Shirley Ann Smith
Shirley Ann Smith, Ph.D., is Director of Curriculum for the Satellite Education Resources Consortium (SERC). A director of a national initiative to help teachers make the best use of educational technology, she offers some guidelines.
What’s the mission of SERC?
SERC is a distance learning organization that delivers live satellite courses to high schools and some middle schools. We also develop other types of resources that enable teachers to use technology. In terms of our structure, SERC is a consortium of public television stations and departments of education.
What kinds of technology does SERC work with?
Well, SERC has been delivering distance learning courses via satellite for over ten years. We also use audio bridges and telephones and fax machines—whatever technology serves the purpose. Many of the resources that we’re developing now are based on digital technology—computers and the Internet—but our guiding principle remains using the appropriate technology for what you’re trying to accomplish.
How do you choose the most appropriate technology?
What is most important is to create resources that meet the needs and the access points of the teachers in the classroom. The technology chosen should be whatever is best for delivering those resources. It needs to be organized and it needs to be developed in such a way that the technology isn’t bigger than the ideas and the content that we’re trying to teach. There’s a real interesting balance. There are those of us who get caught up in the technology, and we have to remember that it’s not the bells and whistles, it’s the content.
In education, we are forever looking for the silver bullet. And we haven’t quite figured out that there is no silver bullet. It’s going to be a combination of a lot of different things. It’s not going to be this program or that program.
It’s the same with technology. When computers came along they were supposed to revolutionize education. There was an idea that you put a computer in the room and, by osmosis, kids were going to be brighter and smarter and have higher test scores.
It doesn’t work that way. In fact, technology scares a lot of teachers. They think, “the technology is going to replace me, it’s going to do something better than I do it.” But it’s not; it’s simply a tool.
What do you think teachers need in order to use technology effectively?
Everything that we keep hearing, all the research that’s coming out now, is saying the same thing: teachers need training.
In my mind, there are two major components to that training. There is the “how to make it work”: how to turn on the computer, how to insert the CD, how to get to the Internet. Then there is the “how do I use this in my curriculum?” Training needs to address both of these.
Most importantly, we need to give teachers a reason to want to use the technology. The reason is not learning how to put a CD into the computer, or how to put together web pages. The reason is because this is going to create a better learning environment for your students. This is going to help you do your job, what you came into this profession to do.
What should teachers and administrators keep in mind as they bring technology into the classroom?
They need to keep in mind that change is hard. Changing the structure, the organization, changing the culture of a school is tremendously difficult.
Also I think there’s an idea that technology replaces teachers and replaces face-to-face contact and replaces human interaction.
It doesn’t do any of those when it’s used appropriately and effectively. It enhances all of that. Chris Dede’s* research shows that every configuration of technology that teachers need involves face-to-face interaction. At some point we all need to get together and look at one another and be in the same room with each other. Even video conferencing doesn’t do that.
We can bring in the technology to help us do our work better, but it doesn’t replace being in the same room. That’s what teachers and administrators need to understand and believe.
*Dr. Chris Dede is a noted researcher and educational technology developer. For more information visit his website at http://www.virtual.gmu.edu