Information Technology Tools and The Future of Teaching and Learning:

An Interview with Gary Staunch

Gary Staunch, Director of Education for North America at Compaq Computer Corporation, is responsible for marketing Compaq products and services to public and private educational institutions throughout the United States. Staunch leads the strategic planning, marketing and communication efforts to identify and promote the products, solutions and services that best meet the needs of K-12 and higher education customers. Staunch was named to his current position in June 1998.

James Morrison (JM): Gary, as a senior manager for one of the world’s leading producers of information technology, what do you see on the horizon as to how these tools will affect the way we conduct teaching in educational organizations?

Gary Staunch (GS): From the teaching perspective, the most dramatic change that I see coming is the portability issue and how to extend learning outside the classroom. We need to design devices that are portable, durable, functional, and capable enough to extend the learning experience outside of the traditional school environment—and to change the dynamics of student-teacher interaction so that the classroom is not necessarily the only location where learning takes place. I believe that portability expands the learning process by allowing students to access current information from anywhere, at anytime—whether that information resides with an instructor, with someone with whom you want to collaborate as a peer, or on the Internet. [While I think that portability is an important capability, the more generalizable concept is "accessibility," one enabler of which is portability. Portability, as this interviewee might be perceived, is portable computers. - T]

JM: What about the management of educational organizations?

GS: Let’s look at the K-12 environment. Today, many districts don't have access to the on-demand data they need to make intelligent, on-the-spot decisions or to react to current trends. That data usually resides in an Information Technology-directed environment.

Data-driven technology tools currently in development will provide administrators with access to important information on a real-time basis to make informed, strategic decisions. These tools allow decision-makers to react immediately, make changes mid-course and apply whatever information or resources are needed in given situations. For example, how do superintendents get information about attendance trends at specific schools in their districts? Traditionally, they get a report from somebody, but that report does not provide real-time access to attendance information. Real-time, data-driven technology tools respond to an administrator’s need for a steady flow of new information that is continually updated. What I see are systems that will be able to give school leaders information so that they will be able to make need-driven decisions. (Can you specify the shortcomings of today’s systems that will be addressed in the future?)

[His response is dated if it is assumed to be applicable to higher educaton. Many higher education institutions already have this decision support capability using data warehouse repositories that contain information from their legacy transaction-designed systems.  A number of institutions have now moved into an even better reporting environment with client server software, relational databases, and integrated end user reporting tools that allow end users to quickly produce dynamic reports for decision making. - T]

JM: Virtual universities and virtual classrooms are recent developments. How do you see these entities affecting public schools, colleges and universities in the future?

GS: Distance learning, also known as virtual learning, is a key issue involving several teaching and learning activities. We view distance learning as Web-enabled learning, where technology and the Internet enhance the curriculum for both students on campus and across the country. Many people interpret "Web-enabled learning" as a teaching format in which information is broadcast to students around the world through the Internet. We define Web-enabled learning as a curriculum delivery vehicle, not a teaching format.

[I am not entirely clear on his distinction here.   Does he mean that the Internet will simply be used for live, real-time broadcasts, and interactive sessions vs. static presentation of material? - L]

[I agree with his assertion that Web-enabled learning is not a teaching format; however, the Web is a"curriculum resource repository" as well as curriculum delivery vehicle. - T]

Web-enabled learning will be widespread in the future. To that end, Compaq will announce this year solutions to support Web-enabled learning through content development—the ability to import content for curriculum, and the ability to deliver that content across a Web-based environment. If academic institutions want to bring a curriculum to either higher education or K-12 campuses that do not have that resource within their academic structure, then Web-enabled learning provides the solution to meet that need. Web-enabled learning provides enormous flexibility in the learning process for students. With the import of real-time content, the information accessed is always refreshed and up-to-date, which is important.

The virtual university revolution is making traditional colleges examine the way content is delivered. In order for traditional institutions to remain competitive in the future, they must offer Web-enabled learning as an option for their students.

JM: Several weeks ago, I went to a conference where the focus was on Web-enabling textbooks—putting them in Web-syllabi, where students could use hypertext for the explanation of complex words, or go to simulations and exercises, or even to click on a button and hear a professor's audio comments on a particular section of text. Are computer companies and textbook publishers starting to collaborate? Do you foresee a merger or partnership of computer companies and textbook publishers?

GS: Absolutely. Part of the publishers' challenge is that they have gone from producing hard-copy textbooks to CD-ROMs, but they are unsure what the next interaction, relative to content delivery, will be in a Web-based environment. We are working closely with leading publishers in order to determine how content can best be delivered.

[There are many intellectual property issues associated with this emerging paradigm. - T]

JM: Relatively few faculty members are using Web-enabled delivery systems. What are the implications of that sparse usage? How can educational leaders address these implications?

GS: You are right; there are very few teachers that develop or deliver their curricula in a Web-based environment. Educators need to seriously investigate Web-enabled learning and ask themselves: How do I deliver Web-enabled learning to my students? How do I incorporate content? How do I take the content that I have, as a subject matter expert, and put that into an engaging format for my students? These are the questions facing all schools, including traditional colleges and universities. Compaq is currently working to develop a program in higher education that will deliver the technology, tools, training and information that will enable professors to: (1) take the content that they have historically delivered to students via lectures and put it into a Web-enabled format, and (2) access content imported from other content providers. Is the infrastructure in place to support such technology on campuses today? Probably not.

[It's commendable that Compaq is going to offer such a program. But the critical success factor in expanding and accelerating this movement is a change in the faculty reward structure. Until the development of Web-based courses is considered as relevant to tenure decisions, faculty will continue in their current paradigm. The other critical success factors are (1) time to develop the Web-based courses, (2) technical resources, and (3) curriculum design resources. - T]

JM: Will Compaq assist educational leaders and faculty members who want to participate in the Web-enabled course business?

GS: Yes, absolutely. We have a Web site up and running called "CoursePaq" that educators can access as a resource for Web-enabled learning (URL?). Anything that educators want to know about developing, implementing or supporting Web-based education resides on this site. It is a key resource for potential providers of Web-based curricula.

JM: A major challenge is to get faculty members interested in being Web-based learning providers. What hints or tips can you give educational leaders about how they can convince faculty to essentially get involved with a steep learning curve when they are already busy people?

GS: I understand the reluctance of faculty: this is why we are trying to make the implementation of information and technology tools as easy as possible. As students graduate from schools in which technology is more and more prevalent and move into the workforce—whether it is into the academic community or into the commercial business environment—the interest by faculty in Web-enabled learning will naturally increase.

JM: How can information technology tools be used to stimulate and enhance learning?

GS: When students have access to up-to-the-minute, current information, and when that information is shared with their peers and faculty, the learning experience changes dramatically. Teachers, who used to be the subject matter experts and the deliverers of all content, will transfer more of the learning process and responsibility to students. Students then become responsible for understanding where to access information and how to collaborate in a Web-based environment. Students must ask themselves: How do I learn? How can I use information and technology to gain information? Such an experience prepares an individual to be a life-long learner, which is critical for success in the workforce of tomorrow. So the whole learning paradigm changes. On top of that, technology enables students to express themselves differently than they ever have before. Students are no longer limited to using a piece of paper and a pencil or pen, but instead have a unique online environment in which they can express what information they have been able to gather, internalize that data, and then integrate it into their assignments.

JM: My experience is that students are uncomfortable when the focus shifts to their competency in accessing, analyzing and communicating information. This shift is also uncomfortable for professors because it is a whole different way of looking at teaching behavior. We have put so much stock in teachers being the purveyors of content. Do you have any tips on how to ease this transition in which both students and teachers adopt new roles?

GS: It is difficult, especially for a teacher who transitions from being the subject expert to being the facilitator. But just as business management has changed—managers used to simply state, "I want you to do this task," and now they empower employees to be responsible for an area of the business—so, too, must education change. Instructors still need to direct the activities and the expectations of the students, but they must also put responsibility for learning on the shoulders of the students. It is going to be an uncomfortable transition, but one well worth it given the benefits that students will enjoy. The measure of success should not simply be test scores, but instead, increased attendance and graduation rates and the visible engagement of the student in the learning process. Once teachers see their students engaged and excited about learning and producing thoughtful work, they will find it a very eye-opening and gratifying experience.

In order to educate students to be life-long learners and successful contributors to the new global market, educators have no choice but to change the way they teach and the way students learn. Educators need to remember that if we want to help students achieve a high level of competency and competitiveness, we have no choice but to make technology an integrated tool in the learning process.

[Good concluding remarks. - T]

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