A Forgotten Technology Viewpoint - the Teacher's

It is the vision of theDallas Independent School District (DISD) that every student shouldreach his or her full potential and achieve successes in thetechnology-driven workplace of the 21st Century. The District hasbeen re-evaluating the way it plans for and delivers instruction toits students, particularly in the areas of mathematics, science andtechnology. Over the past several years, the District has createdmore effective and efficient systems that will deliver results forall students by preparing them for future success.

However, to ensure thesuccess of students, classroom equipment, materials and supplies, andinstructional technology at all levels must be provided or upgraded.Much more progress is needed. If all of the 155,000 students are tobe successful, it is essential that their training be withstate-of-the-art equipment and the latest instructional materials.Students must have the opportunity to use technology as a tool forcooperative learning and class collaboration. This will prepare themfor the technology-driven, team-oriented workplace oftomorrow.

This article starts bydiscussing the planning approaches DISD has taken to technology andthe beginnings of implementation. The real emphasis of the article,however, is a look to the future and the impact of the introductionof massive technology into the classroom. This look at the future isfrom the viewpoint of perhaps the most impacted individual &emdash;the classroom teacher. This view of the classroom during technologyintroduction is provided via the technique of a long-term narrativefrom a teacher.

Size D'esMatter

DISD is the eighth largestschool district in the nation. It encompasses an area of 351 squaremiles in the east portion of the Dallas/Fort Worth metroplex. Thestudent enrollment is 155,811 students with 9,322 teachers, 137elementary schools, and 61 secondary schools. In addition to the 208total schools, the facilities include seven year round swimmingpools, six varsity football complexes, four athletic field houses,nine service center buildings, nine maintenance centers and sevenadministrative buildings. The district recently completed a$275-million bond facilities program, which provided 16 new schoolfacilities, 11 additions to existing facilities and renovation workat the remaining campuses.

Unlike a business with aconcern, normally, for only a single dimension of technology, DISD(or any school) must consider multiple technology aspects. DISDteaches technology; uses technology to teach; and uses technology asa background tool to support District operations. The planning for,and integration of, these different, and often competing, aspects oftechnology are very difficult activities. However, if we are toachieve the desired results, we must solve this set ofproblems.

It was concluded that DISDneeded a supporting Technology Vision in order to meet the overallVision and goals for the district. The district Vision for Technologywas formed in 1993 along with a three year tactical plan. Thetactical plan included new applications providing expanded support toschools, teachers and financial services within a three year period.Briefly, the keystone changes consist of a new communicationsinfrastructure that is scaleable, serviceable, for all classrooms,and supports legacy systems and enhanced LAN/WAN services.


The District's StrategicTechnology Planning Committee developed a vivid mission statement&emdash; Any One, Any Place, Any Time &emdash; that was approved bythe Board of Education in January 1998 along with a parallel fiveyear $347 million Technology Implementation plan. The missionstatement is contained in the Strategic Plan:

Our vision is to freestudents from the limitations of traditional education. We willincrease their capabilities to learn and to take the courses theyneed when and where they need them for the rest of their lives. Thistechnology vision and its implications are in direct support of theDISD Board Goals and will truly allow our graduates to become globalcitizens.

Any One. Instruction mustbe available to every student; assistance to every teacher; andinformation to every administrator without the need for specialtexts, equipment or materials. Everything should be available onlinevia computer and communications technology. This will require leadingedge computers, advanced video devices and communications links. Thisenvironment will be a school where every educator and every studentcan get hands-on training and access when or where needed. Thisenvironment will be a school where professional colleagues haveaccess to financial data and student performance as well as to theanalytical tools to effectively use that information.

Any Place. Instructionmust be available to every student in any place that has a networkhookup or communications access. Every student should have theopportunity to become immersed in the sights, sounds and languages ofother countries, visit museums, explore the inner workings of a cell,or explore outer space from a virtual space suit.

Any Time. Instruction mustbe available to everyone any time of the day or night, any day of theweek, any week of the year. Open entry, open exit; anytime and allthe time.

Perhaps the best way toexpress the reason that technology planning is the keystone tosuccessful schools lies in each department. At the core of technologyservices success is: saving time for staff through improved access;communications; report timeliness; and data quality. In addition,addressing school goals almost always implies the need for improved,department centered, technology based delivery systems. Technologysimply must get out of teachers' and staff's way and help them dotheir jobs, rather than hinder daily tasks. The above missionstatement addresses that.

New CommunicationsStructure

In an attempt to meet thiseducation technology challenge, the School District leadershipdeveloped an ambitious multi-year Technology Migration projectencompassing re-engineering of all facets of the technology packagefrom payroll/personnel to food services, libraries and the classroomconnectivity of the district through improved LAN/WANservices.

This new communicationsstructure implementation began three years ago and in the next 18months will provide robust telecommunications services to each of the7,260 permanent classrooms and 1,512 administrative areas. It willfeature a decentralized student system and an interoperabilitycomponent to eventually provide all customers common navigationalprocedures across all applications. The recent modernization of allschool libraries with electronic access to Internet and moderncentral resources has only magnified the need for school centeredtechnology support encompassing infrastructure, data, voice and videotransmission issues.

Demands to utilize allfacets of technology in the educational system continue to increase.The teacher and classroom preparedness for this keen emphasis issorely lacking. The growing consensus to improve the efficiency andeffectiveness of schools is in tune with the massive restructuring inbusiness/industry and parallels the rapid demographic and socialchanges. Such an introduction of the powerful tools of technology andcommunications into the school requires the reinforcement of alreadyestablished school based management.

At this time the vastmajority of teachers do not have access to the newest technology.Even those who do, use that technology in conventional ways. In theclassrooms of tomorrow technology will be used to support thecurriculum, as well as used as a vehicle for achieving increasedlevels of motivation and higher order thinking skills. Technologywill be infused into all components of the learning cycle. The use ofappropriate technology will give substance to teachers' attempts toaddress the varied learning styles of all students. Courseware willuse multimedia components, audio stimulation and other creativeapproaches to learning. Additionally, collaborative learning as aninstructional strategy will be greatly enhanced.

Nevertheless, imbedded inthe many approaches of the technology utility to classrooms is theimperative that it will magnify the need for quality school basedmanagement, teacher empowerment and school decision making. Much ofthe dialog about technology in education to date deals with thesuperficial access and technology design issues, not the studentactivities, not the teacher activities, not the massive empowermentresulting from ready available information and telecommunicationsaccess. The staff development and training programs begin at thelocal school and impact all curriculum areas.

The technology provided toteachers, students and the community poses the ultimate inparticipatory management and decentralization &emdash; the idea thatdecisions are better when made at operational points in thehierarchy.

Glimpse intoFuture

We glimpse a future visionof education that fulfills our most ambitious professional fantasiesbut that will be very difficult for ordinary schools to achieve.Having seen the ways in which technology has transformed theworkplace and most of our commercial activities, the businesscommunity and the public in general are exerting pressure forcomparable changes within the schools. Educational technologies arenot single technologies but complex combinations of hardware andsoftware that, when integrated into the classroom, will presentsignificant opportunities and challenges.

The following suggests theimpact on the classroom of the district-wide implementation of amassive technology program. This narrative was prepared to give anon-technical view of how a technology introduction may be perceived.It is told in the form of a stream of consciousness narrative of ateacher involved in the introduction of such a technology program.The time period of the narrative is from Jan 1, 2000 through the nextyear. The name of the technology introduction is "D-Net" and it ismodeled after a proposal for DISD.

D-Net includes data, voiceand two-way video integration to every classroom. (See Figure One foran overview idea of the extent of the technology proposed.) It isintended that this narrative will give a teacher's view of thechallenges and finally the rewards of the technology introduction.(Daniel Webster, FDR, Nathan Adams and Kimball are all schools in theDISD.)

Day One. "Well my holidayis over and it's back to school tomorrow. We celebrated the newmillennium last night. I'm not sure it was the right year. Mr. Jones,the science teacher, says it really starts next year, but the date ofJanuary 1, 2000, has a special ring to it. I'm glad everyone ismaking it special. It'll be great to get back to my kids at oldDaniel Webster, but this is the time of the school year that you arenever sure you are going to make it. It's half over and there is somuch left to do. I hope that I can give the kids all that they aregoing to need in high school, and I hope I can encourage at leastmost of them to want to stay in school.

"In addition to everythingelse, we are starting something new: D-Net. We've been to trainingclasses on how to use it, but it is still going to be hard to bringinto the classroom. I want it to be a tool that I can use to help thekids, not a distraction to all of us. They have told us that we areon what they call the 'south route' and we are the first regularusers of the new system. There were three test schools last year, andI heard it worked pretty well after they got some bugs out, but anything new takes time to become effective. The Superintendent told usat this year's mass District meeting that D-Net would be all overDallas by the end of next year. That seems like a lot of schools toput on a new system, but they say they can do it."

Two Weeks Later. "Schoolis back in full swing. I've almost forgotten my holiday. My classesseem to be going now. Yesterday I used the D-Net video capability forthe first time in one of my classes. It worked really well. Theremote was a lot like my VCR at home. I turned the TV on and set itto a VOD channel. (We learned this means Video on Demand in one ofthe training sessions.) Then I punched 'menu' and the screen gave methe schools. I moved to Daniel Webster and selected the video I hadasked for (a look at how a bill is passed in Congress). The videostarted immediately and the kids had a lot of questions; they knowthey will need this for the mock assembly we are going to have nextweek.

"We were able to stop thevideo any place and go back to help answer the questions. I ran itback so the kids could see the answers from the tape, but I hadalready reviewed the film the day before during a lunch break. Iliked this aspect of being able to easily preview tapes very much.Before, it was so hard to get the time to review a tape before thekids saw it. You had to have the tape, a VCR cart and the spare timein order to see it. Most of the time, when I used tapes at all, I sawthem the same time the kids did. That made it very hard (andsometimes embarrassing) to respond to questions, not knowing what wascoming up on the tape.

"The kids (and theirteacher) have taken right to the use of the computers in ourclassroom. We have 26 students in our class, a little over theaverage I'm told, and we have five computers for the kids. I have acomputer that is a little different from theirs, in that I can helpthem (or let them do it) scan material in for their use on multimediaprojects. I also use my computer for tasks that they don't have toworry about like grading, attendance, lesson planning, previewing newsoftware for the central library, and other necessarythings.

"Of course the kids haveto take turns on their computers, but at least we have computers toshare now. They like the way the system recognizes them and answersthem with their name (or nickname) from any of our machines. At firstthis especially startled some of the students, when the computers inthe library also knew them by name and somehow knew where they werein all of their computer-based lessons. They are now using thecomputers to check on their homework assignments, to do research onthe Web and from our libraries, to do their homework and in mostinstances to turn it in by forwarding it to me on the D-Net. They arealso beginning to use their e-mail capabilities and I'm not sure thisis all just about classes, but that's part of growing too, Iguess.

"I often dial in to theD-Net at home (the system knows my name too) and check my students'work and enter their grades right there. Some of the kids arestarting to dial in from home also. I hear that the District is goingto start a loaner program next year so that everyone will have thisopportunity."

One Month Later. "Mycousin teaches too. She is over at Martin Weiss with a room full ofsecond graders &emdash; what a load! But she seems to thrive on it. Ithink I'm too old for that. She has been on the D-Net as long as wehave, and she is really enthusiastic about it. She tells me that shenow uses video all the time. It was so hard to use a videotapebefore. Now if she needs a video that is not in the central server,all she d'es is request the video that she needs be added (it usuallyonly takes one day notice) to the central library. Then, there it isfor her to review and use when she wants. She likes the tapes so muchbecause they allow her to spend more individual time with thestudents. While the tape is running she can visit with each studentto help him or her with the lesson. She also likes this approachbecause it brings in real experts to help the kids. She says shenever did have good handwriting, but to have a tape that showsexactly how it should be done is so much better than telling thestudents to 'do as I say rather than as I do.'"

Two Months Later. "The endof the school year is coming up. I am beginning to think we will getit all done now, but it is going to be close. I am getting ready forsome time off, too. It won't be long because I am going to SMU for anadministration class, but even a week will be great. My brother g'esto high school at FDR. He's a sophomore going on 25. His school wasone of the test sites for the D-Net, so he is an old hand at itsuses. My mom told me that she caught him wearing dress clothes toclass the other day. It seems he was going to give a report on TV.This was to be the culmination of a project team he was on. (Thestudy was about how the new Trinity River Project was going to helpdowntown.) The report was video cast to the class in Kimball that wasa co-participant in the project. She also said that he had beenstudying how to make presentations from the speakers he saw on C-SPAN in the library and practicing for her at home."

Next Fall. "I'm back withmy kids after a great summer. I've got a really promising class thisyear, and I hope that I can be the teacher to really get them moving.This is the second year for D-Net and the 'north route' has opened.We are going to do a joint project with a school on that route,Nathan Adams. We are going to study the 2000 Presidential election,using data from the Web to help us understand how different groupsvoted and maybe why. We will use joint databases and videoconferencesto work with the class at the other school. The kids are very excitedabout working with the other school and with the Net. I would neverhave been able to set up any thing like this without D-Net. Moreover,as I think about it, I would never have even considered a projectlike this without D-Net."

Three Months Later. "Ican't believe that the stores have their Christmas stuff out already.It can't be that time yet. Our project on the presidential electionreally went great. All of us really learned a lot. I think I have abunch of politicians in this class. We made our final report (jointlywith Nathan Adams) to all of the DISD Elementary Schools on theD-Net. (They'll all be on it by next year. Now it's hard to think ofteaching without using it.) I've noticed that some of my students aretalking about other activities with their friends from Nathan Adams.It's amazing how the joint project work has started a number offriendships all the way across Dallas.

"We are beginning to seesome of the downside of D-Net. Hardly a week g'es by now that wedon't have visitors from another school system. I had a group fromCalifornia in our classroom while we were making the finalpresidential election report on the video broadcast channels ofD-Net. I really don't mind the visitors; everybody needs help ingetting started on something like this. We just have to be sure notto let them distract us too much. On her weekly broadcast to theDistrict, the Superintendent told us that delegations from Austin andmaybe Washington were going to be here after the Christmas holiday.So I guess we will have to get used to visitors that want to seeD-Net, but that is a small price to pay for all of the advantagesthat D-Net have brought my students. I read in the paper that a groupof Northern Texas businesses had formed a partnership with DISD tostudy the impacts of D-Net and how new technologies may make it evenmore capable.

"As I watch one of mystudents use his spell checker on a report he has just finished, Iwonder what old Daniel Webster would think. I believe he wouldapprove; his dictionary was great in its day, but all things changeand we have to help our students keep up."

Gerald Chrisman is Executive Manager of Technology Services for theDallas Independent School District. He led the DISD through a massivethree-year technology re-engineering effort. His credentials includean M.A. in Math, an M.S. in Computer Science and a B.S. inEducation.

E-mail: [email protected]

Clifford Hollidaycurrently operates B&C Consulting Services in Colleyville, Texas.Formerly with GTE, he is a professional engineer and a member of TheInstitute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers. He has a B.S. andan MBA, both from the University of Kentucky.

E-mail: [email protected]

This article originally appeared in the 10/01/1998 issue of THE Journal.