Teachers, Schools of Education, and Computer Literacy

Why isn't computer usage increasing in the American classroom at a faster rate? Should computer usage increase at a faster rate? The answer to the former question is the subject of this essay. The answer to the latter question is a resounding yes:  all indicators show that workers will need to be familiar with computers, and countless research demonstrates that computers enhance the learning process. As for the former question, the answer is much more complicated.

Firstly, before computers are actually used in the classroom, teachers must buy into the notion that technology is a beneficial addition to the classroom. In order for teachers to buy that argument, they must consider pedagogy and politics. The current pedagogical trend  supports the notion of integrating computers into the classroom; and younger teachers are more apt to adopt this pedagogy than their senior peers. But pedagogy notwithstanding, the politics of the school will generally be the best indicator of teachers utilizing computers or not.  In some corners, the lack of computer usage in the classroom is blamed on the teacher, despite the fact that  teachers are often not supported financially, educationally, and professionally in the successful integration of computers into their classrooms. Blaming the teacher is not the answer. Teachers are willing, but they are not supported in their efforts. Budgets must reflect a larger share of money for teacher training than they currently do. So if computer usage is to succeed the teachers must be supported.

Secondly, schools of education have yet to answer the call in preparing their student-teachers to be computer literate. Once the schools begin turning out the product then the computers will be used in the class. Schools of Education are not offering enough computer integration into the curriculum. Schools of Education are still training for traditional classrooms. Consider the fact that a teacher in 1898 could walk into any classroom in this country in 1998 and teach a class. Not so other professions. Student teachers should be introduced to computer based classrooms during their education. They should be involved in tele-mentoring and using email to begin working with students on the Internet. They should be creating webpages which reflect their learning. Student teachers are not employing the Internet in their own education enough.

In these last two situations we are stuck in a rut of same old same old. No new thinking. We are trying to retool with old thinking. It won't work, just ask those who are successful. Education needs to go through a mind altering experience similar to what Detroit experienced when it had to retool. We see educational change in terms of systems a la Senge, who speaks of the fifth discipline as  "seeing wholes" and "systems thinking is a sensibility for the subtle interconnectedness that gives living systems their unique character."  "The fifth discipline is a shift from seeing parts to seeing the whole." stresses Senge (Senge, 1990, p. 68-9). Or of Schein, who warns leaders: "The bottom line for leaders is that if they do not become conscious of the cultures in which they are embedded, those cultures will manage them." (Schein, 1992, p. 15)  We must retool and use better models from systems thinking to better education.

Thirdly, assessment does not reflect current teaching styles instead it reflects old methods of multiple choice and ease. Multiple choice tests are a poor form of assessment, research bellows this message. Portfolios/Webfolios which include varieties of presentations of the scholars' work have become the method of choice in assessment. However, money and time are the two stumbling blocks to implementing better assessment.

Fourthly, research will take time. McClintock said it a long time ago that it will take a generation to assess an educational change. Consider that the challenge from  Nation at Risk (which came out in 1983) which opened with a major statement: "Our society and its educational institutions seem to have lost sight of the basic purposes of schooling, and of the high expectations and disciplined effort needed to attain them. This report, the result of 18 months of study, seeks to generate reform of our educational system in fundamental ways and to renew the Nation's commitment to schools and colleges of high quality throughout the length and breadth of our land."  This report lambasted education and forced us to reevaluate our commitment to education and as a result of that report we are realizing its effect last year when the SAT scores went up perhaps more a result of the report than anything else. Our problem is we want immediate gratification.

How Can We Retool Education?

We are approaching this new millennium with the methods of yesterday rather than with methods of tomorrow. We need to collaborate, problem solve, hypothesize, practice, regroup, fail, succeed, but most of all we must get out of this box in which we are stuck. We have had the SCANS report as a model for some time now and haven't fully incorporated it. We haven't heeded the words of Horace in Sizer's books. We laud the multiple intelligence tact of Gardner. We have tons of research from RAND to the umpteen dissertations lauding computer usage. We have models in every school district and yet we aren't following through. The reason computer usage in the classroom is not increasing is our fear. We preface to many of our reservations with the words: "I am afraid..."

Maybe I don't get it, because I don't understand how so many intelligent people can be so stymied by these computers. We are a profession which professes the unleashing of knowledge in others and yet we are bound and tied to tradition. We are controlled by book publishers, ETS, governors, and too many non-educators. When push comes to shove we know best. The problem is that we are tied to curriculums which are outdated, to standards which aren't supported, and to pedagogy which is more comfortable in the 19th Century than in the 21st Century. Reading a RAND report or a recent dissertation reminds me of similar documents written at the beginning of this century or even worse, in the last century. Perhaps it is time we took control of our destiny and profession and actually did something to improve education with a method we know will work.

I have a great deal of respect for the teachers who have been the pioneers in computer usage, but they are few and they are alone in their schools. I keep hearing that education is slow to adapt these new ideas. Whose fault is that? The unions? The average age of a teacher in this country is 46. Is that the problem? Our new teachers are not computer literate. Is that the problem? It can't be money. We should do as we say and write. Is it that we are lazy? Why is it that education has been so slow to embrace and incorporate the computer when so many other areas of life have them in their existence and they are now second nature in many. What is wrong with us? We are a profession locked in the past so much that we can't look forward. We romanticize the past to the point we can't look forward. Look to better basics.

We know the method of education in this country is sorely lacking and yet we keep treating it with infected bandages. It is time to tear down the walls, throw out the old stuff, and rebuild this crumbling structure we call education with some new thinking and with some guts. Relying on the traditional form of assessment is wrong. Delivering instruction in the traditional manner is wrong. Conducting teacher training in the traditional way is wrong. We know all of this and yet we continue to do it the wrong way. We aren't stupid or lazy. So what is wrong? Change is difficult and that just may be the problem, we can't change in spite of ourselves.

Allow me to address a solution to this current dilemma. Perhaps the most important element to effective computer integration is teacher buy in and utilization of computer in their classrooms. How can this be achieved? I have seen three effective methods employed, all of which must work together for any one to be effective.

First, the classic after-school, weekend, or summer workshop method is a fine start, but must be used only to introduce what will come next. It is simply step one and must be followed by the next two steps.

Secondly, the introductory workshops must be followed up by in class, on the job training methods. We have been very successful with what we call the "the three semester immersion process." Two teachers work together for a semester. One teacher is the tutor and the second is the tutee. During this semester the tutee follows the lead of the tutor. In the second semester the tutee teaches his/her own class and will become the tutor the third semester. This has been our single most successful method for grooming new teachers who use computer in their curriculum.

The third method is further education for the teacher. This may be accomplished by involving student teachers into the program which should get the cooperating teacher a course credit at the corresponding university. To finance this initiative, we write grants which pay for workshops, for the second teacher in the class, for further study, and for teacher stipends. Recently, our superintendent has funded such teacher programs in our district. Now that we have everyone's attention about the need for professional training of the teachers, corporations, colleges, and government agencies are now providing large sums of money to schools to train faculty and to provide the much needed education so the faculty in place can use the computer effectively in the classrooms.

In the past year I have seen some very creative methods used to solve the lack of faculty buy in and utilization of computer in the classroom. The key has been to "think outside the box" and to just "do it differently." Once the faculty makes a place for computer usage, incoming teachers will be able to incorporate their skills. Built into every technology plan, every school should have a technology plan, should be definite plans for teacher training. The Internet connotes collaboration, so why not carry this notion over into teacher training. The traditional classroom has the teacher in isolation while the new classroom has the teacher working in collaboration with other teachers. In conclusion, computer usage in schools will occur when teachers buy in and are supported.

Cheers, a new school day starts and here come my young scholars: "O brave new world, that has such people in it!"


Schein, Edgar H. (1992). Organizational Culture and Leadership, Second Edition.San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.

Senge, Peter M. (1994). The Fifth Discipline, Currency Edition.  New York: Bantam Doublebay Dell.


Recommendation: substantial rewite, possibly with 300/500 word extension.

This is a potentially good paper but the balance is off.  We need more on the solutions to the problem, which are relegated to 3 or 4 paras at the end.  The strangely solitary subheading, "How can we retool education," is not really about that, but continues the rather jumbled bit before and then goes relatively unannounced into the solutions. I offer the outline of a plan which could be used as the basis for a rewrite.

i) Why isn't computer usage increasing in schools?
    a) support for teachers
    b) schools of education
    c) new ideas needed
    d) assessment methods
    e) diffusion
    f) evidence of postive outcomes
ii) The legacy of the old methods and curriculum in teacher education
iii) What schools and schools of education can do, individually and in partnership
I think this could be a very practical paper, if better focused in this way.  I would not want to remove any of the comments, but in general the style is a bit too colloquial, confusingly dense at times, and occasionally repetitive.  To accommodate my suggestions it might need to be a bit longer, maybe 300 words.

This article tries to make some important points about the failure of many colleges of education to teach students effective methods of technology infusion into classroom activities. However, the author's assumption is too broadly stated as an absolute which, at least in our case, is incorrect. Our undergraduate curriculum now includes courses in communication using computers, class projects in designing Web-based lesson plans, using programs like LOGO to teach elementary mathematics, etc.