Praxis Inquiry
3. Technology and Learning: A Planning Outline for Secondary Schools
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1. Action Oriented Research: Grounded Theory and Grounded Action
2. Grounded Introspection and Grounded Protocols
3. Technology and Learning: A Planning Outline for Secondary Schools
4. The Path: An Embedded Curriculum
5. Literacy in Secondary Schools
6. Definitions & Biographies
Questions, Comments & References

Introduction

Technology has changed the world. Since the development of flint as an aid to making fire, the creation of the first wheel, and the emergence of viable agricultural systems that helped give rise to static societies capable of devising complex entities: our first civilizations, it has had a profound influence on the history of mankind.

 

These new civilizations were capable of demonstrating great versatility in the formation of constructs designed to serve the betterment of mankind since they allowed time for cognitive reflection which led to astounding achievements in mathematics, philosophy, and medicine. Technologies like the printing press, the telegraph, and telephone constituted key changes to the way information was dispensed and aided in the acceleration of the transference if ideas between countries, continents, and cultures.

 

During the late 19th century, as the industrial revolution forced potent modifications in the nature of education, technology was a key element in those transformations. Yet, as new technologies entered classrooms in America, critics argued that both time and money were wasted and that these new systems oftentimes confused instead of enhanced educational practice.

 

As we now approach the middle of the first decade of the 21st century and as education in America (and the world over, for that matter) occupies a central position in our country’s future in world economics and geopolitics, we need to continually reflect on its past and how we can, in the present, learn and guide educational improvements so that all students have the opportunity to benefit from learning environments that optimize their potentials and deliver a balanced approach to learning. There is little doubt that the quality and success of such a vision is, to a great extent, dependent on the practical integration of technology, not only as a tool to assist learning but as an apparatus for global and social interconnection. It is this challenge that sets educational technology apart from any other venture in the world of learning today, and within the modern directive to help students “construct” meaning from their own diverse backgrounds, abilities, languages, and cultures, technology may be our greatest ally.

 

Numerous challenges face educators today, especially those whose students are considered at-risk. These include low income groups, minorities, English language learners, and special education students. Many schools have turned to technology as a way of improving the education of all students, but while money for public education is always an issue, critics argue that it could be better spent on more books, better teacher training, and improved study environments. In many instances that may be the case and it is crucial that administrators and district officials cover the basics before allocating huge sums of general funds for the purpose of upgrading technology on the campuses of struggling schools. But when schools are prepared for the addition of technology, it can be a tremendous benefit, not only to students, but to teachers, administrators, and parents as well.

 

The world has changed at an alarming rate over the last fifty years and our views about education have changed too. When once we were satisfied that students learn basic skills and develop strong knowledge bases in subjects, but now most people realize that the world is moving much too quickly for static batches of information to be continuously valid. This indicates a change toward developing learning strategies that allow students to enlist knowledge segments dynamically, as they are needed. With the advent of the internet, email and other forms of constant communication devices, information is gathered differently now and technology is considered a “subject” to be mastered. In fact, though most parents would probably feel that computers are a necessary component of education, they would be hard pressed to offer any cogent examples of how it should be integrated. It’s important to remember that most of today’s parents didn’t become involved with computer technology until their first jobs; TVs were their only interaction with technology during their educations. In one generation the mind-set of a whole nation has changed and, like it or not, computer technology has captured the nation.

 

Experts recommend caution; teachers cannot be replaced. Learning is, ultimately too sophisticated to leave to machines; socialization too critical. Yet, the benefits of a world of interconnected networks capable of sharing complex information instantly, is too much to ignore, and is, essentially, the heart of the issue. Information technology is our best tool; the one with the most potential, to break barriers of poverty, to alleviate sectors of ignorance, and to open the doors of learning throughout the world.

 

The critical factor in the addition of technology to school-wide learning is that a plan be outlined prior to making expenditures. Oftentimes, large sums are spent with no plan for cogent, curriculum driven usage, with no idea about how best to upkeep equipment and train employees. When this occurs, graveyards of obsolete equipment spring-up on campuses and teachers receive uneven access to basic features like email, internet, and word processing applications; while students are left to fend for themselves when writing papers, researching projects, and coordinating team assignments. On the other hand, when technology is properly integrated and up kept at an essential level, students seamlessly work on projects and assignments, teachers communicate at levels never before achieved and time and money is not only well spent, but in many cases, saved.

 

Technology and Curriculum: A Local GT/GA Inspired Plan

A. Outline

Introduction: A GT/GA Inspired Secondary School Technology Plan

A) Planning Team

         Advisory Committee (including: administrators, teachers, students, parents)-Creating this team is essential as they will decide procedures for the upkeep and maintenance of the system as well as how to integrate curriculum and learning into the system’s present and future design. One thing to remember: The incorporation of technology must be practically based. Technology is easily abused at under-performing schools. It should not be used without proper research justifying its use, and its expense must be weighed against the learning expectations that are derived in the school’s “guiding principles."

         Questions the Committee Must Answer-This list of questions should be used to help guide the development process: 1) What will teachers have in their rooms and how will it be used?, 2) How many public places will be made available and how will they be used and up kept?, 3) How will technology be integrated into curricula and learning models?, 4) How will hardware and software be maintained?, 5) How will instructors be trained?, and 6) What are the future plans for technology?

C) Current Status and Direction

         Current Status of System and Systemic Considerations-The A/C should find out what is being used and by whom. They should also focus on what the system can actually achieve.

         Future Points of Realization (general)-The A/C should ascertain how the system will utilize technology in the future.

         Guiding Principles (practical and theoretical)-The A/C should recognize the importance of clear principles of guidance that will direct the school’s ultimate vision.

         Timeframe and General Outline (to be financially rectified at a later date)-The A/C will create a general outline which includes timelines. This document if only a starting point; it should, however, be finalized within two months.

B)      Research Team

         Grounded Action Research Committee-This committee is separate from the Advisory Committee and should be comprised of at least two experts in GT/GA.

         Leadership Team, Protocols, and Continuous Data Collection and Review-The Leadership Team should be comprised of a group of master teachers who will, with the help of the Research Committee, review the results of the research and begin to facilitate voluntary “grounded protocols” to the staff members. The results should be incorporated in the school’s final yearly technology plan.

D) Strategies for Improved Instruction

         Curriculum and Instruction-This is a key element that should include all three committees’ input. The question is: How will technology support what is learned and how it is learned?

         Professional Development through Scholarship (protocols: individual and, eventually, departmental)-This concerns how and where the grounded protocols will be applied.

E) Institutional Realities: Final STP

         Technology Maintenance and Upkeep-The final draft of the STP will include how to achieve this.

         Fiscal Limits, Budget and Timeline-The final STP must have real numbers for the first, second, and third years of the plan.

 

B. A GT/GA Inspired Secondary School Technology Plan

Grounded Action and the Use of Protocols to Guide Reform

Let me start by saying that I did not foresee developing a GA inspired plan for instruction at the outset of this project, but my work in the GT/GA group has definitely influenced my thinking. I believe that I have lacked, up until now, a process that could guide transformations through the use of empirical evidence. In GT, data is king, and more often than not the kingdoms of public schools respect little existing local evidence in the changes they institute; often times driving in the blind. It seems that schools rarely see the patterns of dysfunction that dictate their failures. As Glaser (1978) notes, “The goal of grounded theory is to generate a theory that accounts for a pattern of human behavior which is relevant and problematic for those involved” (p. 93).

 

As I began to understand how GT works and how GA could benefit schools like the one I worked at for seven years, a rudimentary plan began to germinate. I envisioned a school that accepts the precept that the social and political components in school systems are highly charged elements and susceptible to great fluctuations and that these variations should not be dismissed off-hand or ignored, they should be identified, studied, and operational theories expounded about how best to transform them. It’s important to note that not all of these variations are negative, for instance if one category of interest was the success of a certain demographic, then a school could study its positive attributes and search for the “core variable” that best defines its essence and then propose an operational theory as a guide for systemic modifications that could be reviewed, at regular periods, through application of new data, and re-conceptualized if necessary. I’d like to suggest what I feel is a practical way to incorporate the processes of continual modification at a school site suffering from the systemic pressures of operating well below the state’s middle-range in terms of academic achievement. I propose to accomplish this task by focusing on analyzing indicators and creating changes based on increased awareness by key players. As Simmons & Gregory (2003) maintain:

 

Proposed solutions to complex problems must directly address the full complexity of the social systems and organizations within which they exist, including the likely consequences of actions. And importantly, they must include an understanding of the factors that promote, inhibit, and prohibit change (P. 4).

 

The Challenges

Public schools in California continue to struggle. A growing population of foreign students along with an existing population of under-performers continues to stretch the system resources to its extremes.  A recent Rand study notes:

 

The combination of a student population with relatively great needs, relatively low funding levels, and relatively inadequate resources, may have contributed to California’s comparatively low levels of student academic achievement (p. 28).

 

Moreover, to earn a school score of 4 on the California State API (Academic Performance Index) is to be below the state average on all standardized tests. This is the case at all three public high schools in the Vallejo City Unified School Distinct where I worked for seven years. Although it can be argued that these tests are unfair and contain bias, it is apparent that these low scores reflect the volatility of staffing at these schools where, for the last five years, on average about 20% of teachers are either new or in their second year. This type of rampant turnover points to a system in flux, unable to keep and attract quality professionals. In my opinion, this statistic, in and of itself, is enough to warrant a system evaluation and analysis, and that is where my plan begins. It is important to note that this plan is targeted to schools like these as it is easy to employ, inexpensive, and requires little training (except for the GT analysts). My experience tells me that for a program to be efficient at this level it must be something that can be managed without great expenditure of time and effort.

 

By moving past the discussion arguing whether the school needs to change, and it is, believe it or not, still an argument that many key players want to pursue, I claim that any school with failure this deeply ingrained must endeavor to improve. But in order to improve, a different approach to change must be utilized and this is where I believe that my experience working in a dysfunctional system is critical to my approach.

 

 

The GT/GA Component of the Plan

The technology plan I’ve devised incorporates and embeds a GT/GA component into the procedure. These are the steps for that component:

1.        An advisory committee is chosen to represent teachers, administrators, students and the community.

2.        All pertinent data concerning the school for the last five years is disaggregated and reduced into a paper outlining the schools strengths and weaknesses and a quantitative analysis (foundation) is prepared for later comparison.

3.        The School Technology Plan (timeframe and outline) is ratified by the above committee and in the plan a school-wide information network is targeted for completion. This network is a key component because it will enable the school to ask for and collect data quickly. These data can help with in-year modifications.

4.        A research committee is chosen.

5.        The school prepares a study the using GT/GA with a possible grand tour question of “What are your experiences with technology on campus?” This could eventually lead to a narrowing of questions of which some would be more specific.

6.        The data is compiled and analyzed with the core variable and pertinent categories discussed by the learning community. Once again, communication technologies make it easy for dynamic forums to be devised using email, conference calling, and traditional meetings highlighted by interactive presentations.

7.        An explanatory theory and an operational theory are created and a plan of action formulated. The action is systematic and measurable. Teachers are given time to explore their responsibilities regarding the changes and experts are made available to help them. Problems are dealt with as they are encountered because a group of operational catalysts are scheduled to observe instruction on a daily basis. Technology allows them to post their finding on the school’s website for instant dialogue.

8.        Teacher protocols are administered using a GI/GP inspired method and a dynamic process of community-interchange is created.

9.        Qualitative and quantitative data are gathered and the information is combined when feasible. Some data is acquired through the use of internet surveys and interviews that are conducted at regular interviews. These results are also shared with the learning community.

10.     The process becomes an integral part of an ever-changing system and is refined as time passes and more specific situations arise. It succeeds because it empowers through empirical study; it resonates with the learning community because it confirms the power of analysis to all members. In fact, the process is itself a learning module as students who are engaged in its function are learning important social dynamics.