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The School Design Model at Brewster Academy: Technology Serving Teaching & Learning

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Calls for the meaningful integration of technology into the curricula of American schools echo from the days of instructional television. Since this time, technology has brought us the satellite antennae, VCR, microcomputer, multimedia and the Internet, in addition to a host of other innovations. Each has been offered as a potentially defining educational force for the improvement of student learning and ultimately to increase achievement. Much of this potential remains unrealized, and it may seem to many that the faces of technological innovation change but the song remains pretty much the same.

For technology to really "move the needle" in terms of the performance of schools, teachers and students, the challenge seems to be to find ways to embed it into the curricular life of the school, making it accessible to the whole community. This is clearly a complex matter that requires building sophisticated connections between technology and the curriculum, culture and conditions of schooling. A need exists for a clearer understanding of the relationships within and between teaching and learning, curriculum, personnel policies, physical space, professional development and school evaluation, to name a few.

To use technology in a way that demonstrates an improvement in what students know and are able to do requires not just a technology plan, but a comprehensive model and implementation plan that addresses the total functioning of the school and emanates from a focus on student learning.

Brewster Academy

Brewster Academy, an independent college–;preparatory boarding school located on the banks of Lake Winnipesaukee in New Hampshire, is attempting to build the connections necessary to "move the needle."

Prior to 1992, Brewster, like many public and independent schools, had a computer lab with Macintosh Plus and SE models. A number of faculty with a personal interest in technology owned and used personal computers, while a like number of students also brought their computers to school. As recently as the mid–;1980s, a student was refused permission to use a computer in the dormitory because, as an "appliance," it represented a fire hazard.

Computer use was confined to a specific room or computer "lab" that was used to teach keyboarding and usually some introductory courses in programs like Microsoft Works and HyperCard. These were taught a few times per week in conjunction with the odd classroom presentation or simulation activity. The school at that time had a growing presence in CAD and graphics but lacked the resources to realize the teaching potential in that area.

The 1996 Brewster represents a total technological transformation from the 1992 scenario. Technology is infused into the very core of all of Brewster's activity. Students and teachers don't use computers a few times per week, rather, they use custom and application software with laptop PCs the way they formerly used books and pencils. Students can access the library, their teachers, fellow students and the Internet from their desks in classrooms, lecture halls and even their dormitory rooms via a comprehensive fiber–;optic network. They can access teachers at all times to discuss homework assignments, get extra help and share information with peers. Teachers integrate technology into their teaching and use it seamlessly on a day–;to–;day basis in their classrooms. Our CAD and graphics presence has grown into a full–;blown Multimedia program.

The Brewster Model

Brewster's technological transformation is part of a comprehensive program of school reform based on a School Design Model,[1] the Brewster incarnation of which was developed and field–;tested at the school. The School Design Model© is a comprehensive program that includes the following elements:

  • Needs Assessment
  • Policy Building
  • Teaching & Learning from a Student Perspective
  • Curriculum
  • Inclusive Instructional Support
  • Professional Development
  • A Personnel Model
  • Technology
  • Space, Infrastructure & School Organization
  • Evaluation

The School Design Model has changed the way administrators administer, teachers teach, and students learn at Brewster by introducing exciting new approaches to the design of curriculum and technology, and the implementation and management of instruction. The model is built on the assumption that meaningful school reform has to be based on a comprehensive restructuring and applying the best practices in the field of education, psychology and management. Some key changes associated with the model program include:

  • Development of seven new teaching areas configured to allow teams of seven teachers to work with groups of 50 students.
  • Administrators spend about 50% of their time in the classroom managing the program, giving expert advice and evaluating.
  • The curriculum for all students is differentiated by level and teaching materials within each class.
  • The curriculum integrates best practices in teaching with the content of subject areas taught, resulting in an approach that helps teachers to decide when and how to use different teaching approaches, how to schedule different groups, how to differentiate learner outcomes for students by level of achievement, and how to manage a multi–;level classroom for secondary students.
  • The school conducts its own seven–;week professional development program for teachers that addresses the skills in curricula, teaching, technology and the classroom management necessary to implement the program. This program is followed up with a residency year.
  • All faculty position descriptions are referenced directly and definitively to quality teaching, classroom and student performance. The personnel model is built on recognizing and rewarding mastery of best practices.
  • Teachers work as teams and are involved in an ongoing cycle of feedback, support and evaluation.
  • Technology is infused into the core of all of the activity of the school. All students and faculty carry laptop computers. When teachers meet, they sit at tables that are networked and communicate via the LAN. Students can access a campus–;wide network, the library, their teachers and the Internet right from their desks in classrooms, their dorm rooms and the library. Teachers keep student folders that include learning style profiles, phone logs, reports and student action plans.

Technology is infused into the very core of all of Brewster's activity.

Essential Characteristic

An essential characteristic of the School Design Model is the manner in which it intentionally connects those ¼eces of a school's operation that have traditionally evolved independently and remain, for the most part, loosely coupled or disconnected. Making direct connections between the design of a professional development plan and Brewster's evaluation and personnel programs may seem relatively obvious, but such connections are not necessarily common in schools.

In the model, many of the things we assume to be going on in schools are given serious attention and consideration. Position descriptions are built with specific reference to the teaching, curricular and technological expertise necessary to be successful in the program. The professional development program trains all teachers in the skills and practices necessary to implement the program before they actually participate in it. Skill transfer from the training setting to the classroom is nurtured, supported and evaluated as part of the role of administration.

The curriculum and teaching/learning practices drive everything from position descriptions to the design of space. By way of example, something as apparently inconsequential as a desk design can be intentionally connected to every one of the model's elements. One of the logistical challenges the school faced was to design desks with the required surface area, weight and robustness to support the safe use of laptop computers, books and other materials. The desk design also required mobility and flexibility. The design needed to enable teachers to give a traditional direct teaching lesson and then easily reconfigure the room to use the cooperative learning and peer–;mediated teaching practices employed in the Brewster Summer Institute.

This is a simple and possibly unremarkable example of the literally thousands of connections between all elements of Brewster's Model. The intentionality and definition associated with the connections is the essence of the model, which is based on the belief that the art of teaching deserves a better framework of professional practice and infrastructure in which to operate. This is especially the case if the real objective is to improve student performance, academically and socially.

The curriculum and teaching/learning practices drive everything from position descriptions to the design of space.

The Technology

The technological transformation at Brewster is based upon two fundamental drivers -- universal access and connectivity, and curricular embedding.

Universal Access: While we know that access to technology alone is clearly not sufficient to ensure meaningful use by students and teachers, it is an obvious and necessary prerequisite. Access g'es hand in hand with curriculum integration. Weave technology into the very core of school operation and many barriers to curriculum integration are reduced, if not removed entirely. When teachers know they can assign a homework activity that involves spreadsheeting some data from a science experiment, given that students have access to the hardware and software necessary to do so, the use of technology becomes a critical factor in the teacher's thinking about pedagogy in and out of the classroom.

Similarly, when a teacher can develop a computer–;based presentation at home, knowing that the facilities exist within a classroom to deliver that presentation, there is greater likelihood that technology will become part of day–;to–;day teaching practice.

When Monday's class activity involving technology is to be followed up at the next class session, instead of next week when the class is next booked for the computer lab, the likelihood increases that technology becomes a tool instead of a "glitzy" demonstration ¼ece or disconnected incentive.

Embedding: While these examples are important, they suggest a significant but nonetheless utilitarian level of technology use, more related to availability than curricular integration. More important are the answers to the following questions:

  • Is expertise with technology intentionally represented as a school–;wide learner outcome? What should students know and be able to do at graduation?
  • Are these skills and competencies represented in the day–;to–;day activity of students within the context of teaching and learning in all subjects? Do students learn about spreadsheets and databases through science experiments and math simulations used regularly as part of an intentional, integrated curricula?
  • Do students acquire skills in networking and information retrieval while undertaking research for authentic assessment projects that are connected to school–;wide learner outcomes?
  • Can a teacher design a curriculum unit to incorporate a HyperStudio stack created for different levels of reading ability to be used by all of the students in the class, or in small groups?
  • How d'es the HyperStudio stack fit with the school–;wide and unit learner outcomes?
  • Is technology seamlessly integrated into the attainment of the unit outcomes?
  • Is quality software combined with best practices to create a complete teaching–; learning ¼cture?

Answers to these and a myriad of similar questions relate at a more fundamental level to whether technology is embedded as a meaningful, integral part of learning or just something else to be learned about. Ultimately, the examples of access and answers to the questions about curricular embedding exert an influence on the way schools, teachers and students behave, day to day, in the conduct of schooling.

Brewster's goal was to ensure that technology becomes a routine and meaningful part of the life of the whole community, based on the belief that technology actually becomes invisible when it is ubiquitous. The approach to the design of a communication utility that would allow such a teaching model to become reality and yet was transparent, robust and affordable, took considerable effort. The design focused on the development of the network as a campus–;wide utility that would maximize access for the student's laptop computer and provide universal access for faculty, administration and staff.

The technological transformation at Brewster is based upon two fundamental drivers -- universal access and connectivity, and curricular embedding.

Design of the network was accomplished in collaboration with Trellis Communications of Manchester, N.H. The Trellis network consultant worked in partnership with the school to ensure the physical utility met the curricular needs of teachers and students. It involved comprehensive network design planning, documenting needs through to blueprints, and economical analysis. Actual physical components of the backbone designed and installed to support BrewsterNet comprised:

  • Campus–;wide LAN linking 28 buildings;
  • 46.5 miles of optical fiber installed in the backbone;
  • 500,000 feet of four–;pair UTP cable for voice and data outlets;
  • 32 Ethernet hubs;
  • A backbone router and an Internet router;
  • 3,000–;line PBX voice switch; and
  • 1,776 active ports connecting every desk in every class, every lab, the library and every dorm room.

Functional hardware and software employed in the Brewster Model include:

  • 115 desktop machines: Power Macs, Quadras and LCs, plus 40 printers.
  • 364 Mac PowerBooks -- models 150, 160, 165C and 520 for all teachers and students.
  • Application software including: PacerForum; FirstClass; DateBook Pro; Microsoft Word, Works and PowerPoint; HyperStudio; Infotrac; Encarta; LANsurveyor and TrafficWatch; HyperCard; ClarisWorks; and a long list of subject–;related software.
  • Training manuals to support faculty and students' use of BrewsterNet.
  • Four labs were also developed: for journalism, multimedia, music production and an Avid video–;editing suite. All of these curricula require hardware and software which, at this point of time, are not compatible with the features of the PowerBook. All were built around the Power Macs' Power PC platform with AV capability.

Technology actually becomes invisible when it is ubiquitous.

Implementation

A phased approach was taken to introduce the Model and associated technology once the infrastructure had been placed. A four–;year implementation plan was developed based upon a year of planning and needs assessment.
Year 1: Needs Assessment and Planning
Year 2: Pilot Program
Year 3: 10th Grade Program
Year 4: 11th Grade Program
Year 5: 12th Grade Program

Initially, the program was launched as a ¼lot in the first year with one team comprising the school's 9th–;grade class of 50 students plus seven teachers. New teaching space was designed and built for the ¼lot year including four classrooms, one science laboratory, a teacher space, an auditorium and resource spaces. The classroom design involved networking every desk and installing a multimedia station with VCR, LCD panel and overhead projector for each class and the lab.

At that time one fractional appointment (.75) of a full load was assigned to the position of technology coordinator. In year three, teaching space for an additional four teams was constructed and two additional teams were added, as were another two in year four, meaning that three–;quarters of the school is currently in the program. An additional 28 teachers have also been trained.

The Cost

When people visit Brewster from other schools one of their most common questions is -- how much did all this cost? The first task is to define what they mean by "all this" -- building, hardware, software, network, professional development, curriculum?

Focusing specifically on the technology, Brewster spent approximately $900,000 on the network infrastructure for the campus backbone, dormitories, library, administrative buildings and the 9th–;, 10th–; and 11th–;grade programs, yielding almost 1,800 access points.

To implement the School Design Model, Brewster chose to add much needed classroom space as well. The school spent approximately $3.2 million on 42,000 square feet of teaching space, although only part of this cost is directly attributable to the School Design Model program. Brewster's long–;range plan already called for additional classroom space and a new library. Thus, while designed for the model program, the additional spaces represented an existing need previously articulated.

Hardware and software costs for the program amount to approximately $530,000 to date. We expect that figure to grow by another 15–;20% based upon the continued expansion of the program to the 12th grade.

With regards to technology support personnel, the school began the program with a .75 position as technology coordinator to manage introduction of the program. This has now grown to a full–;time technology coordinator/network manager, a part time support person, student computer user group, and a maintenance contract that, in 1995, put a technician onsite for three hours per day. By September of 1996, the school will require a full–;time technician as the program is expanded to the 12th grade. Brewster's experience with the Mac platform has been excellent and is evidence of a recent study by the Gartner Group, which found significantly reduced maintenance costs associated with the Macintosh environment.[2]

Outcomes

What d'es all this infrastructure mean? Well, it can be two kids sitting at a desk in the dormitory, one hel¼ng the other to download a HyperStudio program from the network. It's a lab report posted in a student display case with graphs and spreadsheets in addition to text. The quality of the report is consistent with that required for a poster session at an academic conference, but in reality, the report belongs to a 9th–;grade biology student.

It's a Civil War era newspaper desktop published by everyone in a history class. It's instructions on a whiteboard reminding students to download their homework from BrewsterNet and to share data from a science experiment. It's BrewsterNet bulletin boards with titles like "Kermit," "Rush L," "Cindy Fans" or "I Need a Date." It's "Art'95" -- an online art gallery where the work of students in the computer graphics class is available for the whole community to share via BrewsterNet.

It's chat lines with adolescents talking, maligning each other, and sharing p'etry, book and movie reviews. It's kids in the computer graphics lab putting video portfolios together, develo¼ng animations of basketball games and putting the Brewster handbook into HyperCard. It's students morphing themselves into Forest Gump using the same technology employed by the makers of that film.

It's just about everything you can imagine doing with a computer and a network. It's also broken computers, lost cords, chewing gum in network outlets, challenges and not–;infrequent frustrations.

Technology is taking root in the Brewster culture with an encouraging level of embeddedness. It's part of both the culture and counter culture. Open the "Rush L" bulletin board to find out about counter culture; it's within the limits of decency, but it's also clearly adolescents communicating on the network in the same manner that they would in face–;to–;face groups!

Faculty have observed demonstrable improvement in self-esteem and achievement.

Implementing the program has been both challenging and exhilarating. Teachers have been required to learn over 30 new programs in curriculum, technology, teaching, classroom management and community living. The result was a very challenging first year in the model program, which creates high levels of demand irrespective of prior teaching experience. For those teachers who have the skill, energy and motivation, it has been described as a "career changing experience."

Occupational stress measures completed after the first year of the program indicated that teachers completed the year with stress levels that were within the normal range, although the experience of the second and third years suggest elevated levels for new teachers. Teacher, student and parent reactions after the first years were overwhelmingly positive, even though the stepwise approach to change has generated challenges associated with the concurrent operation of the "new" and "old" school.

The technological transformation has been remarkable and has changed the behavior of students and teachers. Electronic mail has transformed the way students and teachers communicate on campus. Students' technology skills have grown to a point where they possess skills in computer usage that would normally be consistent with college level and beyond.

A recently completed study which compared the technological growth of males and females in and out of the program indicated that the women who were in the program outperformed males who were not.[3] In addition, there was an encouraging narrowing of the gender difference in skill level of students within the program. This result was consistent with the expectation that if technology could truly become a tool analogous to a pencil or pen, then the basis for gender differences would diminish as the frequency and intensity of use overcomes any perceived or actual differences associated with gender–;based predispositions toward technology.

More generally, faculty have observed demonstrable improvement in self–;esteem and achievement, reflected in both standardized and curriculum–;based measures of academic and social growth.

BrewsterNet has become part of campus life after a tentative beginning in the first year. As previously described, bulletin boards for classwork, sports, movie reviews, chat, library information and CD access have made the network bulletin board part of the Brewster scene. Getting students to go to bed at "lights out" has become more challenging with the temptation of "after dark communication."

Most importantly, we are observing teachers taking advantage of the technology program. Desktop publication has become a feature of history classes; PowerPoint and LCD projection has become a more common presentation mode; and the use of spreadsheets and data bases are common in science classes. The growing experience and expertise of faculty and students is reflected in ever more frequent and innovative use, although there is still a long way to go to take full advantage of the potential. It is hard to imagine Brewster without a network, and even harder to understand why schools would increase their computer rations without the power of a network to facilitate widespread use.

Kee¼ng over 450 PowerBooks, desktop machines and a host of peripherals up and running is a challenge. The technology support staff continues to grow, as d'es the sophistication of the operation of the office. A 10% "loaner pool" is in constant demand as the combination of adolescents and relatively sensitive "high tech" equipment results in a host of major and minor breakdowns. The intensity of use has helped us to identify all sorts of things about kids, parents and technology -- ranging from design needs in machines through how to connect parents to our LAN from home. For every problem there has been an innovative adolescent solution, like using a Velcro patch to reinforce the catch on a PowerBook, an innovative idea developed by a creative 10th grader.

Importantly, building a culture of responsible use is an ongoing process characterized by training on copyright violations, network ethics, and incorporating "computer crime" into the school's disciplinary code. Efforts in this regard have stepped up a level since Internet access is now distributed across campus to every desk and dormitory room.

Consistent with the connections in the School Design Model, the school bases access to the Internet on its program for recognizing student citizenship. Levels of Internet access are provided commensurate with a student's demonstrated capacity to be a responsible user: the assumption being that responsible use is more about working with the attitudes and predispositions of people than it is about building roadblocks and firewalls or generating other technological solutions. Network reliability has been good, and major violations infrequent, although we expect some problems to go with the territory.

We describe kee¼ng up with what has been created at Brewster as the "Black Hole." By last year, 4MB of RAM simply stopped "doing it" for the average user. Opening BrewsterNet E–;Mail, an application, and getting onto the library's CD tower is just not possible with the standard 4MB. For 1996, Apple built us a customized machine with 12MB of RAM. While kee¼ng up with advances in hardware and software will continue to tax the resources of the institution, the fact that the technology is part of a bigger ¼cture of curriculum and teaching brings a sensibility to software selection and evaluation which, given the model program, simply cannot occur in a vacuum.

The change process has also taken a personal toll on the community. Brewster experienced higher than normal levels of attrition as numbers of teachers left a school that bore little resemblance to the one they worked in three years ago. While the need for the type of change currently occurring at Brewster resonates from the dialogue of professional groups, talk shows, prime time specials, and within the popular press and professional literature, the compelling rationale d'es not necessarily result in a diminished resistance to change within schools. The inherent conflict created by implementing a model that draws on the best practices from all of education, but is implemented with faculty of just one institution, creates a discontinuity that can only result in a changing faculty profile. Change is not easy and creates pain for individual teachers, students and the school community at large.

At a pragmatic level, the development of more sophisticated and student–;centered teaching materials has added significantly to the workload in the start–;up period. Interestingly, the systemic nature of the technology program has minimized resistance with respect to computer use. The presence is so comprehensive that it is hard to avoid. When 15 students arrive in class and start–;up their PowerBooks simultaneously, an expectation that technology become part of the routine is created by its overwhelming presence.

With the growth in the network, it is easy to end up "out of the loop." Two of the school's administrative offices that were formerly resistant to getting on the network have recently installed Macintosh workstations to get back into the communications ¼cture. This d'es not mean that Brewster has fully achieved its objective. In terms of potential, it may be several years before Brewster has achieved the objective of fully embedding technology into the pedagogical life of the school.

Our intensity of use has helped us to identify all sorts of things about kids, parents and technology.

The Future

We practice our craft in an era of great questioning about education and the ways in which it is delivered to students. Administrators, parents and teachers are all searching for answers to difficult questions. Charter schools, privatization and vouchers appear and re–;appear in the lexicon of educational change.

Administration was initially surprised by the many requests to visit the Brewster campus given the school's lack of initial marketing. A steady stream has turned into a regular routine of tours and Q&A sessions. Brewster's program has also drawn the attention of the technology industry and the school had the opportunity to field test some innovative hardware and software, including Apple's new collaborative learning software, which fits beautifully with the conceptual and applied aspects of the School Design Model.

When people come to visit Brewster, they are immediately impressed by the space, the PowerBooks -- the "symbols" of a successful program. Yet our faculty and administrators who meet with visitors are particularly encouraged by the way people readily focus on the under¼nnings of what the school is trying to do and the nature of the change process.

The success of the School Design Model at Brewster has resulted in the development of an independent consulting organization, the Endeavour Group. In 1996, Endeavour will serve a critical role in the design of technology plans and school development plans for a number of schools in the U.S. and overseas. For instance, the School Design Model will be employed in the design of an exciting new school–;residential complex in Thailand -- the Tridhos Three Generation School Village -- a $71 million development project designed to become a model for Thai education.

In July, 1996, the Endeavour Group and Brewster will offer the second FutureSchool Institute on technology and school change on Brewster's campus in collaboration with Trellis Communication Corp., MCI, Apple Computer and the Siemon Co. The program, designed for school leaders, focuses on how to engage in meaningful integration of technology into the life of a school year.

With one more year to go in the implementation process, the results of Brewster's efforts to embed technology into the pedagogical life of the school have been very encouraging. A remarkable level of access has been created for students, administrators and faculty, and the school is well on its way to embedding technology into the core of the curricula. The ride has not been without its bumps, but the results are so encouraging that the school looks forward with anticipation to the final chapter of implementation, knowing that any sense of closure associated with delivering the school's current technology and curriculum plans simply represent the beginning of another exciting chapter. n

Alan Bain is the assistant headmaster of Brewster Academy. E–;mail: AlanBain@Brewsternet.com

References:
1. Bain, A. (1995), The School Design Handbook, Endeavour Publications: Wolfeboro, NH.
2. Gartner Group (October 10, 1995), "Technical Support Costs in Dual–;Platform Computing Environments: Managing Diversity," from Gartner Group Bay Area Consulting Services: Santa Clara, CA, released at Gartner Group IT Expo, Orlando, FL.
3. Bain, A., Hess, P., Jones, G., Berelowitz, C. & Tucker, E., "A Study of the Effects of 1:1 Student/Computer Ratios in the Acquisition of Computer Skills in a Secondary Education Environment," manuscript in progress.

Products and companies mentioned:
Apple Computer, Inc., Cupertino, CA, (800) 800–;APPL, www.info.Apple.com/education
Avid video–;editing suite; Avid Technology, Inc., Tewksbury, MA, (508) 640–;6789, www.avid.com
DateBook Pro; Dynacomp, Inc., Livonia, NY, (800) 828–;6772
FirstClass; SoftArc, Inc., Markham, Ontario, Canada, (800) 364–;1923
HyperCard and ClarisWorks; Claris Corp., Santa Clara, CA, (800) 325–;2747, www.claris.com
HyperStudio; Roger Wagner Publishing, Inc., El Cajon, CA, (800) HYPERSTUDIO, www.hyperstudio.com
Infotrac; Canveon Systems, Inc., Willowdale, Ontario, Canada, (800) 667–;3282
LANsurveyor and TrafficWatch; Neon Software, Inc., Lafayette, CA, (800) 334–;NEON, www.neon.com
Microsoft Word, Works and PowerPoint, Microsoft Encarta; Microsoft Corp., Redmond, WA, (800) 426–;9400, www.microsoft.com
PacerForum; AGE Logic, Inc., San Diego, CA, (800) CK–;AGE, www.age.com
Trellis Communications, Inc., Manchester, NH, (800) 793–;3390, www.trellis.com

This article originally appeared in the 05/01/1996 issue of THE Journal.

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