How could something as impersonal as a computer improve teachers’ ability to treat students as individuals? David Dwyer, the Director of Education Technologies for Apple Computers shares observations from the field, including three rules for effective technology implementation.
How did you come to work in the field of education technology?
Prior to getting into technology, I was a classroom teacher for a dozen years. After that I was in the research world, trying to understand change and innovation in schools.
It was really on the basis on that research that I was invited to Apple in 1986 and started a long love affair with ACOT (Apple Classrooms of Tomorrow – an Apple program that worked with various teachers in their classrooms to explore the possibilities of computer technology). That essentially gave me the opportunity to engage 25 of the major research institutions around the country and develop a focus on what happens when you bring computers into a classroom.
That was a remarkable opportunity; to really build case studies and watch students grow up in these environments, to watch teachers practice for five, six, seven years and to see the evolution of their practice. I think one of the most exciting and important things that came out of it were some really innovative ideas about professional development for teachers.
What does it take to make technology effective?
Any program that is going to adopt technology needs to incorporate three ideas. One is access. Technology is not going to make a significant difference for children if children get in front of the computer a half an hour a week or half an hour a month. It has to be a routine part of their learning environment, and that goes for teachers as well.
The second thing is that the teaching organization must be very clear about the outcomes they are trying to develop — the kinds of skills, the curriculum points they are making or focusing on in their classroom. Obviously, the instructional materials, the software and lesson plans, need to be aligned with these.
The third thing is professional development. You need a real commitment from the school to provide support to teachers to bring them up to speed quickly, and to assess the use of the technology and make suggestions on effective use.
When the kids have access, the materials are aligned and the teachers are professionally prepared to use the technology really well, you really see some very specific kinds of gains in the classroom.
What kinds of gains?
Many studies have demonstrated that you will see a 15 percent rise in basic skill achievements compared to classrooms that don’t use technology. And those gains can come about in 30 percent less time because students tend to become more engaged in technology because of the interactivity.
One of the things I found very early on in my studies was that second and third graders with a very minimal amount of keyboard training, maybe a ten-minute period a day for several weeks, can easily learn to type with a keyboard at thirty or forty words per minute and it goes up from there.
Children at that age using a pen or pencil write on average nine to eleven words per minute, so writing is just easier and the output is so clean and professional looking that kids really feel good about writing. They enjoy the process more because mechanically it’s simpler for them.
I’m not interested in making better typists in the world. But over and over again, teachers have reported that when writing becomes easier, the students share more about what’s going on in their head — their perceptions of the world and their relationships. This gives classroom teachers a better handle on where these kids are. It has also effected teachers’ perceptions on what young children are actually capable of, which allows them to expect more from younger children. I think that is a good thing.
What kinds of things have you been working on lately?
We’ve come along way during the past decade in terms of lowering the student/computer ratio. I think we’ve dropped from a 20-1 ratio to 6-1 now. We’ve made tremendous progress in terms of accessing technology.
Now I am looking forward to the day when we stop having technology conferences and instead have educational conferences with technology richly mixed into them.
At Apple we are re-orienting ourselves from technology to education. There are four groups we are very focused on. One of them is students—you’re going to see Apple very focused on student achievement. The second is teachers; as you well know, the nation is in a crisis over the next ten years about recruitment of teachers and really preparing them. We want to do everything that we can to leverage opportunities for training and re-training for professional development.
For administrators, we want to provide information management tools that enable them to quickly make informed decisions and to provide stronger leadership. The last group, which I have been more tied to recently, is parents. We want to engage them in education in a very powerful way — to create, literally, a data sharing community.
What kinds of things are you are doing to accomplish these goals?
We recently announced a new product called ED View, which brings really wonderful educational instructional resources that are standards-based and focused on achievement.
Ed View is really a search engine that has been built with education in mind. When you think about trying to find resources on the Web, it’s always a frustrating experience. If you want to find out something about Algebra, you type in the search word and you end up getting 800 things on that word. We have about 120,000 URL’s in the ED View database, and it’s constantly growing — but teachers have evaluated every URL.
When you, as a teacher, try to find resources in the Ed View environment, you are getting back advice and opinions from teachers, and you are not overwhelmed with hundreds of things. You might get back a dozen highly targeted resources, and they are age-appropriate.
In the teachers’ space we’ve had the Apple Learning Interchange, ALI, which offers Web-based resources for teachers. It also has a QuickTime TV broadcast that enables experts and educational organizations to get full media type messages out to educators. It’s a community place for teachers to work collaboratively, so that’s an exciting piece for me.
We’ve long had a staff development offering at Apple and we’re going to be focusing on updating that content and coming back strongly in the staff development area to provide exciting opportunities for teachers which will be both Web based and face-to-face.
We’ve also been talking to a lot of administrators. In business and industry, the real win for technology is in information management in communication. But in the education field, we’ve been focused on the learning environment for children, on the interaction between children, teachers and computers in the classroom. There hasn’t been a lot of focus on modernizing the back office systems and the data coordination systems. I think that’s a place where technology can really make a difference in schools, the way it has in business.
What do you think the next ten years will bring?
What’s changed since ACOT did its research is the presence of the Internet. Now there’s an emphasis on connections and communication, and that just really opens up a lot of different possibilities. It really makes possible the formation of a community where administrators, parents and teachers can work together very thoroughly. Setting up that community is something I am really excited about, and the notion of better information management so you can address the individual needs of each child.
This has been the long-term Holy Grail in education — being able to develop individualized programs and let every young man and young woman reach their individual potential. I guess I’m still wide-eyed and very hopeful about the future in schools, and I think that technology can really play a powerful role in bringing that about.