Special Report

Putting It All Together

By Debra Viadero — November 10, 1997 3 min read

Classrooms that use technology wisely and integrate it into the curricula are hard to come by.

Henry Jay Becker, an education professor at the University of California, Irvine, estimates that only 5 percent of computer-using teachers are what he calls “exemplary computer-using teachers.” By his definition, these teachers use computers as a tool to solve problems or to create a product rather than as a reward for completing other work or for skill mastery. They also use the technology to accomplish significant tasks, such as major reports, and for a variety of purposes ranging from simulations to spreadsheets.

Such classrooms are rare because integrating technology into schooling is no small task.

“Everything we thought we would do took three times the amount of time we thought it would take,” says Gerry Montgomery, the director of technology for the Monterey Peninsula Unified School District in California. Schools there are two-thirds of the way through an ambitious technology education plan. And Montgomery estimates that it will take a bond issue to complete the work, which calls for wiring every classroom to the Internet, among other improvements.

In Port Hueneme, Calif., Blackstock Middle School’s decade-long effort to incorporate technology has been similarly long and arduous.

The process began with a $2.5 million, five-year grant from the state to create a model technology school. With that money and, later, funds from the federal Title I program for disadvantaged children, the school has paid to give a few teachers at a time a year or more leave from regular classroom duties to figure out how technology fits in with their lessons and with state guidelines for teaching their subject matter.

Teachers even worked hand in hand with builders and architects to design their own “smart” classrooms.

Much of that time was also spent testing and modifying new technology-based lessons with small groups of students.

“There’s a real misconception that you find a piece of software, you put it on, and you let kids play on it,” says Stephen Carr, the school’s technology coordinator. “But teachers have to come up with a pedagogy or a strategy to make it work. It may not come with an assessment. You have to tweak the software and create ancillary materials.”

Carr’s job was created after equipment breakdowns threatened to discourage his colleagues from using the technology they had.

“It got to a point where teachers expected the technology to work, and if the technology was down, you’d better have somebody get it to work real quick or they were scrapping the technology,” he says.

Eventually, Carr and a core group of other teachers became skilled enough to train their less technologically savvy colleagues. Now, on staff in-service days, teachers can circulate among a number of classrooms where Blackstock’s teachers offer lessons on everything from navigating the Internet to producing computer spreadsheets. The specific topics are determined through surveys of the school’s teaching staff.

Carr also gets help five afternoons a week from two high school seniors who are graduates of Blackstock.

John Cradler, an educational technology consultant for Educational Support Systems in San Mateo, Calif., studied 12 California schools that had won hefty technology grants from the state, as Blackstock did. He found that the schools that sustained their investments and continued to use technology well had some features in common. They included:

  • A principal and district administrator committed to the project.
  • A belief on the part of educators that technology is a way to extend the curriculum and to support education reforms—and some knowledge of how to do it.
  • The involvement of teachers in schoolwide instructional decisions.
  • Adequate allocation of time and money for staff development—on site—and for follow-up support.
  • A history of openness to educational innovations.
  • A link between technology and district or state curricular standards—and rewritten frameworks to reflect technology’s role.

A version of this article appeared in the November 10, 1997 edition of Education Week as Putting It All Together