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SA: What can school administrators do to best
prepare their schools and students for a world in
which technology-driven societal change has
become a constant?
IJ: Constant change means that today's skills,
knowledge, and products live fast, get old before their
time, and die young. As information technology
reshapes America, public education must change in
three fundamental ways. First, it's not enough for
students to learn how to rapidly assimilate
information; they must also master how to create and
share knowledge. Second, beyond learning from
teachers and textbooks, students must become
proficient participants in virtual knowledge-building
communities that encompass schools, homes,
businesses, and community settings. Third, it is no
longer acceptable for academic success to be reserved
for a small minority of students; all learners must
reach high levels of competence in sophisticated
content and skills.
This requires a completely different set of skills,
knowledge, and attitudes beyond information recall.
It requires individuals to be critical thinkers, problem
solvers, and decision makers — attributes that are not
typically emphasized in today's standards-based, high-
stakes testing learning environment.
SA: You often stress that technology is a tool — not a
subject. Put another way, there's a big difference
between "using technology to learn" and "learning
to use technology." Can you elaborate on this
distinction, and do you still find that schools are
teaching mostly the latter? If so, why do you think
this is true?
IJ: When I write with a pen, I'm not pondering the
pen. I'm not staring at the pen trying to figure out how
they got the ink in there. It's not the pen that's
important, it's what I do with it that matters.
Technology in schools is not about teaching a kid
Microsoft Word, it's about helping that student to
become a better writer. It's not about teaching
students how to use Excel, it's about helping them to
become better problem solvers. It's not about having
students learn PowerPoint, it's about helping them
become better communicators.
According to research done by Henry J. Becker at the
University of California, more than 70 percent of
technology used in schools today focuses on "literacy"
uses — where the emphasis is on the tool. More than
25 percent of the emphasis is placed on "integration"
uses — where the focus is to use the tool to reinforce
everyday practices. And less than 5 percent of the
emphasis is placed on "transformative" uses — where
the technology is used to transform teaching and
learning practices as well as assessment strategies.
It's a waste to use these powerful new technologies
simply to reinforce our traditional mindsets about
learning and our traditional teacher-learner
relationships. What's the definition of insanity? It's
doing the same thing you always did, but expecting,
wanting, or needing completely different results. If
we continue to use new technologies to reinforce
what we've always done, we'll continue to get the
same results we've always gotten.
SA: You've often said that schools need to move
from "just-in-case learning" to "just-in-time
learning" because knowledge is changing so rapidly.
Obviously, the Internet and computer technology
have helped make this shift not only necessary, but
also possible. But could it be that schools are in
danger of confusing the act of accessing information
with the process of learning?
IJ: Today's educators are faced with the challenge of
preparing students for jobs that don't currently exist,
jobs that will require the use of technology that hasn't
yet been invented, jobs that will require them to
solve problems that we haven't even begun to
If this is the world that awaits our children, then I
believe it's necessary that we help students cultivate a
set of skills, knowledge, and habits of mind above and
beyond those that are defined as the traditional
foundations of learning. We need to invoke a model of
education that also promotes "just in time" learning,
in which learners are able to acquire the necessary
skills and knowledge just in time for that next job
opportunity. This is contrary to the model we use now,
which is "just in case" learning — learning things just
in case we might need them to pass the test, or
perhaps because we might need them if we become a
Of course, it's not a matter of one or the other. It's
critical that students have both the traditional basics
as well as the new basics that they will require to
survive and thrive in the culture of the 21st century.
SA: A lot of educational software is game-driven,
with the stated intent of making learning fun and
entertaining. But some critics say this superficial
engagement often distracts from the deep
satisfaction that can come from real learning. What
do you think of the current crop of educational
software, and where do you see room for
IJ: I am absolutely appalled at the direction that
much of educational software development has taken.
Management guru Tom Peters says that "what gets
measured gets done," and what's primarily getting
measured these days is student performance on tests.
Since a significant aspect of these tests is based on
content recall, much of the software being developed
focuses on content acquisition.
While I don't want this to be interpreted as a sweeping
generalization, much of the software we see today is
a throwback to the 1980s, when students would
complete 30 math questions and, if they did well, a
barnyard animal would do backflips across the screen
accompanied by circus sounds. The reward had little
to do with the activity. I consider software such as
that to be a pathetic attempt to keep learners
engaged in a meaningless task.
Going back to something I said earlier: Do we want to
use new technologies to simply reinforce what's
already in place? The answer is no. We should use
them to transform learning, giving students and
teachers the ability to create innovative learning tasks
that would be impossible without technology — tasks
that focus on developing skills in collaboration, self-
directed learning, complex thinking, communications,
and the use of electronic information.
SA: As a former school administrator, what are your
thoughts on the administrator's role in education
technology leadership?
IJ: First, we need to be clear that we are building
instructional plans, not technology plans.
Administrators should think of themselves as
instructional leaders, not technology leaders. One of
the major issues related to leadership today is that
our technology intentions often are not aligned with
our instructional intentions. As a result, our
technology plans often work at cross purposes to our
instructional plans.
As the great American philosopher Yogi Berra once
said: "If you don't know where you're going, you'll
probably end up somewhere else."
SA: There is wide agreement that technology tends
to increase student motivation levels. In the
absence of hard data on technology's specific
effects on achievement, isn't the motivation
argument a sufficient reason for schools to invest
money in instructional technology?
AW: It is sad that adults believe that children need to
spend more hours in front of a screen in order to be
motivated to learn. We impose unacceptable limits on
ourselves if we believe that we should only learn fun
things, or via media we regard as fun. Where is it
written that learning and entertainment must be
Today's children have a very narrow definition of what
is fun, and "boring" is the first word out of their
mouths when confronted with anything they regard as
unrelated to their interests — which derive almost
entirely from the pop culture that is marketed to
them. We owe it to our students to educate them, to
lengthen their short attention spans, and to help them
to overcome their pampered indifference.
I also have serious concerns about the long-term
health effects of children using computers. Children
already spend several hours a day watching television,
and their sedentary lifestyles place them at risk. The
intention to motivate through technology may only
produce obese children who squint, don't know how to
interact with others, and can't catch a ball or shoot a
SA: One criticism you've leveled against the
uncritical use of computer technology in schools is
that it's often driven by products that have been
developed for other markets, rather than by what's
needed in the classroom. In what ways do you view
current technology as inappropriate to school
needs? What's your advice to hardware and
software vendors to help them offer products that
are better suited to school needs?
AW: The sensible educator's rule of thumb should be
to use instructional technology when it clearly
improves teaching and learning. Educators should not
fetishize technology and look for every opportunity,
however meaningless, to use computers in a
classroom. For example, handheld computers are
being promoted as multiple-choice assessment
platforms. A handheld may be a spiffy way to collect
answers, but should teachers revert to asking
multiple-choice questions simply because that is what
the technology allows us to do?
Other vendors are promoting management systems
that give parents access via the Internet to see how
their children are doing in their quest to master state
standards. Learning is assessed instantly, which
requires the use of multiple-choice questions, and the
results determine the next curricular module for each
student. This may represent an advance in information
management and customer service, but fitting
curriculum and assessment to the possibilities of
computers, rather than the needs of students, doesn't
look like progress from where I stand.
My advice to hardware and software vendors is simple:
Visit schools to learn rather than to sell. Observe the
best teachers, the ones you would have wanted to
have, and see how they go about their work. Ask what
they would like technology to do for them, and let
their answers guide product development. Be guided
by what's best for children rather than what children
say they want.
SA: You've noted that the use of instructional
technology tends to drive teachers to employ a
constructivist approach in the classroom. Many
educators would see this as a positive development,
but you disagree. Why?
AW: Constructivism posits that students should design
their own learning goals and that teachers, rather
than being the primary providers of knowledge, should
coach students as they undertake individual inquiries.
The "sage on a stage" is often derided as a vestige of
an old, irrelevant mode of instruction. Computers fit
well with constructivist pedagogy because only one
user or a small group can use a single computer. If five
computers are installed in a classroom, the teacher is
forced to break students into groups, whether
effective or not, in order to use the computers.
A successful constructivist classroom requires a
particular type of teacher, but a surprising number of
teachers, even those with teaching credentials, are
entering the profession academically unprepared.
Many elementary teachers are terrified of math, and
too many secondary humanities teachers have only a
passing acquaintance with literature and history. If
these teachers have a hard time teaching a single
curriculum using a textbook, then they are not
qualified to simultaneously guide as many as 150
individual student inquiries.
I believe in diversity of pedagogy, that teachers must
find a mode of teaching that fits their individual
talents and personality — one with which they are
comfortable and which promotes student success. A
good sage on a stage beats a mediocre constructivist
any day.
SA: In many schools, students are handing in
assignments in the format of PowerPoint
presentations with bullets, sound effects, and video
clips. Should school administrators be worried about
the implications for educators' traditional notions of
AW: As an assessment strategy, multimedia
presentations are simply not on a par with essays or
research papers. Writing an essay forces students to
organize and polish their thoughts. More importantly,
it helps them discover their voice-the place they can
come from, within themselves, that is persuasive to
others. Writing doesn't just capture the thoughts we
already have; it allows us to discover what we think,
and language leads us to subtleties that are not
discernable in an outline.
Preparing a good multimedia presentation requires
thought, planning, and execution, but writing a good
essay requires much more — and in the best case
allows students to discover themselves. Students
should not be deprived of this deeper experience
simply because technology allows us to do
SA: To what extent do you see curriculum changing
to accommodate instructional technology, and do
you view this as a positive or negative trend? Is the
tail wagging the dog?
AW: I am concerned about the technology equivalent
of "mission creep," in which computers and the
Internet increasingly become the curriculum in
language arts, social studies, math, and science — and
the focus becomes how to use computers rather than
the material that is supposed to be studied.
It would be a terrible mistake to allow the untested
promise of computers to determine what students
should study. Whether it's fashionable pedagogies or
fascination with new technologies, educators should
keep in mind Henry David Thoreau's caution in
Walden: "What everybody echoes or in silence passes
by as true today may turn out to be falsehood
tomorrow, mere smoke of opinion, which some had
trusted for a cloud that would sprinkle fertilizing rain
on their fields."

Ian Jukes is the director of the InfoSavvy Group,
which helps school districts and other institutions
prepare for the needs of the future. His background
includes being a school administrator, teacher, writer,
educational consultant, university instructor, and
keynote speaker.
Alan Warhaftig recently served as coordinator of
Learning in the Real World, an organization dedicated
to examining the costs and benefits of education
technology. He is a national board certified English
teacher at the Fairfax Magnet Center for Visual Arts
in Los Angeles.
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