By Rick Chambers
When a group of futurists, jurists, academics, technologists, writers, media experts,
business leaders and teachers gathered in Toronto last October to look at education as it
was poised to leap or lurch into the next millennium, technology quickly became the focus.
The occasion was a symposium, Education on the Eve of Possibilities,
organized by former Royal Commissioner Avis Glaze and colleagues at the York Region
District School Board. More than 300 delegates came from across Canada and the United
States for the three-day conference.
Featured speaker John Naisbitt, futurist and author of Megatrends and High Tech High
Touch, said that technology has always resulted in social change but, right now, there is
a feeling that social change has not kept pace with technology. Many people are feeling
overwhelmed or left behind.
Evan Solomon of CBC Newsworld and Shift magazine, said that technological evangelists
inflict technological language and its anxiety on us. Technology is not predatory and
neednt be feared. Raising anxiety levels is self-serving for the technologists, and
the rest of us shouldnt be taken in. Television did not replace radio but changed
it. Radio did not replace newspapers but changed them. Similarly, the World Wide Web will
not replace the education system, but it will change how students learn.
LUDDITE OR LIGHTHOUSE?
Bernard Shapiro, Principal and Vice-Chancellor of McGill University, suggested that
lagging behind technology was not so bad. He said that you dont have to be on the
cutting edge of technology to lead a happy and productive life. You may never win a Nobel
Prize, but your life will unfold appropriately anyway. Even John Naisbitt said that a
computer in every classroom may not be as important as a poet in every classroom.
Yet it is undeniable that educators need to help students understand technology and its
uses. Norman Henchey of McGill University said that education was not immune from the
effects of technology any more than were the banking industry, health care, manufacturing
or architecture. Finding an entry point, however, is difficult.
Both Shapiro and Naisbitt pointed out that many technological innovations manifested
themselves in consumer technology and entertainment. Blending high tech with "high
touch," manufacturers and the entertainment industry have cashed in on the
publics search for meaning, spirituality, nostalgia and human relationships.
Naisbitt gave several examples: the re-introduced Volkswagen Beetle with its nostalgic
retro appearance and new technology under the hood was an instant hit. Apples iMac
computers with their dazzling colours and simplified operations have made them bestsellers
to first-time computer buyers. Nokia cell phones and their multi-coloured jackets make
technology fashionable. Swatch watches combine reliable technological time-keeping with
outrageous fashion statements. Titanic linked the high tech discovery of the sunken vessel
to the "high touch" love story at the heart of the film.
TEACHERS AND TECHNOLOGY
In fact, because technology outside the school is so closely linked to entertainment, the
educators challenge is to help students take technology beyond
"edutainment." Technology is not content; its a conduit and should be used
in the service of curriculum. Technology can provide access to information and perhaps
even to knowledge. But education is more than a collection of facts.
John Polanyi, Nobel Prize-winning chemist from the University of Toronto, said that
learning depends on narrative. Isaac Newtons story about gravity emerged when he was
able to take some facts and create a reasonable and understandable narrative. Later,
Albert Einstein enlarged on Newtons story of gravity. Inevitably, others will enrich
that story further.
Students need to learn how to forge links between disparate facts, and tell the stories
about how the facts are connected. That is the process of discovery. Teachers bring the
power of narrative to the learning experience because truth comes not from facts but from
the narrative about the facts. In one sense, computers will enrich the profession of
teaching and will enhance what teachers do, namely help students to tell the stories that
EDUCATION IN A TECHNOLOGICAL AGE
Polanyi said that teachers are living examples of what it means to be educated. Teachers,
for many students, are the human face of learning. In the world of technology, what is
important is the filter, and the filter is the teacher. In this medium-is-the-message age,
technology is only the medium; teachers help students to articulate the message.
Computers invite and, in fact, demand solitary work; on the other hand, schools are
social places where human interaction is not only encouraged, it is inevitable. "High
touch" is "high time" in many classrooms. There has been much talk about
having a computer in every classroom. More important, according to Shapiro, is having
human interaction in every classroom. As he has said before, too many teachers are engaged
in distance education when proximity education is what is needed.
It follows that if technology, and especially computer use, is a solitary activity, one
needs to re-assess how a teachers time can best be used. If knowledge (facts) can be
learned elsewhere, the role and purpose of schools will change. Teacher time should be
preserved for what teachers do. Technology should be used for what technology does.
Undeniably, teachers add value to the technology, but should students be required to use
the technology in the presence of a teacher?
PUBLIC EDUCATION AND DEMOCRACY
An underlying assumption in the discussion about education and technology
is that the technology is universally accessible. As school districts scramble to use
reduced budgets to wire their schools, learn the software, and give an Apple to every
teacher, the question of equal, democratic and demographic availability becomes a serious
issue. Will technology in schools be used to widen or close the gap between economically
As Carl Glickman asked, what do we mean by public education and democracy?
"Freedom" means that the free determine the public domain. Public education in a
democracy should create the environment and capability for all people to learn with free
expression, in a marketplace of ideas, in the pursuit of truth. If every child is equal,
then every child has an equal right to education and to all that that entails, including
access to technology.
In a democracy, one must assume that "politics" is not a bad word, and
educators must inform the public and policy-makers about the balance that is needed in
schools in a technological age. Rosemary Brown has said that policy-makers are often so
uninformed that they dont know how much they dont know. Educators must address
the political issues surrounding technological accessibility and inform those who make the
||Nobel prize winner John Polanyi of
the University of Toronto told symposium delegates that for many students, teachers are
the human face of learning. In the world of technology, where the medium is the message,
teachers help students to articulate the message, he said.
TECHNOLOGY, PREPARATION FOR WORK AND LIFELONG
Bernard Shapiro emphasized that the focus of 19th-century
schooling was on preparing students to engage in self-government; the focus of 20th-century
schooling has been on creating wealth. Robin Brayne of Victoria recalled that the factory
metaphor for school emphasized inputs, outputs, quality control and a one-size-fits-all
Turning out productive workers, however, is not the sole focus of education, according
to Jim Turk of the Canadian Association of University Teachers. Courtney Pratt, Acting
President and CEO of the Learning Partnership, said that the current emphasis on
mathematics, science, and technology was overdone because it was too narrow.
The purpose of technology, according to Shapiro, is to provide access to learning, and
to make learning engaging "so that youll want to do it again." In that
sense, technology is the gateway to lifelong learning. Currently and perhaps
distressingly, research is showing that only the best-educated people are the lifelong
learners, but technology will provide the opportunity for schools to plant the seed.
The strong consensus from the speakers was that technology could enhance
and enrich the work that teachers do to prepare students to engage productively in a
democratic society. As so many at the second Quest symposium reiterated, learning how to
build relationships and to relate to others is central to education and crucial to
democracy. Learning how to get along with each other is not necessarily accessed through
technology. Teachers, working with students, will help them learn about building
|Quest Second International Symposium on
Education, "Education on the Eve of Possibilities"
Quest symposium, "Education on the Eve of Possibilities," was held October 21-23
in Richmond Hill. This international gathering was presented by the York Region District
School Board in co-operation with the Ontario Public Supervisory Officials
Association, the Northern Centre for Instructional Leadership, the Learning Partnership,
and the Ontario Educational Communications Authority (TVOntario).
Again this year, Avis Glaze, associate director of the York board, with assistance from
Gord Campbell, Tom Clark, Jim Forbes, Sylvia Terpstra and a large team from the school
board, hosted more than 300 delegates from across Canada and the United States for the
three-day symposium. The audience was composed of teachers, principals, superintendents,
trustees, school council members and parents.
The Quest conference lineup of speakers, workshop leaders and panelists featured
national and international educators, business leaders and commentators, including Supreme
Court Chief Justice Beverley McLachlin, John Naisbitt, author of High Tech High Touch:
Technology and Our Search for Meaning, Nobel prize winner John Polanyi of the University
of Toronto and Evan
Solomon, co-founder of Shift magazine and host of CBC Newsworld.
The third international symposium, "Liberating Genius," is planned for April
2001. Watch the calendar of events in Professionally Speaking later this year for
Rick Chambers, who taught English for 27 years, is a program
officer in the Colleges Professional Affairs Department.