Moving Beyond Access in K-12 Education
Saturday, May 1, 1999


Debriefing with Elliot Soloway

[These are edited summaries, not complete transcripts.]

Elliot Soloway: We began this conference with the idea that we were here to have a conversation between researchers and teachers. I think this is a great idea, and the Milken Educator Virtual Workspace (MEVW) is an on-line project which hosts on-line discussions called the "Teacher-Researcher Conversations - Science Education and Technology" where we try to that very thing. It is based on the assumption that we as researchers should figure out what you might want and have you help us think about what we are doing. The second idea we started with was "beyond access." I would like to throw a third one in which is the importance of you having something to "take away". What is one thing you heard today that made an impact on you or that you want to think a bit more about? Let's focus on that and then we can come back and see how those relate to the first two things.

Audience: As a researcher, I was struck by how Gilberte Furstenberg said that we need to develop a new methodology for cultural learning, because I realized we also have to develop a new methodology for understanding and researching what kids are getting out all of this.

Audience: Instead of identifying key questions for my students, I want to encourage them to identify their own key or driving questions, because they are going to be more motivated and engaged than if they use questions that I created.


Audience: In Elliot Soloway's presentation, he mentioned the need for the cooperation of the whole hierarchy of people in school systems, and that made me think about the obstructionists that are in between the top and the bottom in my own school system. What we haven't had in my system has been the ability to identify incompetence in the middle at the building level and do something about it. Everybody loves to beat up on teachers, but a lot of us are working pretty hard, and we're not getting much support at the building level.

Audience: I wish I worked in a school system with someone like Lynn Moore-Bensen to help me. I saw so many wonderful things with a lot of potential, and then how wonderful it would be to have a resource like Lynn to help us implement them.

Soloway: You would think that all school districts would figure out how to get folks like that to help. We spend so much money on the computers, you would think they would spend more money on that. Otherwise, teachers have to do it themselves, right?

Audience: The idea of the appropriate use or evaluation of media was discussed. That made me realize that it isn't just important to teach kids how to use the media. We also have to teach them to evaluate it, which is a lot like letting your kids watch television, but then also having conversations about what was seen and how to interpret it.

Audience: The thing that struck me was the approach to using the method of comparing French and English to start a conversation for the goal of teaching foreign language and culture. I would like to go back and get some conversations going!

Audience: What I will bring away with me is the idea that "access is not enough," because students should be producers instead of just consumers. That is what they love doing, and they will do it if we let them.

Audience: At the end of the morning session, I noted that the first few questions were directed towards the person that was helping the teachers get something done in their classroom. There is great stuff going on at MIT and other places, but the real trick is to support the teachers so that they can get something done without having to spend their full time teaching, and then making another full time job out of learning a new and changing technology on top of that. There has to be much more focus on that problem of support.


Audience: What I will take back is the recognition of the problem that the traditional role of a librarian as a person who helps you reach information does not scale up. I think a lot of us have been thinking that our librarians are going to take on the role of helping us learn the techniques and attitudes that we need to deal with this whole new mass of information, but maybe they can't.

Soloway: I think that they can help faculty, teachers and students to use the technology, but their role of selecting materials may be just too hard. Maybe they can help with the portion about finding materials and building collections of information, but it will be different than in the past where they would be able to put together a shelf of materials for you if you wanted to teach a unit on China. I don't think they can do that anymore.

It does make sense to build a digital library with more thoughtful collections, but who is going to do that? Who gets paid to do that now? Yahoo is actually the only search service that pays people to read the materials while everybody else does it automatically. At some point, Yahoo is going to say this is too expensive and stop doing it. However, I think it is very important that there are people at the end looking at the materials.

Audience: Giberte Furstenberg's presentation was fabulous, because it showed us how teachers can change the practice of teaching so that we are not just giving information. Instead, the students were really creating their own knowledge!

Audience: During the presentation about The Computer Clubhouse, I was struck by the idea of not only providing access to the technology for the students, but also pairing them with mentors to help them think creatively about how to explore and use the technology. This is better than just giving the Internet to kids with people who don't have the time and knowledge to help them move beyond what they can do already. I thought that was great, and I think that ties into how to use resource people in the schools too.

Soloway: Schools sometimes have a Technology Assistant who just makes sure the stuff works, but then they don't have anyone to provide feedback to the kids or work with the teachers. It is more than just keeping the box and wires going. Even when there is a Technology Curriculum Specialist, that is still a lot of burden for just one person. We have got to have multiple people.


Audience: We had examples of content that was developed here at MIT, and then school systems used it for great results. However, where do you get the rest of the content that you can do the same thing. Teachers can go and buy books from all sorts of publishers, or they can go buy some really lousy computer software, but where do you get the good stuff.

Soloway: I think that really is a challenge. The Japanese project was amazing, and I want that multiplied by 100, but I don't know how I am going to get it. Nobody in the business world is going to provide the quality that you saw today. You can't do it that well yourself, and they probably don't have the people to do it. I have been talking to text book publishers a lot lately, because I wanted to have them distribute our software. They say that they have to give my software away and then sell the book. If they are going to give away the part I make, then they don't value it as much, and they want to pay as little as they possibly can to get it.

If you have noticed, there have not been a lot of multimedia CD-ROMs in the last couple of years. They were too expensive to produce. You can make money with the games, but you couldn't make money on things about rain forests. How can we produce high quality materials at a reasonable cost? I have no simple answer, but I think that it is a real challenge. Absolutely!

Audience: I am a software developer trying to address that in a non-profit approach, which may be a business model that will work. One thing that I learned today is that I also need support as a developer. I have just as little support as teachers in terms of people and money. However, I think all of us together can come up with the means to do it the right way. I am not quite sure of how, but I think it is possible.

Audience: As a Technology Specialist, I am realizing that the products that kids create can be used by other kids to learn, so we don't need to look entirely to outside publishers to produce the materials to be used in classes. Maybe the kid's materials would be a little bit less professional and slick looking, but perhaps they would be more friendly because the instruction was from peer to peer. I am hoping that would start to happen more as the tools become easier and cheaper to use.

Audience: I would like to encourage people to check out Web Quests. Bernie Dodge and Tom Marsh from San Diego State University have created a way of making projects for students to do using the Web. It is awesome, and many teachers make their own Web Quests -- some are good, some are not so good, and some are incredibly fine.


Compiled by Mary Hopper

wiring the classroom