The Changing Teacher / Student Relationship

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The role of the teacher haschanged from the deliverer of instruction to an academic guide andcreator of learning experiences. Teachers help students developcritical thinking and problem-solving skills. They fostercollaboration and cooperative learning. The learning environment isbeing redesigned for learner-centered activities rather thanteacher-dominated assignments. This trend can be observed in manyK-12 schools and university environments. Each institution is, ofcourse, limited by its resources, teacher preparedness,organizational pattern and community involvement.

An interesting project thathas received a great deal of publicity is the reform of the UnionCity, New Jersey school system. The final report on the educationaluse of technology has not been completed, but a preliminary teachersurvey on the impact of the reforms, computers and/or the Internet onteachers' practices contains some interesting information. The finalreport will be available from Margaret Honey, Deputy Director of theCenter for Children and Technology Education Development Center, Inc.(http://www.edc.org/cct/)

The Education Center forChildren and Technology (CCT) first began to work with the Union CitySchools in 1992 and has collaborated with the district in numerousways since then. The investigation of the impact of usingstate-of-the-art technologies in a reformed educational context onstudents' learning, teachers' teaching and parental involvement isfunded by the National Science Foundation and the Jerry LeeFoundation. Jerry Lee is President of radio station B101 inPhiladelphia. As experienced educators, Harvey Long, Frank Withrow,Margaret Withrow and I are volunteering our services to Jerry Lee. Weshall probably also document our observations and conclusions in thenear future.

Investmentin Technology

Union City School District,faced with the need for systemic changes to reform the entireeducational system, extended classes in most subject areas to 111minute periods at the elementary and middle school level and 80minute periods in high school, increased in-service training forteachers from eight hours to 40 hours, replaced individual studentdesks with cooperative learning tables, and replaced textbooks withclass libraries. In addition to curriculum reform, the district madea significant investment in technology resources. During the lastseven years approximately a 4:1 ratio of students to computers wasestablished by placing computers in student and teacher homes andincreasing connectivity in the district. Union City is now one of themost, if not the most, wired school districts in the United States.It is, however, the restructured school day and the change from thetraditional teacher-centered model of learning to thestudent-centered approach which helped meet the key goals ofeducational reform.

Five factors are attributedto the success of Union City:

  • Key parties working together -- positive support from the superintendent, Board of Education and the Teachers Union.
  • A strong base of teacher support, involvement of teachers at every level of the curriculum reform and restructuring process, and the voluntary nature of this effort.
  • Teachers at the center of curricular revision and school decision making. They identified and integrated technology resources, participated in professional development, and helped allocate resources.
  • Sufficient funding from a variety of sources including local and state monies, the National Science Foundation and Bell Atlantic.
  • Importance of public relations, allowing business partnerships to communicate success.

Impact ofReforms

The preliminary findings,which deal primarily with teacher reactions, are interesting. Asurvey was conducted with 125 middle and high school teachers whohave regular classroom access to technology. The technology resourcesthey have available include the Internet and World Wide Web; wordprocessing, spreadsheet and database software; and classroomlibraries of content-specific software. Their comments include thefollowing:

  • The reforms have impacted strongly on classrooms becoming more student-centered and student-directed. Teachers are better able to support their students in working cooperatively, conducting their own research and seeking advice from each other.
  • Students more frequently offer advice and seek advice from one another.
  • Teachers teach units and lessons that are interdisciplinary, using topics in other courses.
  • Teachers find themselves more often in the role of coach or advisor and less often in the role of instructor.
  • Students are better able to revise and review their work.
  • More students are taking initiative outside of the class time doing extra research or finding other resources.
  • Teachers spend more time working with other teachers on curriculum and instructional planning.

As teachers give studentsmore responsibility for their own learning, provide them with avariety of sources of information, and encourage them to workcollaboratively, the teacher lecturing to the class becomes obsolete.Eliminating the lecturing paradigm is resulting in greaterinteraction between students and information. Collaborative learningis engaging the student in active learning experiences. This involvescooperation among teachers, administrators, parents, communityleaders, business partners and students. It also requires anallocation of sufficient time and sustained effort. Better learningwill result.

This article originally appeared in the 04/01/1998 issue of THE Journal.

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