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Teaching, Learning, And Technology

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For the first half of the decade, their only relationship to each other seemed to be that drill and practice with computers could help underachieving students score higher on tests. Now it is clear that the primary goal (and promise) of both the new technology and school reform is to create a new learning environment for teachers and students--an environment that enriches, liberates, and inspires.

For teachers, that means more autonomy, more say in important educational decisions, and more time and opportunity for professional development and interaction with colleagues. And it means an end to rigid curricular requirements, inflexible class schedules, and mountains of (often unnecessary) paperwork.

For students, a new learning environment means curricula flexible enough to accommodate individual interests and learning styles and an end to the factory model of education. Perhaps most importantly, it will give students the encouragement and opportunity to become active participants in the learning process, to take more responsibility for their own education, and to work cooperatively with fellow students.

The changes required to create such an environment will not come quickly or easily. The power to change the present system lies largely with people far from the classroom who rarely understand what goes on there. Those closest to the place where learning occurs-- teachers, principals, and students--have too little influence on the future direction of schools.

But there are encouraging signs, particularly in the creative use of technology. The special section beginning on page 29 reports on some of them. Our purpose in producing it was not to dazzle you with the glitz and glamour of the newest technology (though it is indeed dazzling). Nor were we interested in providing a podium for experts and pundits to debate the pros and cons of technology. On the contrary, our objective was to let you see and hear "ordinary'' teachers in "ordinary'' schools who are using technology to extend their reach and increase their effectiveness. And when all of the elements are brought together, as they have been in the Eagan, Minn., schools (see page 44), the result is extraordinary.

Conventional wisdom has it that most teachers are "technophobes'' who adamantly refuse to use computers in their teaching. As is often the case, conventional wisdom is wrong. Two-thirds of precollegiate teachers surveyed recently by the Wirthlin Group say they use computers in their teaching. Eighty-two percent believe computers should be introduced during the early grades. Eighty-five percent think computers have already improved the quality of education for students by helping them learn more and allowing for more individualized instruction. And 68 percent say lack of funds is the main reason computers are not used more effectively in schools.

The teachers featured in this issue give life to those statistics. They are people who are open to new ideas that will help them be better teachers. And when they decide there is a better way to help their students learn, they will do almost anything to make it happen--including, if necessary, spending their own money.

With their words and deeds, these teachers make another very important point: Technology is not an end in itself. It is a powerful tool in the hands of well-prepared, inventive teachers.

As one of these teachers says in this issue: "The 'stuff'--the hardware and software--is not what makes the difference. What makes a difference is what you do with the stuff.''

-Ronald A. Wolk

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