John Vaille

John Vaille

What makes technology truly valuable to a teacher? According to John Vaille, the CEO of the International Society for Technology in Education, unique and effective content is the key to making computers and the Internet essential tools for students and educators.



What is ISTE’s mission?

Our mission is support the use of technology in teaching and learning. We have consistently produced very high quality publications for educators who are technology users and provided leadership opportunities and networks for them. For almost the last ten years we’ve provided direct support for the National Education Computing Conference—we provide content for the workshops and supervise selection of speakers.

One of our current projects is NETS, the National Education Technology Standards project. The very final version is now on our Web site*, out there for balloting right now. It will be rolled out at the national conference in Atlanta in June.

How would you define technology?

Technology is not about the box on the desktop. Technology is the tool that the software, the medium that’s inside it, provides the individual.

Technologies are human extensions. We started out with simple technologies, with the invention of the wheel and other simple — and not so simple — technologies. The digital technology is an extension of human capability. The only reason that these devices are any good is because of the brains of the people behind them.

With the convergence of multimedia and some of the things the Web brings to us, what we have available today is not just computing. We’ve got video, we’ve got sound and other things that almost approach real multimedia access. The only thing that’s left is scratch-and-sniff, and that’s coming.

Now that we’ve got the machines going into our schools and teachers are becoming familiar with them, is the content keeping pace?

First of all, there have been amazing accomplishments in this country between 1996, before the first Net Day, and what’s going on now, where wiring for networks is becoming an institutional priority in most schools in America. That’s a wonderful thing, but in and of itself it’s an absolutely useless to the classroom teacher.

We have to have content that is compelling for both teachers and students, and that facilitates learning. Otherwise the technology is an adjunct, as it has been for a long time, that can be either turned to or not turned to because you can get the same thing somewhere else.

I believe that the better content providers on the web give teachers and students resources they absolutely cannot get anywhere else.

These new Web sites that we keep seeing, these education portals, these are all starved for content, because it’s all about what you put on the inside for people to use.

What do you think is the biggest challenge in the way of teachers using technology effectively?

You have to know too much about the technology. It’s not turnkey, like television. And even TVs have a hard time breaking in to some classrooms.

In my first job as an elementary school principal, I introduced the idea of having a VCR in every classroom, and it took three years to get people regularly using videos. They were depending on broadcasting until then – and that’s on (PBS station) KQED’s schedule, not on their schedule.

The key is that these technologies have to be extremely easy to use. They have to be reliable. They need to be available when the teacher and the students need them. That means if they break down, somebody has to fix them right away. And they have to be dependable, which means they need to continue to be there.

If they break down and stay down for two or three weeks, which happens in some school districts, teachers say, “I can’t count on that thing, so I’m going to not plan to use it.” So it just sits there.

What do you think are some things that technology can do to improve education?

Back in the 60s when I was in college, our battle cry was: “Make this education relevant – make it immediate – give me some impact.” That is exactly what technology can bring to school, to learning.

When a student does research and is seriously interested in a subject — not just answering questions the teacher will pose to them, but actually trying to get at something that is interesting to them — there is such a wide, deep set of resources on most topics.

Truly interactive worldwide technologies will be able to make education more relevant to the individual, as opposed to whatever the curriculum says that all of us “should know.”

Do you think technology will change the way that our education process works?

Technology breaks down what I used to call the “two-four-six,” which is the two covers of a book, four walls of the classroom and the six hours of the day. You’re no longer stuck just inside the books that are provided by the school or district. You’re no longer stuck just doing your investigations with what is available in your classroom, and you are no longer stuck just doing school during the six hours of the school day.

The institution of education gets rethought if technologies are broadly available. All of a sudden, we can think about that little girl who is wild about dinosaurs not having to get information only at school or at the library — she can do it sitting on the couch at home with her laptop.

Thank you.

It was my pleasure.




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