Assisting Educators On the Use of Technology

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Increasingly, educators are adopting business methods and processes. They have increased their overall efficiency, use business process management software to automate routine business procedures, and integrate new technologies into teaching and learning. Educational institutions must now be involved in activities that result in significant financial and academic improvements, as well as increase user satisfaction. The number of activities designed to assist educators in keeping up with new technology and its implementation is growing. These activities include:

1. Alliances and collaborative activities on the local, national and global level. For example, the NY Talks Initiative is expected to involve 70 percent of New York state's 7,200 school principals and superintendents in an effort to improve the use of technology in classroom learning and administration. Each participant will be provided with a free PDA containing specialized school management software. Training opportunities will be available as well. This activity is sponsored through a $7.5 million grant from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.

Information technology companies are to deliver a series of white papers to the White House stating some of their best practices as an aid to provide e-government solutions to federal, state and local governments. This endeavor is the result of an appeal from President Bush's administration to state governments and the private sector, asking for help in implementing better use of technology over the next two years. The Office of Management and Budget has launched an e-learning initiative to create a governmentwide repository of e-learning courses using the Internet and intranets, audio and video technology, satellite broadcasts, interactive television, and CD-ROMs.

South Dakota is launching what is noted to be the first statewide program to let parents and students access grades, attendance records, test scores, course registration information, etc. over the Web. Parents, teachers and students worked together to develop this system.

The Association of Research Libraries has announced the Scholars Portal Project, a software tool for the academic community, which is expected to be a single point of access on the Web for high-quality information resources.

In addition, an alliance is working on a national system for community college faculty to include a systematic nationwide plan for community and technical college faculty development in the field of information technology. This alliance includes the American Association of Community Colleges, Bellevue Community College's National Workforce Center for Emerging Technologies and Microsoft Corp.

2. Partnerships, alliances, mergers and acquisitions. These seem to be happening at a fast pace, and they recognize the importance of training users on the implementation of new and acquired products. The user's needs are recognized, and ongoing training is frequently stated.

3. Use of mentoring. Mentoring has been in existence since ancient times to help people learn from the "master." Currently, companies such as DuPont, AT&T, Microsoft and IBM, as well as professional societies, are sponsoring structural mentoring programs. Mentoring plays a key role in introducing a potential engineer to the profession. MentorNet (www.mentornet.net) is designed to help women in engineering and science facilitate their entry and advancement in scientific and technical careers.

Mentoring in education is not as widespread as in other areas. However, in the use of technology, teachers have student mentors. Such programs have proved to be very successful in both teaching other students and assisting teachers. At Park East High School in East Harlem, N.Y., the students run the help desk, install software, prepare and update computers throughout the school, and help the school's faculty integrate technology into their classroom activities. This program is slated to expand this fall to 30 schools in all five of the state's boroughs. The students involved in this project have named it MOUSE, Making Opportunities for Upgrading Schools and Education (www.mouse.org). The project is funded by both business and government agencies.

4. E-learning. "Learning New Skills for a New Age" is recognized by many schools of education. The above quote is the title of a new program offered by the University of Pennsylvania's School of Education. It includes Internet integration, education technology, administration and leadership, classroom application, and general education technology. This type of course is offered by many universities, both for credit and noncredit, to assist educators on the use of technology.

Universities are also offering alumni specialized services. Dartmouth College's portal provides its alumni with access to online journals, newspapers and information on specific projects. However, universities hoping to make a profit from e-learning by offering courses online at a specific fee have not fared as well as industry, which is increasingly using e-learning. Computer analysts say by 2005, e-learning will be the single most used application on the Web, growing from $2.1 billion last year to $33.4 billion by 2005. The META Group says that 60 percent of companies will deploy e-learning systems over the next two years. This will also include a "learning management system" to provide a database of information about course content, student needs, course availability, etc.

For various reasons, which include insufficient needs analysis, an inflated expectation of the number of students interested or available to take courses online, the desire to make a quick profit without realizing the cost of providing good course material, etc., a number of programs have closed down. In 2000, approximately $482 million in venture capital was spent on building online tools for e-learning at the college level. In 2001, the amount dropped to approximately $17 million. Some of the schools that dropped their programs or changed direction include:

  • eCornell, Cornell University's project, was created to extend the reach of degree programs in labor and industrial relations. In March 2001, the program was reorganized into continuing medical education and hotel administration, a nondegree program.
  • Temple University in Philadelphia, Penn., created Virtual Temple University in 1999 as a wholly owned profit-making corporation serving the global community. It was abandoned in July 2001.
  • New York University started NYU Online in November 1998 as a wholly owned profit-making corporation, developing online courses for business and education clients. It was dropped in December 2001 after a $20 million investment.
  • Western Governors University was financed in 1996 from a number of states, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, AT&T and IBM as a clearinghouse of existing American university degree and nondegree programs concentrating on teacher-training programs.
  • Assistance to educators, though still in development, needs to spread. As customers, we can negotiate lower prices, better service and increased support from the vendor. The economic downturn has put more power into the hands of the buyer. In long-term planning and direction, ongoing assistance to the educator must be considered, especially as technologies increase in functionality and can assist in teaching and learning. Administrators are responsible for overall utilization of technology, but the strategy is to involve everyone in the decision-making process. The following chart shows the different views of managers communicating with their subordinates. Assistance can be ongoing when communication between users, providers and the total educational community is open and cooperative.

    This article originally appeared in the 06/01/2002 issue of THE Journal.

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