakeholders as an integral part of a teacher's
job."

Ediger is also downbeat —"unless we
can change the current economic model." Spending needs to shift,
he says. "We need true, affordable digital learning resources,
and textbook money to be spent on the devices that provide access
to these resources."

"I believe that as time moves on, the money
will return ... but where will we invest that money?" Lincoln
wonders. "Our biggest investment should be in training teachers
to use technology in the classroom." Get the teacher up and
running with technology, he says, and they'll be able to find creative
ways to use it even during leaner times.

Burmark also sees the funding coming back eventually.
"I'm optimistic that funding will be there for technologies
that can be proven to improve teaching and learning," she says.
The fact that even against these odds, so many continue to participate
in CUE, attend its conferences and push for tech integration on
their own campuses and in their own districts, speaks directly to
the force that can overcome the obstacles before them.

"The money is there," Lawrence says.
"We as administrators and educators just need to seek new avenues
to connect these sources of funding with our work, or seek out

unexplored opportunities."

Which sounds like a pretty good mission statement
for CUE's next 25 years.