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April 1, 1994
Vol. 51
No. 7

Overview / Helping Professional Dreams Come True

    Instructional StrategiesInstructional StrategiesTechnologyTechnologyTechnology
      Throughout the late winter and spring, students in hundreds of schools have been monitoring the migration of Monarch butterflies from their winter home in Mexico to the southern United States and then northward across the continent. As Monarchs arrived in each community, excited students spread the news so that students in other schools can maintain classroom maps charting the insects' progress. Using the Internet, a complex network of telephone lines linking millions of computers all over the world, the students send their reports instantly to all schools in the project.
      Modern educators applaud the Monarch project as an example of the kind of education we value: students working together to gather and organize data from the real world about a fascinating scientific phenomenon. What's more, it has a useful social purpose: helping conservationists save a treasured species from extinction.
      With examples like that, our profession is beginning to reach consensus about what productive teaching and learning looks like. Portrayals come from a variety of sources, including the work of scholars like Magdalene Lampert, who videotapes her own teaching of elementary mathematics (February 1994 Educational Leadership). They are embodied in some of the content standards currently being written by various groups. And they are found in ASCD's staff development program, Dimensions of Learning, which is based on insights from recent cognitive research. These conceptions of good instruction are related to a broader set of practices that together constitute quality education, including outcome-based planning, site-based decision making, collaborative action research, and parent participation.
      Some critics disparage this ambitious agenda, not because they disagree with all of it (sometimes they do, of course), but because they are sure that in practice, most schools do not have the wherewithal to achieve it. Why keep talking about one high-flown innovation after another, they ask, when we have failed so often to put similar ideas into practice?
      That is the social and political context within which we consider the role of technology in reshaping education. On the one hand, educators and the public see that new electronic tools are radically changing the way people in other settings access and use information, and that these developments have profound implications for the educational process. On the other hand, we are stuck with organizational patterns and professional traditions that, impervious to reform in the best of circumstances, are nearly impossible to change when a skeptical public resists innovation and when budgets for expensive equipment (which may quickly become obsolete) are inadequate.
      The authors in this issue have learned from experience how technology can enrich education. David Dwyer (p. 4), project manager for Apple Classrooms of Tomorrow, has found that after several years of experience, teachers in ACOT classrooms give students more opportunities to work on projects and to cooperate with other students. As a result, the students “routinely employ inquiry, collaboration, technological, and problem-solving skills uncommon to graduates of traditional high school programs.” Here is evidence that with the help of abundant technology, schools can provide the kind of instruction we value, and students can achieve the outcomes we declare for them.
      But can schools afford to take advantage of this opportunity? David Thornburg (p. 20), technology consultant, insists they can, and offers a plan for how they might do it. More cautious educators may question Thornburg's formulations, but they should not reject his message. Computers and related technology can help us realize our highest professional aspirations. As Kyle Peck and Denise Dorricott (p. 11) note, “Modern technological tools allow educators to fulfill age-old dreams.”

      Education writer and consultant Ron Brandt is the former editor of Educational Leadership and other publications of the Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development (ASCD).

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