Guest Editorial (untitled)

by William A. Talkington President, Holt, Rinehart and Winston Inc. The multimedia systems being introduced in American schools today are seemingly light years from the primers once used to teach the three "R"s. Fascinated by the unleashed potential of computer technology in education, school boards and parents are united in the opinion that more is better. My belief is that more is better only if technology genuinely becomes an integral part of the teaching process and thus enhances the quality of education. Teachers shouldn't be forced to change daily curriculum just for the purpose of using technology. Any time there is a change, whether it's technological or simply in a teaching technique, it should not be imposed, but integrated into the teaching process. A larger issue than more technology is its use. For multimedia to enhance curriculum, it must be woven into the fabric of everyday life at our schools. Then, I believe, it's being put to good use. Multimedia should simply augment the instruction process each day; it can never replace the importance of the teacher instructing class. In U.S. classrooms, where some teachers can be responsible for nearly 200 students each day, the prospect of re-casting and re-thinking their teaching formats simply to accommodate new technology is contradictory to the fundamentals of good teaching. A teacher would not use an encyclopedia to teach American History even though an encyclopedia contains all the necessary information. Nor would an administrator prescribe the use of an encyclopedia because it simply isn't curriculum. The point is that considerable thought has to be given when using any tool to teach a subject, and multimedia is another tool, albeit an exciting form of delivery. Care must be taken to keep the essence of what is being taught in the curriculum. When school districts and the teachers they employ sit down to ponder the purchase of multimedia today, they need to consider the basic premise that technology must integrate and enhance with how the teacher actually works in the classroom. If it d'esn't, then don't acquire it. Selection Suggestions I have a few other suggestions that might help with the multimedia selection process. Ask vendors promoting their products if they will provide the software for a period of time, such as 30 days, in order to evaluate its content. This way teachers of the course can decide for themselves if it will enhance the curriculum. Teachers doing the review should use the same principles they currently use with print materials. Take time to thoroughly evaluate the guide books and other instructional support materials that come with the software. Telephone the vendor and have a discussion with a member of the consumer support division to see how much support they are prepared to give. Ask questions: "How available will you be to the telephone if there is something in the curriculum that I need to have clarified? Will you promptly return my call? Are experts available to further explain anything about the product that needs elaboration?" Multimedia Supports Teachers Beware of any use of technology that isn't specifically designed to promote teacher and student interaction. For example, a two-dimensional photo on CD-ROM might be related to information in the textbook, but if it really adds nothing instructional, it's no more than expensive overkill. A book is a package of information that includes the essential facts. When reviewing technology, apply the same principle. Is the information provided essential? Too often technology is touted as a stand-alone vehicle for learning. With today's potential for interactivity with the machine, we are led to believe that it is the answer to the learning process. Nothing could be further from the truth. The learning process is dependent on social interaction. Multimedia is no more social or interactive than print. It's simply more dynamic. Good multimedia instructional materials must recognize, promote and enhance the interaction of student and teacher. Meanwhile, the teacher remains the indispensable element. Her/His ability to look students in the eye every day while reviewing lessons is something that should never change. Embrace and Explore Multimedia's potential is unlimited. It's re-defining the ability to access information. It's also re-defining the form in which it's being received. We are impacted by new technologies every day in every aspect of our lives. The same will be true in education. I believe the real multimedia revolution is still two to three years away. But since we already believe that the potential for all technology is sure to bring improvement, we now need to embrace the reality and explore the potential. We will learn to harness these new tools, and while we're learning, we need to remind ourselves that now, as much as ever, we need to hold our teachers in high esteem. The winners in all this will be the children.

This article originally appeared in the 10/01/1995 issue of THE Journal.