Integrating Productivity Tools in Primary and Secondary Education CLOUDS AND SUN

Crossing the Great Divide





A year or so ago, the great benefactor of the Bentonville Public Schools (Bentonville, AR), Mrs. Helen (wife of "Mr Sam") Walton, waved the magic wand of the Family Foundation, donating $1.5 million to our schools. This donation made possible the purchase of computers and training time for teachers, complete with networked Internet-ready labs in every school and a minimum of one PC in every classroom..

Even before receiving this generous gift, progressive principals and administrators in Bentonville introduced the use of computer grade-keeping programs, and also urged various departments to incorporate the use of computers in teaching. But these individuals had little or no financial support from state or local agencies to realize their perceptive vision of the role of technology in the teaching of tomorrow's new schools.

Many of us resisted that brave vision of a better and different school. We who had achieved a mastery of print skills and who had effective oral performance strategies did not cotton to the idea of the deconstruction of our teaching. (The implied threat of all technology--at least our perception of the emerging electronic global village--was the elimination of the teacher.)

I have crossed the Great Divide. Now, at last, I understand that the new "wired world" makes my job much more important and interesting, and even much more liberating than ever before. Our students need us now, more than ever.

In the year of the implementation of the grant, the mighty marvels of the new technology advanced step by step into our schools. We soon discovered that the wiring of schools for Internet is no light or simple task. Much mechanical misery came with our efforts to build the computer network. In the beginning, the computers were erratic and highly unstable. The fragility of the Net (or at least the link from Bentonville High School [BHS] to the rest of the backbone) caught us by surprise. The difficulty of finding people to run the technical side of the computer network made our use of the Net in our teaching virtually impossible. Many grew frustrated and ceased to try to adjust for the new tools that technology offers educators. Fearful critics used these problems to condemn the entire enterprise. Negative notes abounded and students felt cheated and betrayed, because we could not incorporate the Net into our Library or classes with any widespread success.

As the second year begins--despite our memories of glitches and snags, of mechanical misery, of constant breakdowns--for some of us, change now begins to look like our friend; we see it as an entry into the new Information Renaissance Age so rapidly evolving around us in business, entertainment, and our homes.

What does this mean to faculty like me (year 23 of teaching, year 45 of life)? It means we must acknowledge that tools of technology of the Information Age will no more go away than did the tools of the Industrial Age, and that we must either join the bitter "refuseniks" (anti-computer teachers) who have left the profession, or change. Those of us who remain, for the most part, are committed to the new era, for our kids and for our teaching.

So it was that this summer I built a Personal Homepage on the Web at a computer account with the University of Arkansas. BHS is a Break-the-Mold School, which means that much of the educational government paperwork has been abolished and we may try all sorts of things without the laborious intervention and approval of Arkansas state legislators or state Education Department paper shuffling.

I could have done this quite some time ago since I also teach for Northwest Arkansas Community College in their night program and the faculty of that institution have computer account privileges (at no cost) on the University of Arkansas computer system. But I had not made the effort to learn--something one must do--to begin building a page on the fabled World Wide Web.

Once I began building the page, I had to give up my Lone-Ranger style of teaching. I took my first step over the Great Divide by searching INFOSEEK, an excellent quick reference tool. There I found THE HTML WRITER'S GUILD, home to a most wonderful band of web writers open to all the earnest honest questions of the completely ignorant person, in a kind-hearted and gentle manner. And despite my knowing absolutely nothing about writing HTML, the Guild granted me membership, and I have worked very hard ever since to become a more capable and worthy peer. This alone taught me powerful lessons about teaching and my expectations for others. I have practiced distance learning with people from all over the globe as I have learned how to write the code that makes my pages possible. I began to imagine a totally new kind of class, a completely new style for my teaching. I have lost nothing; I have gained everything.

When I built STEVE'S STUFF, I accepted the bitter risk of failure in order that I might taste the sweet wine of victory. I learned I can do much more than merely survive; I can succeed and be part of the change for the better. What's on my page? Was all this worth the hassle, the misery, the fear for my professional future? When I look at the animated atom gif marking arrival at my HOMEWORK HELPER page, I know that building the page helped me cross over the mountain of change. My page evolves daily. I have a million and one ideas for its improvement.

What will be on my page? I foresee models, tutorials, further resources, alternative assignments, alternative paths of learning for A-level credit. Only imagination could limit CYBER 257: my room on the web. In that page called MY OZARK DIARY, my life in teaching, I seek to establish a model for the journalizing and writing I shall expect from every student I teach. No more will a student find himself alone and without the indirect help of models. The mailto code resides somewhere on every page, so students can contact me immediately from the web browser itself to ask for direct extension of the day's activities and lessons.

My kids deserve a teacher who has crossed the Great Divide. They deserve a teacher who is no more afraid to keep on learning than they must be. My kids are able, bright, creative, dynamic, energetic, first-class, great, helpful, intelligent, jubilant, kinetic, loving, mindful, notable, outstanding, proficient, questioners, reasoners, smart, teachers themselves, underappreciated, vigorous, wonderful, (e)Xtra-special, young, and (e)Z to teach! They deserve the electronic best that I may learn to share with them.

I seek to make my page better daily. I have learned the lesson of life: To live is to embrace change. Living is all about learning new things and doing things in new ways. Teachers were almost the last ones to find this out. In fact I know that if I were to deconstruct R. 257, my kids would build a Cyber 257 filled with their dynamic web documents and pages and tremendous discoveries Gunter-guaranteed to astound one and all who choose to visit us online anytime all the time. C ya soon? You may reach me at [Image]

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