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Chiefs Eye Barriers to Technology

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Charlotte, NC--State education agencies need direction in order to break down legal and procedural "barriers" to the fuller use of technologies in precollegiate education, a convocation of national experts here has concluded.

Responding to a mandate from Gordon M. Ambach, executive director of the Council of Chief State School Officers, delegates to the council's Third National Education Technology Leadership Conference last week defined several areas in which states need guidance to expand schools' use of computers, video, and satellite delivery systems.

"We do not have nearly as strong and aggressive a presence on learning technologies as we ought to have," said Mr. Ambach at the four-day session. "It is one of my targets that we remedy that situation."

A draft document, listing the common concerns of delegates representing 36 states, is expected to be honed into a more formal statement for the chiefs' annual meeting in November.

"What I would like to have," said George Rush, the c.c.s.s.o.'s project manager for technical and information systems, "is a document that makes reasonably concrete recommendations, in terms of some steps that [the chiefs] should adopt or initiate, to ensure that the application of technology to learning begins to reach its potential."

Policy Issues Weighed

The broad areas of concern cited by those at the meeting include:

The influence of technology on the roles and responsibilities of teachers.

Delegates said the council should tackle the issue of whether educators who take the lead in developing and employing technology should be paid or rewarded differently for their efforts.

They also asked the council to consider whether the emerging popularity of "distance learning," which often is used to teach across state boundaries, raises previously unconsidered questions about teacher certification.

Delegates also suggested that the council should investigate whether teachers are sufficiently involved in planning for the implementation of new technologies.

Partnerships and the development of new educational products.

Noting that the states have limited resources to invest in expensive technological solutions to educational problems, delegates said the council should consider the ramifications of such alternatives as partnerships with private-sector firms and with other states.

They also said issues surrounding the use of copyrighted material and the "portability" of computer software from one type of microcomputer to another were worthy of the council's attention.

The impact of new technologies on pedagogical techniques.

Yet to be answered, participants said, are such questions as whether schools are prepared physically to accommodate new technologies; whether students enrolled in satellite-broadcast courses are also served by such support personnel as guidance counselors and librarians; and whether there should be a maximum class size for courses involving instruction by video.

Mr. Rush said he expected the8questions raised at the session to initiate "short-term and long-term" processes in the chiefs' organization. Task forces on particular topics eventually may be appointed to forge positions on some of the issues.

Federal Role Questioned

Some ccsso delegates here expressed skepticism about the proposals contained in the September report on the future of educational technology issued by the Congressional Office of Technology Assessment. That report, "Power On! New Tools for Teaching and Learning," called for a stepped-up federal role in research. (See Education Week, Sept. 7, 1988.)

It concluded that although the states have led the way in developing and applying technology to precollegiate education, research and development in teaching technologies will stagnate without a coordinated effort by business and state and local government under federal leadership.

Noting that many of the most promising technologies were developed by the U.S. Defense Department, and were not generally available in schools for up to 30 years after their application in government, Linda G. Roberts, project director for the ota study, said that "we don't know what opportunities we may already have lost."

But several speakers here questioned the likelihood of a stronger federal hand in the research process and the value of federal intervention.

Stephen S. Kaagan, a senior consultant to the Agency for Instructional Technology who served for six years as Vermont's chief state school officer, said the notion of an inel10lcreased federal role in educational technology was "nonsense."

States should not "look to the horizon" for developing technologies to aid in instruction, he argued, but should instead concentrate on putting existing technologies to use more effectively.

Similar sentiments were expressed by Arthur Sheekey, a spokesman for the U.S. Education Department's office of educational research and improvement. The political constituency for increasing federal support for educational technology is very small, Mr. Sheekey said, especially when compared with the efforts of other interest groups vying for federal education dollars.

"I don't know how much influence [the ota report] is going to have" on Congressional policymakers, he added.

'Promise' Said Unfulfilled

Dean A. Honetschlager, director of education programs for the National Governors' Association, also sounded a cautionary note about the future of technology intiatives at the state level.

Information contained in the ota report, and in an annual update of the nga's 1986 report "Time for Results," indicates that educational technology is "competing very directly" for funding with other reform initiatives, he said.

At the same time, according to Mr. Honetschlager, some states are beginning to question the promise of technology to make schools more productive.

He said that although two-thirds of the states indicated some sort of initiative to promote "distance learning" in the nga's 1987-88 survey, "over all, it seems that much of the activity has sort of plateaued."

"There are no major breakthroughs," he added. "That promise still isn't being fulfilled in any meaningful way."

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