Focusing on the Future

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As publisher Wendy La Duke said in her editorial last month, the late Dr. Sylvia Charp, who passed away in August after almost 30 years as editor-in-chief of T.H.E. Journal, was an icon who touched the lives of thousands. We miss her now and we will continue to miss her. She cannot be replaced; no one can fill her sh'es. But, someone has to serve in the role of editor-in-chief for a magazine that serves hundreds of thousands of educators. It is a daunting task in this time of change in education, in our economy and in our company. I have been asked to do this, and, as one who enjoys a challenge (I did teach eighth-grade for a time), let's begin.

An Educator

It is only fair that you know who will be overseeing the content of T.H.E. Journal. Two aspects of my life will shape my efforts: I am an educator and I am a futurist. I taught English, futures studies and gifted education at the secondary level for 10 years. I taught at the university level and served as a technology coordinator for a K-12 school district. I also worked at the State Department of Education in Texas for more than 11 years. When I left the state, I was assistant commissioner with responsibility for curriculum, assessment, textbooks, technology and professional development. During my time with Texas, I helped to usher a long-range plan for technology through the State Board of Education and Legislature, administered more than a $100 million technology allotment, shepherded the first statewide adoption of electronic textbooks, and oversaw the largest statewide student and education information system in the country.

As a recovering bureaucrat, I think I understand not only state-level concerns, but also what g'es through legislators' heads when they make some of their decisions. My stint as technology coordinator has helped me know what keeps administrators of all kinds up at night, while my career as a classroom educator anchors my understanding of what it takes to work with children. Finally, my experience at the university level, both as a full-time professor and as a part-time faculty member, underscores the importance of the connection between higher education and K-12 education.

Since June of 1996, I have been executive director of T.H.E. Institute where we provide professional development and consulting to educators and companies serving education. This work has put me in the classroom as part of research projects, has kept me connected with teachers through professional development, and has given me additional insight into what companies that serve education are concerned about. It also has given me the opportunity to write articles for the magazine, mostly focused on policy, as well as have input on future directions of the magazine and T.H.E. Journal's Web site.

A Futurist

I am trained as a futurist, as my doctoral work was in futures studies and education. Futures is a way of looking at the world as well as an approach to data gathering and analysis of information. Futures is predicated on a few key tenets:

  • Alternatives. Futurists do not predict the future. Instead, they look at - and often attempt to create - alternative futures. We look at possible, probable and preferable futures, and try to create pathways to those futures.
  • Holism. Everything is connected to everything else, so looking at connections is important. A useful image to me is a feather bed versus a water bed. When you press on a feather bed it leaves an impression, but nothing else on the bed is affected. When you press on a water bed, however, a wave travels through the entire bed.
  • Stakeholders. Closely connected to holism is the idea of stakeholders. We try to consider the impact of decisions on all stakeholders, and in education, the students are the ultimate stakeholders.
  • Long term. We consider the impact of decisions on the long-term future. While most eighth-graders have a time frame that seldom g'es beyond this coming Saturday night, we try to help them understand that decisions and actions have an impact far beyond Saturday night. Likewise, technology coordinators need to think beyond their one-year budget in making decisions about technology purchases and use. It also would be nice if companies could think beyond their next quarter's profit and loss statement as they decide their approach to upcoming products.
  • Vision. Without a clear vision of a preferable future, we will be in the classic case of not knowing when or if we have been successful. While visions can be refined, they certainly need to be there in the first place.

So, what d'es all this mean for T.H.E. Journal?

Primarily, it means a continued commitment to education and technology in education. That's what T.H.E. Journal has always been about and what we will continue to be about. Technology is critical to the success of education, and its role will continue to grow. That is not a prediction, just a clear statement of a possible, probable and preferable future all rolled up into one. Thus, we will continue publishing feature articles written by educators describing their experiences using technology in education, with the hope that educators will learn from each other.

Second, while we can't ignore the past (it has, after all, shaped us) we must focus on the future, for the future is where we will spend the rest of our lives. We will look more and more at the implications and impact of various technologies and their use in education. We also will take a holistic look at technology and education. We in the field have come to understand that the successful use of technology in education is more than having computers in a classroom, good software, connections to the Internet, or good training and professional development for educators. It is all of these things connected in a relatively balanced approach. It is the recognition that there is no one correct way to use technology in education. Just as the simplistic question, "D'es technology improve student achievement?" is wrong, so is the question, "What works?" The answer to both is: It depends. It depends on the students, it depends on the community, it depends on the parents, and it depends on the economy.

Third, we at T.H.E. will try to make more and more connections internally. These connections will be among our current offerings in the magazine and the Web, as well as through our newsletters and other products. We also realize that there needs to be a positive connection between the education community and the vendor community that benefits each. Without high-quality products and services, we cannot be successful with technology in schools. So, we will build additional pathways for this connection.

Finally, we will act as an advocate for technology and education. Decisions are being made in Congress, state legislatures, local school boards, superintendents' offices, principals' offices and elsewhere that are less than informed. It is our duty to work with readers to provide a forum where we all can enlighten each other and enlighten policy-makers. We all need to have greater input into policy, law and rule making.

As we move toward the next issues and volumes of T.H.E. Journal, I am reminded of a favorite quote from George Bernard Shaw: "The reasonable man adapts himself to the world; the unreasonable one persists in trying to adapt the world to himself. Therefore, all progress depends on the unreasonable man." I, and the magazine, will be unreasonable, at least on occasion. I hope that Sylvia - the archetypal unreasonable woman - will be proud.

This article originally appeared in the 11/01/2003 issue of THE Journal.

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