Tony Turgeon, currently CEO of the information technology company Atlantisys, helped to put into place an interactive learning system that is recognized as one of the premier models for integrating PC and audio/video technology into the classroom, in Southern California’s Hueneme school district. It is called a “Smart Classroom”.
What is a “Smart Classroom”, and where did the idea come from?
The Smart Classroom was developed by educators in the Hueneme School district, in Southern California. Essentially the idea was to make it possible for students to create multimedia presentations using information from various sources: a cable feed, a satellite feed, VCRs, laser discs and CD-ROM’s. All of these sources were available to students at their workstations, under the control of the teacher from a central station.
What was the philosophy behind this?
What we saw was that when students were using authoring software to create their presentations, they had to create a schematic flow of what they wanted their project to do, and then assemble it with a video clip here, a piece of text here, a still picture, an audio file, and so on. This process of constructing a flow of information required the students to study and grasp the essential elements of that information. A student creating a presentation on, for example, the Korean War, would have to get a very good grasp of the key information that he wanted to present, and the relationship of each piece of information to every other piece, or his presentation would be a shambles.
When the students then ran their presentations and saw that they weren’t working as expected, they would have to go in and debug what they did. That requires the use of deductive logic, and gets the student to begin to think more logically about sequences and relationships. It was very powerful.
In what way was it powerful?
Well, the Hueneme School District has a large migrant worker population, with over two-thirds of the students getting financial assistance and a large percentage of students working in English as their second language. In the classrooms where they put this technology, I think they scored in the 90th percentile year in and year out. With a much a lower budget than a lot of other school districts, and the students involved in this program were doing very well compared to the state norm.
And how do you think the use of technology contributed to this result?
Essentially, the technology of authoring software allowed the students to immediately view the results of their work, and then to analyze their own thought processes in creating that work. It’s like building a product. You’re trying to build a rectangular square and it comes out circular. You have to figure out what you’re doing wrong. But the software in this case allowed the students to see very clearly the structure of the presentation they had created, and change it.
It seems like an approach like this would require a significant investment in teacher training.
Yes, it does—but it caught on very quickly because it was obviously so successful. In the summer the teachers would run classes for other teachers to teach them how to use technology in the classroom. Those were very popular classes. They always had a full house.
You have to empower the teachers. That’s one thing that was done very well in Hueneme. The teachers got involved in technology. They went to Comdex and to other trade shows so they could get familiar with different pieces of technology. It motivated them to want to learn. The teachers were empowered, and then they were allowed enough freedom to get creative with their new knowledge. It has really paid off.
What do you think has been learned from this experience?
Well, for one thing, we found that students learn very well when they are creating knowledge, and technology is a powerful tool in this regard. It’s one thing to have teachers creating websites for students to study, for example, but it’s much more powerful to have the students creating websites for each other.
A second observation is that when a student is trying to figure out a technical problem as part of the process of producing something that he is very interested in producing, that student is going to learn that technology much, much faster than he would learn it though a more traditional instructional approach.
And a third observation—and this is something that all educational technologists can be grateful to the administration and teachers of the Hueneme school district for—is that appropriate use of technology really can substantially affect the bottom line of how much and how fast students learn.