ERIC Identifier: ED368809
Publication Date: 1994-02-00
Author: Burnett, Gary
Source: ERIC Clearinghouse on Urban Education New York NY.
Technology as a Tool for Urban Classrooms. ERIC/CUE Digest, Number 95.
By 1992, according to a study by the Council of Chief State School Officers,
more than 3.5 million computers were in U.S. elementary and secondary schools--a
ratio of one computer for every 13 students. In addition, 99 percent of
all schools across the country reported that they provide their students
with some access to computers (cited in West, 1993).
The technological transformation of education in the United States has
not been as extensive as these numbers might suggest, however. The same
study found that, despite the substantial presence of technology in the
schools, many students have yet to gain more than minimal access to it,
often using computers no more than once a year.
Moreover, the methods and purposes of computer use often differ radically
from school to school and from district to district: sometimes computer
use enhances learning for all students and sometimes it simply confers
a new technological sheen on the low-level programs that have long been
a staple of education in the United States. In some cases, they are present
in the schools but are not being used for any clear purpose at all. If,
as many have claimed, computer literacy has become as indispensable for
success as literacy itself, then students have a great deal to gain schools
implement educational technology programs.
Educational technology comes in many forms, from pre-packaged games
to word processing and graphics packages, complex multimedia systems, and
telecommunications networks such as the Internet. Students and teachers
may be introduced to technology via stand-alone computers in the classroom,
or via vast systems that can connect them to users both across the country
and around the world.
Faced with this wide range of possibilities in educational technology,
educators wishing to bring computers into their schools must decide not
only what kind of program to implement, but also the place that technology
will occupy within their schools. They must:
* clarify the role of computers as a pedagogical tool;
* define its relationship to existing curricula; and
* establish the level of human and financial investment they are willing
The people involved in making these decisions for urban schools can
be quite diverse--administrators, teachers, and/or parents, among others.
This digest provides an overview of computer use, and presents a few general
guidelines for these decision-makers to use when implementing a technology
CHARACTERISTICS OF GOOD TECHNOLOGY PROGRAMS
Whatever kind of technological programs educators decide to develop, the
primary consideration should be the purpose of using the technology. Jordan
and Follman (1993) outline a number of characteristics of good technology
programs. They should: * emphasize cooperative learning models, allowing
heterogeneous groupings of students to work together collaboratively;
* emphasize higher-level problem-solving skills while also reinforcing
* support interactions between students and teachers rather than use
computers as "teaching machines" to supplant the teacher;
* create interactive learning environments built around real-world problems;
* be adaptable to a variety of learning styles.
In addition, as Cole and Griffin (1987) point out, it is essential that
programs be designed to ensure equitable and substantial access for all
students, and function as an integral part of a well-planned pedagogy.
Educators planning to introduce technology programs into their schools
must also consider a number of practical matters in order for these programs
to be successful. As Fulton puts it, technology requires that schools be
willing to make substantial investments in time, resources, and support
(1993, p. 3). On the most obvious level, for example, someone in the school
must know how to install the equipment and keep it working properly. Further,
as a 1990 study by the Center for Technology in Education (cited in Fulton,
1993) found, even when teachers are not skeptical about the appropriateness
of educational technology and are willing to learn, they can take as much
as five or six years to become sufficiently comfortable with computers
to able to use them effectively in their classrooms. Schools must be able
to invest in long-term inservice training, including both formal and informal
training, as well as time for teachers to simply "mess around" with the
TWO SUCCESSFUL PROGRAMS
Some characteristics and potentials of educational technology can be seen
clearly in the two programs discussed below. Both already have a long history
of success in urban schools.
DE ORILLA A ORILLA (FROM SHORE TO SHORE)
ORILLAS as it is known has been described as a class-to-class collaboration
designed by partner teachers (Sayers, 1991, p. 679). Begun in 1985, it
started as a small telecommunications network linking a handful of Mexican,
Puerto Rican, and Anglo elementary and secondary teachers from California
and New England. By 1990, it had grown into a much larger network of more
than 60 teachers and their students, who speak and write in languages including
English, French, Spanish, and various Caribbean Creoles. Participants in
the program use electronic mail to develop team-taught collaborative projects
between classrooms in the United States, Puerto Rico, Argentina, Canada,
and Mexico.Aimed specifically at immigrant and language minority students,
ORILLAS uses word processing, electronic mail, and electronic publishing
to strengthen students' native- and English-language proficiency and academic
achievement. It also attempts to maintain strong ties between immigrant
students and their cultural heritage (Sayers, 1991; Sayers & Brown,
Like other projects using telecommunications networks, ORILLAS emphasizes
teacher-student interaction, as well as cooperative and collaborative learning
among widely dispersed and heterogeneous groups of students. In addition,
through email, it encourages students to focus on using higher-level skills
in a real-world context.
Where ORILLAS crosses national and cultural boundaries, Project Headlight,
also begun in 1985, attempts to infuse a single school--Boston's Hennigan
School, an elementary school with a predominantly minority student body--with
technology.Thanks to substantial support from Massachusetts Institute of
Technology's Media Laboratory, Hennigan School's computer-student ratio
is unusually high, and each participating student spends a significant
portion of each day at a terminal as part of homeroom activities.
The best known--and most widely documented--program to emerge from Hennigan
School is LEGO/Logo, in which students use the Logo programming language
and the LEGO building bricks to design and produce functioning robots.
Because they are developed and implemented by the students themselves,
all of Project Headlight's activities, including LEGO/Logo, encourage a
wide range of learning styles. If students are to design their own projects
successfully, they must be able to both apply basic skills and draw upon
Project Headlight has also developed programs in which students in the
lower grades are mentored by their older peers; in these, the older students
not only act as technical consultants to their younger proteges, but also
design and produce their own assessment mechanisms for testing their achievement.
By using older students as mentors, Project Headlight emphasizes cooperative
learning and collaboration, and encourages the development of a community
of learners (Harel & Papert, 1991).
ADAPTING PROGRAMS FOR SCHOOLS
Project Headlight, with its innovative and exhaustive approach to educational
technology is, unfortunately, the exception rather than the rule among
urban schools. Many more projects designed for urban and minority students
are currently limited to remedial drill-and-practice applications and unimaginative
Computer-Assisted-Instruction (CAI) packages (Owens, 1993). For one thing,
few urban schools can count on the financial and technological backing
of a partner like MIT.Programs do not, however, have to be as extensive
as Project Headlight in order to be effective. Individual components of
Hennigan School's project--the mentoring of younger by older students or
the LEGO/Logo programs--can be adapted at a relatively low cost. And a
project like ORILLAS can have a considerable impact for an investment of
between $200 and $300 per year per classroom (DeVillar & Faltis, 1991).
In addition, many cities and states have already built substantial infrastructures
to support school efforts in developing educational technology programs;
for instance, New York has built a city-wide telecommunications network--NYCENET--which
is easily available to all teachers and students in the city, and is linked
with the Internet. Further, many private sources provide support for schools'
efforts--AT&T's "Learning Network," which links geographically distant
classrooms together based on similar curricula, is one example (Martinelli-Zaun,
As Fine suggests, it is no longer a question of IF school systems will
make increased use of technology, but WHEN and HOW they will do so (1991,
p. 9). In addition, as Hamm and Adams (1992) have emphasized, technology
alone cannot solve all of the problems faced by schools in the United States;
nevertheless, if schools either do not invest in technology at all or invest
only in low-level remedial programs, they will leave their students ill-prepared
for an increasingly technological future.
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Wisconsin Center for Education Research, University of Wisconsin-Madison.
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and cultural diversity: Restructuring for school success. Albany: State
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education. In D. Carey, R. Carey, D. A. Willis, & J. Willis (Eds.),
Technology and teacher education annual 1993. Charlottesville, VA: Association
for Advancement of Computing in Education, pp. 1-6. (ED 355 937)
Hamm, M., & Adams, D. (1992). The collaborative dimensions of learning.
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Sayers, D. (1991). Cross-cultural exchanges between students from the
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West, P. (1993, December 15). Survey finds gaps in U.S. schools' computer
use. Education Week, p. 6.