In Pursuit of "World Standards"


I have just read some 400 abstracts of papers from over 30 nations. It was part of my contribution to the Program committee of the 13th International Conference on Technology and Education (ICTE), which is being held next March 17-20 in New Orleans. (T.H.E. Journal is one of the sponsors of this conference; editor-in-chief Dr. Sylvia Charp is Program Committee Co-chair.) It is the fifth year running that I have taken part in the selection process of what has become one of the world's best gauges of what is going on in educational technology &emdash; and each year it is better. What better way to check out one's own performance than to listen to and read reports of the best practice and thinking from the best and brightest in the world.

In 1988 I gave the opening keynote speech at the fifth ICTE in Edinburgh, Scotland &emdash; the first time ICTE was taken out of the U.S., even the first time it was allowed out of Texas. (Previously it had been considered "international" to allow non-Texans to attend!) I re-read what I had to say then just before I started on this article, just seven and a half years later. Then, I didn't mention e-mail once, let alone the Internet, which was still a more or less unformed dream at the back of a few advanced minds.

My main concerns in 1988 were with the trivializing of computer practice by using this powerful tool for inappropriate tasks, or worse, for re-introducing discarded educational methodology, just because it was easy to program on a computer. My other main concern was support for the teacher in the classroom.

Many countries now have severely cut teacher support services. And what greater bastion of trivia is there than the World Wide Web? So how are the presenters at the 13th ICTE from all around the world coping? Of course you need to come to the conference to hear it properly argued, or you need at least to read the Proceedings, but I can give you a bit of taste from what their abstracts say &emdash; hopefully enough to persuade you to come to hear them. They are the best set of papers ICTE has had so far, and that is saying something.

That Ubiquitous Internet

The first thing that struck me was the ubiquity of the Internet. Even last year there were comparatively few presenters who had ready access to it, let alone were building it into their practice. Now, from Argentina to Yugoslavia, we have Internet access.

The term "Communities of Practice" on the Internet, which I first heard when working at TERC in Cambridge, Mass., back in 1992, is now apparently in common parlance. Amongst other sessions on Internet practice, we will have a workshop from Dr. Nichola Yelland from Queensland, Australia; a paper from Beverly Hunter, now of BBN, Cambridge, Mass. but so recently the Internet guru at the National Science Foundation in Washington, D.C.; a paper on undergraduate conversations on the Internet from Iolanda Cortelazzo from Brazil; a paper and workshop from Phil Moore (who used to be on my staff so he must be good, but who now works for British Telecom's Internet "CampusWorld" Project); a paper and a workshop on the Canadian "SchoolNet" program from Gerald McConaghy; and a paper on the Internet projects that have linked South Africa and North Carolina from Thozi Nomvete of the University of Transkei.

Casting a Critical Eye on Practice

The profession seems to be healthily critical of practice, and is subjecting it to fundamental cost/benefit analysis in looking at the future and the immediate past.

Some of this is reflected in the "Policy" theme of the conference and some in the "Classroom/Curriculum" theme. Amongst those which look at the present and the future classroom are papers from Dr. Yusup Bin Hashim from the University of Malaysia; Bruce Rigby from the Classroom of the Future Project in Melbourne, Australia; Jyrki Pulkkinen of the University of Oulu, Finland; and Dr. Judy Gray of Hunterdon Central Region High School District, New Jersey, author of "Building the School of the Future Now!"

There is also a major contribution on "Technology Standards K-12" from Lajeane Thomas from Louisiana Tech University, Harriet Taylor (LSU) and Don Knezek (Louisiana Region 20 Educational Service Center).

In addition, in live classes from Louisiana school districts within reach of New Orleans, actual classroom practice will be highlighted in two panels and a lab, by staff members of the Dalton School, N.Y. &emdash; and others too, noticeably some excellent sounding presentations from Florida.

Those Shifting Paradigms

There is a lot of talk of paradigms shifting. Providing both interesting similarities as well as differences of approach are papers by Dr. Fatim Al-Ahmed from Bahrain; Carl Gross of the U.S. Dept. of Defense Department Schools, Europe; Wayne Spies from Southern Connecticut State University; and Ulf Hedestig from Umea University in Sweden. Japan, Israel, Greece, Cuba and, of course the U.K. and U.S. are among the countries that put forward "Tool" solutions to learning problems. However, so alike are the research results and the thinking, that I would not have been surprised to find any of these papers coming from any of the countries represented at ICTE, such is the increased maturity of the Educational Technology discipline. An idea is put out by one nation and another will pick it up and run with it.

Copyright Issues & the 'Net

One of the areas the Program Committee identified as critical to progress in developing educational use of the Internet/World Wide Web is the whole issue of "copyright."

The publishing of intellectual property on a medium with a tradition of sharing (if not of downright anarchy), we all know in our hearts, will not continue for long without some generally accepted guidelines, if not regulation. We asked for papers in our "Call" and got some agreeing with us in that it was an issue, but none apparently coming up with much of a solution.

We are therefore very glad that Bruce Lehman, Director of the U.S. Patent & Trademark Office, has accepted our invitation to talk to the conference. He directed the Clinton administration's study/task force, which recently published "Intellectual Property and the National Information Infrastructure," (Sept. 1995) report on this subject, after considerable input from educators and developers. This report, though it irks me as an Englishman to say so, is likely to have a profound effect on international copyright practice and probably international law concerning the Internet. (We also have a round-table session on salacious Internet content and if, and how, we can safeguard against it).

ICTE Keynotes, Highlights & Meanings

The conference starts with a keynote from Sir John Daniel, the Vice-Chancellor of the U.K.'s Open University, the very early model (if not the earliest) of the integration of television, radio, paper, e-mail and face-to-face tuition (see-me-see you etc. and the real Summer Schools) &emdash; the home of virtual causes. The conference ends with a talk by Gregory Farrington, Dean of the Schools of Engineering and Applied Science at the University of Pennsylvania &emdash; the home of the first real computer.

Another keynote comes from Sandra Welch, Executive Vice President of the U.S.' Public Broadcasting Service (PBS), which has, especially in the last few years, done so much for K-99 education, with real interactivity available and excellent models of media-integration. Rick Spitz, responsible for Apple's Education Strategy worldwide will be looking forward to the 21st Century and "network-centric" computing.

All this shows the relevance to each other of what we are all doing. More and more, our methods are the same; our research is in parallel fields. We all have concerns about selling our ideas to the community and to its political representatives, who hold so many of the purse strings, who need to be continually convinced of the worth of what we are doing.

These common goals, and the Internet as a method by which we may continue to communicate between conferences, can allow us to help developing nations (which I have come to believe is all of us) to leapfrog ahead. (We have a contribution from UNESCO's Evgueni Khvilon and Scotland's David Walker that looks at this and which is a precursor to UNESCO's World Congress in Moscow in June &emdash; where the nominees of UNESCO's member states, therefore not the U.K. or the U.S., come together every few years to consider past progress and future directions for information technology and education.) We also have a panel of Asian teachers who will attend ICTE under a scholarship program made possible by a grant from Mr. C.M. Lee, founder and chairman of Diamond Multimedia Systems.

Problem #1:

Teacher Support Still Lags

However, there are still (at least) two very large concerns that it seems none of us are adequately addressing yet.

The first is one of my original concerns in 1988. We are not doing nearly enough to change the teaching force &emdash; anywhere. Yes, we run endless courses, and even use the Web to help us in this task (ICTE will have case studies and research papers on that too). Non-starters, however, do not use the Internet and often despair when they go to our courses.

We, the computer cognoscenti, are still a sub-species of the teacher race that talks its own language and shuts out rather than includes the doubters. And the doubters are often very good teachers, ones who would be even better if they could be convinced of the value of students using technology &emdash; to access information if for nothing else.

Most teachers, from whatever country, will use a new methodology, however uncertain they are with it themselves, if they can be convinced that their students will benefit. It is a characteristic of our profession that we do our best for our students. Where money is short (and every institution in every country considers it to be so), it is harder still to convince an unbeliever. Yet I have a missionary zeal to the end that every student is entitled to experience the power and attraction of the computer as a learning tool and as an information source.

Many countries have cut their support services (including many states in the U.S.) and yet teachers are being expected to change and adopt new curricula and pedagogy, often with computer use embedded in them. What support services that are left need support. Could we not use online services to support them? This would then be an international resource.

Problem #2:

Putting Teeth in "Worldwide" Standards

The second of my major concerns is more sensitive in that it is tied up with politics and national pride.

Comparative worldwide tests, of sometimes dubious objectivity, get published in our national presses. They have alarmed our politicians who, with full media support, create whipping-boys of the teaching profession for their responsibility in creating "poor national performance" (and most other national ills therefore).

Resulting from this gloom are Education 2000, GOALS 2000 and similar programs from around the world. These have led to new curricula and frameworks being commissioned to raised us from the slough of our nation's (or state's or county's or school's) despond. Curricula are to be designed "to world standards," but in truth, the writers are using the phrase just as a mantra in the documents being produced.

At last a brave few, noticeably the National School Boards Association (NSBA) in the U.S., have begun to ask what we mean by "world standards." The truth is they are very hard to arrive at objectively.

We are aware, or some of us are, that our expectation of standards of work from our students falls short of what they are capable of achieving. But how short? Are we brave enough to ask others to assess our students?

Would it not be a good use of the Internet and of ICTE to start to share assessed work from our students with our peers around the world? Then it wouldn't be just educational technology method and research that was coming together internationally. We would begin to have some understanding as to what standards we could reasonably expect from students at different stages of their education &emdash; by comparison with the best worldwide.

If you have ideas about this, come to ICTE and tell me.

See also ICTE's Home Page on the Web:

Details of ICTE can also be obtained from [email protected] or by fax from ICTE Inc., (817) 534-0096, or if you insist, by mail from ICTE Secretariat (attention of Laura Bowers), Post Office Box 195349, UTA Station, Arlington, TX 76019-0001, USA.

John Foster is an independent international educational consultant working from just outside of London, England. He is Co-chair of both the Program Committee and of ICTE New Orleans '96. He can be contacted on the Internet by e-mail: [email protected]

Free copies of "Intellectual Property and the National Information Infrastructure: The Report of the Working Group on Intellectual Property Rights," (September 1995) about 250 pages, may be obtained by writing to: "Intellectual Property and the NII"
c/o Terri Southwick, Attorney-Advisor
Office of Legislative & International Affairs
U.S. Patent and Trademark Office
Box 4
Washington, DC 20231.
Electronically, copies of the report are available from the IITF Bulletin Board (202) 501-1920 or accessed through the Internet by pointing a Gopher Client to or by telnet to the same address (log in as gopher).

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