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Purple arrow (1137 bytes)BEYOND MULTIMEDIA
Paradigm Two: The Student as Sherlock Holmes

REFEENCE: D'Ignazio, F. (1994). Beyond Multimedia: The Student as Sherlock Holmes. The Computing Teacher, 21(5), 38-40. It is reprinted with permission of the author.

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PARADIGMS LOST: The Search for a George Jetson Future

Our schools are gearing up in a noble quest for "the holy Grail" of technology: a perfect system that will deliver instruction, work smoothly with little need for training or maintenance, and not require replacing at least for five to ten years.


Unfortunately, most schools are creating technology plans, passing bonds, getting grants, and implementing technology based on an unworkable paradigm -- a George-Jetson paradigm dating from the 1930s in which we see technology as a gleaming white appliance that saves us labor and promises us convenience, reliability, stability, and push-button ease of operation.

Technology as "teaching machine." Technology as instructional delivery system. Perfect. Reliable. Simple.

Think about it. You are probably right now installing a new computer network, training teachers on how to use a laserdisc player, setting up a CD-ROM drive on the computer in your library media center, negotiating with the local cable-TV company to wire your classrooms with educatonal cable channels, etc.

Right? And what do you think will be the end result of all your labors?

Are you hoping that "one golden day" your work will be done? Are you hoping that all these systems will be installed? That the wires and cables will all be laid? The plugs all plugged in? The machines all turned on? Software installed? The machines all up and working -- as faithful servants of energetic and happy teachers and students?

Are you hoping to be thanked for your efforts? Maybe even "canonized" as a local technological saint? The hero of grateful students, teachers, parents, administrators, and school board officials?

Uh-oh. You had better think again. You are a victim of the "George Jetson Syndrome." You see your technology infrastructure as some vast, interrelated system (read: "appliance") that can somehow be plugged in, turned on, and made operational, stable, and unchanging -- just like some kind of educational refrigerator, vacuum cleaner, or toaster oven.

Unfortunately, technology has undergone a fundamental change -- from an "automating" phenomenon (a labor-saving and labor-replacing device) to an "informating" phenomenon. Technology at the local and global levels now is no longer our guardian angel. It is our demon! Technology contributes more to the changes, the complexity, and the turmoil of everyday life far more than it is responsible for making our lives easier.

And it is only going to get worse.

In the next five years (even before the 21st century!) all forms of information, communication, and media technologies will converge, collide, fuse and combine in "silly-putty" configurations that generate hybrid products that are unleashed on the consumer and educational markets. In the past few years we have realized that "computers" are not synonymous with "technology." We have realized that the instructional-techology toolkit for teachers should be drastically broadened to include new tools such as cable TV, fiber optics, satellite TV, computer modems and networks, distance-learning, multimedia, video production, compact-disc, laserdiscs, VCRs, fax machines, cellular phones, portable computers, etc.

This is only the tip of the iceberg. In the next five years as industries get plopped into a digital cuisinart, the old products will be sliced, diced, pureed, and blended into new products whose shapes we can barely imagine. The first wave of new "multi-function" technology products that reflect digitally blended industries are now on the horizon: the new PDAs -- the programmable digital assistants. Little "handtop" computers that marry the functions of a clipboard, memo pad, telephone, file cabinet, fax machine, E-mail, and typewriter. But these machines are only the beginning.

The result is that the real changes in educational technology are AHEAD of us not behind us. So if you are trying to stabilize your district's technology picture and install the ultimate, George Jetson, one-button appliance, forget it. The real educational technology breakthroughs are yet to come. And they are right around the corner.

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A New Paradigm: A Workable Strategy for Change

It is time for educators and businesses alike to adopt a new paradigm for managing educational technology, and education, in general. If we insist upon adopting and installing technology as an appliance, then we are doomed to frustration and failure. It's a game that we cannot win. As soon as we think we have a handle on the rapidly evolving clusters of new technologies, they will metamorphose -- right before our very eyes -- and become a new set of products. And if we've bet on the old products we will be grinding our teeth because we will have spent our money, and we won't be able to purchase the new vastly improved mix of products that will cost a tenth of what the old products cost -- only two or three months ago!

Before we despair or begin thinking of new career alternatives, stop and think it over. We can take pleasure in two facts about our dilemma. First, we are all in this together -- business, industry, government, consumers, and educators all are on board the technology roller coaster together. We are all victims of this mammoth technological transformation, and we are all poised to take advantage of some of the fantastic opportunities that the new emerging technologies will provide. Second, we have no choice but to climb board this roller coaster.

Think about it: Do you really have a choice? Can your school afford to turn its back on technology? Denial of the transformation going on outside the classroom door is no alternative at all. We cannot afford to act like ostriches and stick our heads in the sand. We must all invest in the new technologies, we must invest in a significant way, and we must invest today.

The world outside the classroom is jumping on board the technology bandwagon. If schools are to model that world and provide a context for young people to cope with that world and develop strategies for survival and success, then it is imperative for schools to provide a technology-rich environment for teachers and students. Everywhere else, students will be immersed in this "sea" of tiny digital electronic technologies. The same must happen in the classroom. Or we are committing a terrible fraud if we claim that we are preparing our children for tomorrow's world.

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The New Paragdim: Technology as Process not Product

We are all in this together. We have no choice. As responsible educators we have to play the game. And there is a strategy for survival, a strategy to replace the dangerously outdated "George Jetson, one-button appliance" paradigm.

The new strategy for technology is to see all machines, all equipment, all manuals, all software, etc. as PROCESS not product. Our job as technology-using educators will be redefined from trying to install the perfect technology infrastructure to providing the perfect process of CONSTANT TECHNOLOGY EXPOSURE, EXPERIENCE, AND CHALLENGES to teachers and young people. That's our new job, our mission, or basic job responsibility. We need to keep acquiring new technologies and putting them in students' hands so they can train seriously for the jobs, the world, and the lives they will lead tomorrow.

The idea is for the classroom and the district to become "open systems" rather than closed, stable, and isolated "instructional delivery spaces" that we conceived them to be in the past. The idea is to work backwards: what are some important developments in the OUTSIDE world that will soon affect our smaller world inside the classroom?

What are the emerging technology clusters that promise to be "mainstream" for at least the next five to ten years?

(The answer here might be something like: voice, video, and data networking, interpersonal computing, workgroups, multimedia E-Mail, CD-ROMS as a probably "super disc" that will soon carry all knowledge, all information.)

Second, what are the emerging careers that are spawned as companies, and governments restructure, flatten their organizations, automate, collapse, and "informate" older jobs into fewer, newer jobs? What cluster of skills must our high-school graduates have who enter these jobs? What types of post-high-school training will be essential for students to land the best high-paying jobs (or even the lowest level jobs that keep them from becoming "disposable" "throwaway" workers)?

What sort of curriculum should we be implementing that will give our young people something more than the almost meaningless pieces of paper that their high-school and college diplomas have become, once they are a year or two past school and out struggling to survive in the work world?

What street value does a diploma have? What new "keys" to success can we transmit to our students that carry a greater street value as students enter the commercial marketplace?

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The Key to Success: The Student

The new "keys to success" will not be meaningless diplomas and graduation certificates. These are part of the "paper chase" that few corporations now value or base hiring and salary decisions on. They are a criterion for success only within our academic institutions and bear little relevance to the types of skills now being demanded in the work world.

The new "keys" will not be paper at all. They will be carried inside the heads of our students as they emerge from school. They will be a cluster of quickly-proven performance skills that students will have to demonstrate in performance tests that companies will use to match them to emerging positions in their organizations.

How can students acquire these skills? How can we modify students' roles in our schools to help us cope with the new paradigm for technology as "process" and not product.

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A Practical Decision: Enlist Your Students

Our first and most important step should be a source of relief to every teacher, technology coordinator, and administrator because it is so easy. Help is at hand, in fact it's standing right in front of you now, in every classroom, in every school building and computer lab. It's your students.

It's time for you to take a break from our toil. You are in a backbreaking, hard-driving rat race to understand and implement new technologies. You are in a rat race in your classrooms to learn these new technologies yourselves, integrate them into your curriculum, and somehow teach 30 to 150 students a day how to use these technologies.

Then you wake up in a month or a year. And the technologies have all changed, and you have to go through the process all over again. Is there any surprise that you feel resentful, gypped -- that somehow you have been told a "lie"?

You can't do this. And if you try, you will burn out, max out, and become a casualty rather than a leader, or even a survivor. Very frankly: your job is on the line.

So take a small, common-sense step in the other direction: Enlist your students in the process of teaching, learning, and managing this high-tech classroom of the future.

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Learning Webworks: The Twilight of the Guru

The era of the "guru" has past. It is physically impossible for one teacher to stay current with his or her field and to somehow "pipe" all that new knowledge into their students. Knowledge is exploding too fast and in too many formats for you to keep up. Even if you are a "print" literate teacher, you are still missing most new areas in your field which are being communicated over university computer networks, television channels, CD-ROM databases, bulletin boards, E-Mail systems, and videodiscs. Just trying to scan all these sources (much less get your hands on them) would take you 24 hours a day. And you still couldn't keep current.

It is also physically impossible for one or two technology coordinators to somehow keep abreast with the lightning-fast pace of new instructional technologies and somehow purchase them, install them, and integrate them into every classroom in every building with every student and teacher. Every teacher knows how hard it is to get technical support "just in time" when you are up against the wall, facing a group of kids, and the stuff doesn't work. By the time you stretch one or two technology coordinators so thin to get them in every classroom that needs a technical facilitator you have reduced the quality of support to near zero -- even for the most dedicated and talented individuals. And our teachers and students deserve more support -- far more.

So don't even try. Instead, look to the future in which you can swap your isolated and lonely teacher-guru and technology-guru role for a role in which you build a webwork of student-gurus -- a classroom full of coaches, technology aides, polite and respectful consultants, mini-lecturers, gophers, and explorers who can collectively and collaboratively help you perform two important tasks:

ONE: Get the most out of the best new technologies that you can get into your classroom.

TWO: Help every student in your classroom have the most access to these technologies and use them to learn new knowledge in all its forms and commuicate and share that knowledge at each individuals' maximum possible rate.

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Conclusion: The Student as Sherlock Holmes

Technology is not a system, it's an endlessly challenging box of mind puzzles and mind-twisters.

Technology is food. It is sustenance for children's minds. Students need to "feed" off new technologies -- the same kinds of emerging technologies that they face outside the classroom doors and in the jobs they will occupy as they enter the work force.

The only way for this to happen in YOUR classroom is to swallow your pride, put a grin on your face, and get out of your kids' way. Transform your kids from a weight to a webwork of support for everything you undertake. Take the terrible, impossible burden of "know-it-all" off your poor adult shoulders and become a new kind of taskmaster -- equally demanding, equally essential to the kids' educational experience. Your job is now to transform your kids from a room of semi-engaged, smirking loiterers into a irrepressible group of Sherlock Holmeses. Your job is to set up a classroom culture that values individuals, values discussion, communication, politeness, consideration. A culture that spurs innovation, questioning, experimentation, investigation, and hard work.

Into this classroom you "plop" down and endless stream of new technologies. It doesn't matter how much they cost, or which technologies they are, just so you keep feeding the kids with new stuff, new challenges.

You tell the kids they must somehow figure these technologies out so they can get down to the real business of using the technologies as tools to get at all the new forms of knowledge that are blossoming around us. You tell the kids that you are not content that one student learns anything. The only time a student gets credit for an assignment is when he or she coaches a fellow student and imparts the same skill or knowledge to them. Your goal is to create a bubbling brew of problem-solving and inquiry. Your job is to create a buzzing hive of learner-bees that swarms over new technologies that find their way into your classroom. These learner-bees take pride in almost vertical learning curves that allow them to install new machines, new software in the classroom and make it functional in a single classroom period. They take pride in finding new ways to replicate their knowledge among their classmates and around the school building as roving swat teams of polite, professional student consultants and coaches for other teachers and other students.

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Epilogue: A Student-Centered Classroom

This little essay asks you to turn your world on its head -- to forget all the new technologies and instead turn your attention and your passion on your students. They are your salvation. The technologies are not important. Close your eyes and they will change. Blink and they will change again. They are transitory. Rather than see them as mobile Berlin "walls" that are rolled into your classroom, preventing you from seeing your own future, forget them. Repurpose these boxes and wires into sustenance for your students' minds. Let your students tackle the hardest, the most promising new technologies, and push your students to master these technologies, percolate their knowledge around your classroom, and use the technologies to open new windows on content, on your curriculum and your lessons that you never dreamed possible.

The guru treadmill is speeding up, much like a constantly accelerating electrocardiogram treadmill to challenge your heart and your respiratory system. It's going faster and faster. You have to teach more and more knowledge; and new ever more complex technologies keep lurking on the horizon threatening to invade your classroom.

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Puff! Puff! How to keep up?

Hop off the treadmill. Take off your guru hat and throw it out the window! You've got 30 little gurus siting right in front of you -- apprentice gurus in training. What step can you take to begin letting them take on the guru role that until now you guarded for yourself?

Think of your classroom as a laboratory for thinking. Your students are your thinkers. Turn your students loose as thinking and problem-solving teams. And the grist for their thinking is technology. Let them digest the technology, solve its problems, make it work, and take pride in their successes. Let them use the technology to connect your classroom to all the new knowledge that you and they can possibly experience.

You will be making a sane career decision -- a decision that will help you survive and become a leader in the classroom of the future. And you will be making an honest effort to prepare your students for the terrible challenges they face now and will soon face as adults.

Next month we'll look at how to use the library media center as a resource area for your young Sherlock Holmes. The classroom teacher can work on process and content in her room (and keep multimedia to a manageable level!). And the library media center can become an escape valve for multimedia energies -- a "Grand Central Station," or hub, for students' collaborative multimedia research and publishing activities.

This is the second of four "Beyond Multimedia" articles. Earlier versions of these articles appeared in the University of Central Florida's Connections magazine.

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Other articles on the NCIP Web site by Fred D'Ignazio:
Upside Down TV and Paper Training Sparky the Dog

Fred D'Ignazio, Multi-Media Classrooms, Inc., 1773 Walnut Heights Drive, East Lansing, MI  48823-2945 Email:   Multi-Media Classrooms Web site,

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This material was developed by the National Center to Improve Practice (NCIP), located at Education Development Center, Inc. in Newton, Massachusetts.  NCIP was funded by the U.S. Department of Education, Office of Special Education Programs from October 1, 1992 - September 30, 1998, Grant #H180N20013.  Permission is granted to copy and disseminate this information.  If you do so, please cite NCIP.   Contents do not necessarily reflect the views or policies of the Department of Education, nor does mention of trade names, commercial products, or organizations imply endorsement by NCIP, EDC, or the U.S. Government.  This site was last updated in September 1998. 

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