First Monday

Section V: New Teachers and Schools

Chapter 18: Future Teachers - Part One
Chapter 19: New Teachers - Part Two
Chapter 20: October 17, 2006
Chapter 21: Future Schools

Chapter 18: Future Teachers - Part One
When computers eventually appeared in a widely accessible form and price, some parents and educators shuddered. There was a fear that politicians and others, under the guise of "progress," would foist these machines on students, employing them as a means to tamper with the minds of children. There were some that anguished that these instruments would bring a new world where machines dominated learning. Students would become mere automatons. In this dark vision, technology would jettison human teachers, making education mechanical and impersonal.

These nightmares may have contributed to the sluggish employment of computers in schools, however wrong these wild fears seem. Computerized education does not have to translate directly into a harsh and unfeeling educational experience. Teachers are essential for the day-to-day success of computerized education. They will prevent any mechanical catastrophe. Teachers will provide a uniquely human element to balance a computerized abundance of information. Teachers will ensure that education develops the whole person, not merely the intellectual side.

The role of teachers, in this new environment, must change. With computers fully utilized in schools, human instructors will no longer have to determine grades in the traditional sense. No longer will teachers physically be confined to a specific class assignment. Specific chunks of a curriculum will not have to be fed to students in a given time frame. Students will not be fed information by mere lectures, readings from textbooks, or films. Gone will be the need for daily lesson plans. The intellectual and manual labor involved in devising and correcting tests will vanish. A great deal of sheer paperwork will be eliminated. The fate of borderline students will no longer be a difficult and painful decision.

Elimination of these traditional duties will provide time for teachers to perform many crucial tasks that only teachers, not machines, can carry out. Feeling, sensitive human teachers, not circuit boards, monitors, and memory chips, will develop feeling, sensitive, human students. Plato supposedly remarked that "the direction in which education starts a man will determine his future life [ 52 ]." Computers will give teachers greater freedom to provide that necessary direction. The greatest personal benefit for teachers will be the success they achieve in educating their pupils. Teachers, like students, need to succeed and their success depends upon the success of their students. If their pupils fail to learn, they also suffer. This discouraging side of teaching was pointed out to me by one teacher in a Florida "at-risk" program. Confident in her teaching abilities, she was frustrated by the progress of her students in advent of a greater use of computers. When students are unable to progress, the agony and feeling of hopelessness is found not only in the pupils. Their instructors agonize as well.

Both students and teachers are held back by some restrictions placed on them in schools. Teachers have to try to teach the same material simultaneously to thirty students, while contending with unending activities, some of which are peripheral to student learning. This juggling means few opportunities to concentrate on any individual object or person. They must forego precious opportunities to help students reach their full potential. Thomas Edison's mother came to an appreciation of the brilliance of her pupil through her continual interaction with him. With that knowledge, she was able start him on the path that altered the history of the world. Teachers that know their students better and will be able to guide them more effectively.

Despite many external differences, the primary mission of teachers will be unchanged - they will continue to be educators. They will fulfill their true vocation of leading children out of ignorance, and they will do it more effectively. Computers will provide a huge quantity of information for students to absorb at their speed. Teachers will continually encourage students to integrate this learning into their lives. Teachers will help children deal with an information-rich world by helping pupils harmonize electronic data into their value systems. They will encourage and stimulate students to obtain truly a full education. Teachers will smooth the challenges of interpersonal development among young people and ease the process of becoming an adult intellectually and socially.

Society has always esteemed great teachers. This high regard will continue and increase in computerized education. The best teachers will always be remembered by their students for their distinct humanizing of education. When adults comment about influential teachers, they recount many meaningful traits - an ability to inspire, to excel, to appreciate a particular subject, and to stimulate. They recall teachers who gave them encouragement when matters looked difficult or who brought out their latent and unknown abilities. Some look back with gratitude toward teachers who helped them pass through the trying years of youth, and to enter better prepared into adulthood. In computer schools, these same abilities will continue to enhance the lives of students, and teachers will be better positioned for their important responsibilities.

While computers use their unique power to instruct and enlighten, teachers will use their humanness to educate and uplift. They will ensure a distinctly human element in education while allowing computers to convey information, a task for which the machines are singularly equipped. Computers will instruct; teachers will educate.

Serious change never happens easily. Some teachers may fear to relinquish many of their present duties to which they have grown accustomed. Some instructors may hesitate or even fight this new program. Some may suggest a compromise - keep teachers in their present role, but bring in more computers to give children more opportunities to interact with the machines.

This "compromise" cannot be successful. Computers - millions of them - so far have not changed education. Millions more won't change education unless the system is fundamentally altered. If teachers continue to control the flow of information in the usual way, they will block the power of computers. Teachers and students will remain locked in the current inadequate system. Only when computers provide information to students - without being subject to the training, skills, and personality of individual teachers - can education truly change. Only when computers relieve teachers of the time consuming myriad of unimportant tasks can human instructors reach their maximum productivity.

Unquestionably, for some teachers this change will not be easy. For these, administrative solutions and further training will help. These efforts will be a small price for schools to pay for the eventual massive gains brought about by the more efficient use of teachers and computers.

Many of today's teachers will find their shift to this new world of education easy and natural. They will immediately realize that many creative approaches that they wanted to use, but had been unable to handle in the past, will now be open to them. The joy that they now experience from educating children will be enhanced.

Chapter 19: New Teachers - Part Two
Let's examine some specific ways that teachers will become better educators, with a more widespread and utilitarian use of computers. In this chapter, I will describe the idea of a Leader Teacher. In Chapter 20, I will be more specific as we follow one teacher for one day. One important caveat must be included. Serendipity and creativity will combine to play a larger role in the future because innovative teachers will use their new found time to devise ways to enrich students that we can't imagine today.

Leader Teachers
Of all the changes that will flow from computerized education, perhaps the most dramatic will be the new relationships that will develop between teachers and students. Each student will always have one instructor with the personal and highly focused responsibility over a period of time to assist in learning. This person is a Leader Teacher. As a result of Leader Teachers, no student will pass through school without individual attention, a radically different situation from today.

Leader Teachers will have access to all scholastic records of their individual students. With the computer providing information about every subject to students, instructors will know if their pupils are progressing or are deficient according to established norms. In turn, students will always be aware of their progress, because their teachers will provide them with status reports on their efforts to reach certain basic goals.

Leader Teachers will meet with their students for individual discussions as often as necessary. The frequency of these sessions will depend on the age of the students, their academic status, and individual needs. These meetings will help bring a child's education to fruition. In addition to directing students, teachers will be able to add a human side to the continual computerized encouragement provided to pupils. They will be able honestly to build upon and enhance the success that pupils will attain. They will encourage students to go beyond the basic educational requirements and to delve into new subjects that might prove interesting.

I have stressed the rewards that students will reap because computers will serve them as private tutors. I believe an equivalent or greater gain will accrue to pupils because they will have private teachers to direct them individually. In computerized education, teachers will know students better and direct them, not as members of a class of thirty, but as individuals. Students will harvest phenomenal gains from this personal attention. Teachers will find their activities rewarding and satisfying.

Students, together with their parents, will actively choose their Leaders. These Leaders will then direct pupils over the course of at least a year, but often for several years. This arrangement will be somewhat analogous to a doctoral candidate in a university, with a faculty member responsible for directing a student through the pitfalls of a dissertation. Leader Teachers will shepherd their students through the pitfalls of achieving an education. The supervision necessary will vary with age and ability. When students are least mature, teachers will provide the most intense direction. As children advance, Leaders will permit more self-direction, but always will meet regularly with their charges.

Difficulties of students that are not scholastic may be addressed by the teachers themselves, or by counselors working with teachers. Normal discipline problems will be first relayed to the Leader Teacher. For example, the computer will track absences and immediately notify the teacher. If a student is disruptive in a class, the monitor will note it on the student's record and the main computer will make this known to the Leader immediately. When a discipline problem is beyond the capability of a teacher, the child will be referred to the proper authorities.

Leader teachers will meet with their students individually, but also in groups. These meetings will not be like today's ordinary classes, but will aim to have students interact and to discuss topics of interest under the direction of their teacher. Specific times will be allotted to conferences of students with the same Leader. Depending on circumstances, including the number of students whom a teacher is directing, all students may participate each time.

While teachers will be an educational and advisory resource for students, no teacher can be qualified or knowledgeable in every subject. Students may, at times, need information on a subject outside the expertise of their Leader Teachers. Other instructors will be available to the student as educational supplements.

Leader Teachers and Parents
Whatever the underlying strength of schools, additional encouragement and direction from parents will always provide invaluable assistance in the education of their children. Therefore, involving parents will remain a high priority of schools, with Leader Teachers acting as the first educational contacts.

As an immediate benefit, parents will need to meet with only one teacher with information on all the child's classes and activities. Whenever parent-teacher conferences occur, instructors will easily be able to provide complete and up-to-the- minute information on the child's progress through computer records and through their own intimate contact with the student. Teachers will provide not only verbal reports, but also computer printouts that will explain clearly how a child is moving toward specific educational goals. The machine will also provide additional information about possible future educational objectives based on the current status of the child.

With the additional time available to teachers, it will be easier for parents to arrange conferences that fit their own hectic schedules. Moreover, the bonds between teacher and parents - as between teacher and student - will be stronger, especially if the same Leader Teacher is retained for several years. This situation will, in turn, encourage greater parental involvement.

Despite the undeniable value of having parents participate in the education of their children, many parents will forego or minimize this activity. Computerized education can partially compensate for this inescapable condition better than present schools. A teacher can never assume the position of the parent, but a concerned instructor can provide an important supplement and be a role model. For the sake of children and of society, young people must be directed during their formative years. If the parent, for some reason, does not do it, someone else may be able to help. Excellent teachers have always done this, and they will be able to expand their efforts in the future.

Conducting Seminars and Workshops
Beyond their role as Leaders, teachers will have other roles with children. These additional duties cannot be completed by a computer; these are tasks only a human educator can fulfill.

Devising and carrying out seminars, workshops, debates, and other cooperative and interactive projects will be prominent duties of teachers. In these activities, teachers will again enhance and extend education beyond the limits of computer competency.

Teachers will spend a substantial portion of their time on these undertakings. Most teachers will be expected to develop projects in their field of academic training. These activities will not be limited to just a narrow section of work since all necessary fundamentals will be taught to students by computers. As teachers plan and develop their workshops, there will be few limits on their creativity. They will be able to lead small groups of students into new and uncharted areas where the creativity of both teacher and students can flourish. Instructors will encourage students to develop advanced habits of thinking and analysis while teaching pupils to work together. Seminars and workshops will provide important opportunities for discussions among students, and help them learn to work together.

Teachers are accustomed to interactive student learning in classrooms today. They will continue these familiar patterns while conducting these seminars and workshops. In computerized education, their success in this type of undertaking will be magnified because they will have more time to prepare for these activities. Students will be better prepared and will have better attitudes because they will be participating in something they choose to do.

Students will have a certain freedom in making their choices of academic groups in which they wish to participate. Since various topics will be available, they will be able to delve into subjects that intrigue them. Some of the seminars which they attend will not be with their own Leader Teacher, but their participation will always require the approval of their personal mentors. The immaturity of a student will be tempered by the Leader.

Allowing pupils to select their seminars will give them an opportunity to take an active part in setting up their educational program. On the other side, giving students the right to choose seminars in which they wish to participate might frighten some teachers. Until now, they have had a guaranteed audience so they weren't concerned about filling their classes. When students can choose to take - or more importantly pass up - workshops or seminars, a new element will appear in education.

Some teachers may find the transition to student choice difficult. Teachers will have to understand that they will not be judged on sheer numbers of students that they attract. For example, only a few students may be interested in a detailed character analysis of Shakespearean tragedies. Teachers conducting these seminars cannot be considered as less able if only a few students sign up. Courses of this caliber probably will be held with students from many schools able to participate.

Teachers will establish requirements for entry into workshops, preparing students in advance for these educational events. The interaction of well-prepared and self-motivated students, under the direction of an enthusiastic teacher, will provide conditions for optimal learning. Teachers will spark and foster this interplay by prodding students to think deeply. Instructors will also provide valuable opinions on subjects under discussion, but bright, motivated participants will often come to their own conclusions. Students will advance in self-directed learning, a practice that will have had its beginning for many of them on their very first classes in kindergarten.

Group activities such as workshops will be ungraded. Those participating in these events will need to fulfill certain prerequisites and make basic efforts to be prepared in the course of these activities. Teachers directing seminars will assign readings and multimedia presentations, ensuring that students are ready and qualified to take part in discussions.

Since individual striving for grades will not interfere with group efforts, cooperative work will be fostered more easily. Competition might take the form of one class working academically against another class in another school. Students working together in a common struggle will allow both cooperation and competition.

Critics might question whether students will do more than just go through the formalities of attending seminars without grades to motivate them. In reality, powerful precedents already exist for students taking courses without getting grades or credit. Many schools conduct summer sessions and attract students with unusual courses, that don't carry credits. Many learning camps are fee-based although the courses are without credit. Learning also takes place in many extracurricular activities with no consideration for school credits.

It is meaningless that only a few students in today's schools take non-credit seminars. The current educational system often deprives students of the necessary enjoyment. In Florida "at-risk" programs, computerized education stimulates and intrigues students, who once had been completely disdainful of schooling.

Although some students may shirk their responsibilities in ungraded seminars, they will still be much better educated through computerized education than in today's schools. Teachers will have more time to make seminars interesting, enticing students to work in them. Peer pressure will also be a valuable force. Schools will be smaller, too. Peer pressure, with its negative effects today, will be a positive force in smaller schools. Students will find education in enjoyable seminars to be stimulating. No longer will students be apathetic in gigantic impersonal institutions.

Other Considerations
Although computers are powerful teachers, they have obvious limits to what they can achieve. For example, computers can't judge creativity since they only carry out what has been included in their programming. Anything truly creative is therefore new and, consequently, outside the scope of their mechanical memories. This restriction may change with advances in artificial intelligence but in the foreseeable future judgment of creativity will be decidedly a human capability.

For example, creative writing depends on not only an analysis of grammar and sentence construction but on other skills and talents. Computer programs can evaluate basic writing characteristics but students will need more than digital advise on verb forms. Networked computers already are allowing students in different schools in different continents to contribute to Internet newspapers and magazines, but always with the help of local advisors, teachers, and readers.

Creative students and teachers with their computers may find new solutions for some of the current national and international problems. These answers may appear as a result of the interchange of ideas with other students and teachers in different schools. For example, certain participants in advanced seminars will make their work available for criticism through the Internet. In turn, they will evaluate student work from other locations. These will be learning experiences both for the student doing the review, and for the one being judged.

Self-directed education, combined with seminars, workshops, computers, and teachers, will have some similarities to the course of graduate education, a model well worth emulating. American graduate schools provide some of the foremost examples of outstanding education anywhere in the world. It is unfortunate that this model has not been tried at lower levels, but with computers it is possible.

Exercising their Initiative
Teachers will find the potential of computerized education and their enhanced position exhilarating. They will uncover new outlets for their initiative and ingenuity and the educational system will be enhanced even further. Although education, both in and outside the classroom, advances today through their creativity, they are often stymied in their attempts. When they are able to use their talents more fully, both they and their students will benefit.

One example of teachers aiding education is in a movement known as "empowerment." This techniques gives teachers more responsibility for schooling, by allowing them to make many decisions that higher authorities formerly imposed upon them. Teachers however must grapple with these new responsibilities without any additional time in their already busy schedules. Nonetheless, empowerment has shown laudable results. Teachers, freed from many present burdens, will be able to give this approach a more valid test.

The individuality of teachers will be retained. Even in the duties they choose, their different skills and talents will be used. For example, some instructors may be better as Leader Teachers while others may be exceptionally well qualified to conduct advanced learning seminars and workshops.

In computerized education, students will be the primary beneficiaries but teachers will also share in the rewards. When instructors are relieved of tedious routine work, they will be better able to educate youth. These new opportunities will likely attract more bright young people into education as their life's work.

Computers will never eliminate human pedagogy. They will make the profession more satisfying, engaging, and fulfilling. They will allow teachers to be better educators, the ultimate reward for any dedicated instructor.

Chapter 20: October 17, 2006
The workday of different teachers in computerized education will vary widely just as do the schedules of today's teachers. Nonetheless, we can come to some feel for the pattern of teachers in that era if we look at one day in the life of one teacher. We'll choose Mary Jackson, a teacher with a degree in English literature, and observe her activities on October 17, 2006. Mary is the Leader for students that range in age from ten to fourteen.

When Ms. Jackson comes to school at 8:30 AM, she will go immediately to her small and simple office. In this facility, she has two chairs and her computer station, with storage shelves for books, computer disks and other storage devices, the successors to today's CD-ROMs. Her walls are decorated with favorite pictures from her home, adding a warm touch to her surroundings.

She begins, as she begins every day, by signing on to her computer and connecting to the main computer of the school. She receives automatically a list of activities scheduled for today. These events might include a class that she will oversee; a group meeting with some students a seminar that she is conducting; individual conferences with parents; or, a meeting with other teachers to discuss the allocation of certain government funds.

Her computer will check for messages from her students, giving a priority to those students that need to see her today. She will immediately allocate time on her schedule for her students, sending replies that provide a time and location for appointments. Mary's students will see their messages when they logs on in the morning. The computer will also indicate that meetings took place, and record the sessions in the files of the students. After the conferences are completed, the teacher will modify the record and write a few notes on the nature of the sessions.

Mary is the Leader Teacher for thirty students. Her pupils look to her as their academic guide, primary teacher, and even friend. She has been in this role for five of her students for three years. All but six of the students have worked with Ms. Jackson for one or two years. Six of the thirty students are under her supervision for the first time this year. At the start of each day, the main computer will check the records for all thirty students to look for obvious academic, attendance, discipline, or other problems. If the computer finds anything that may be the least bit problematic, Mary will be informed. If she concurs with a digital analysis that turns up some problem, she will schedule a meeting with a given student right away.

Ms. Jackson will also check on the frequency of personal conferences with her students, scheduling meetings with those that she has had not a dialogue with recently. Students will receive notification of these sessions when they next sign in to their electronic accounts.

Mary will look for phone and electronic mail messages, from a parent wishing to arrange a meeting, or from the school authorities giving her some information to relay to her students during their next group meeting. There may be a message from a fellow teacher or from an Internet correspondent as well.

Mary's schedule is fairly well set for the day. She has a group session with the older half of her thirty students from 9:00 AM to 9:45 AM. At this meeting, she has a few announcements to follow-up on electronic messages from the Principal's office. Mary's main objective at this meeting, however, is to generate some discussion about the November elections, in preparation for a debate just before election day. It will be up to the students today to lay down the ground rules for this debate.

From 10:00 AM to 11:00 AM, Ms. Jackson will monitor a class. She enjoys these monitoring opportunities to see exactly how students interact with computers, and with their fellow students.

Mary will meet with one of her students from 11:30 AM to Noon. She will look over his records in advance, but suspects that he wants to spend extra time on history, a subject this student enjoys thoroughly. Ms. Jackson will suggest a week-long seminar on the period around and including World War I, to tie in with another program at a neighboring school early next year.

She will see two other students after lunch. These are regularly scheduled with her pupils, discussing how they are getting along and where they are going. One of the pupils comes from a single-parent family. The mother died last year and this pupil needs a lot of attention. Mary always sees this girl every few days.

At the opposite end of the spectrum is the other student, a youngster who delights in school. She receives a great deal of encouragement from her parents, not requiring as much day-to-day attention. With Mary for three years, this girl likes literature and has been doing well. Although she only sees this student for a personal conference about once every three weeks, the computer keeps Ms. Jackson informed about her progress. Mary will spend time today simply encouraging her, stimulating her to do more creative writing. Some of her stories could possibly be submitted for publication in any one of the new electronic journals springing up in schools across the city. Mary has toyed with the idea of urging some her students to start one of these publications, but she feels that she will personally need more training before getting the students involved.

After these student conferences, Mary will record a summary of the sessions in the student's computer records. Her notes on these meetings are readily available in a secure database requiring a specific password. The rest of the afternoon she will prepare for a seminar on Elizabethan England, scheduled three all-day sessions in November. Three of the participants are her students and attendance of eight other pupils has been approved by other Leader Teachers.

Mary is putting together for the seminar a list of background readings including some new material. The readings are on a disk that students will use in the Library. She will notify all eleven participating students about the electronic materials and advise them on exactly what needs to be reviewed in advance. This diskette of readings is made possible in part by an educational exemption to the use of copyrighted electronic materials in the classroom, thanks to some changes in favor of education in national and international copyright law. Mary will also give the students a list of other materials that she expects them to preview before the seminar, and will send this list to them in an electronic note.

She will ask the students in the seminar to discuss how Elizabethan authors influenced each other. Mary will steer discussion in such a way that the students will look at the plays of Shakespeare and discuss the controversy over their authorship. She has her opinion over who wrote Macbeth and Midsummer's Night Dream but she will keep that to herself. It will be interesting to see what ideas they will develop in the seminar.

Finally, Mary has one last important activity for today, a parent conference at 5:30 PM. In advance, she will review the records of the student, and she will discuss with the parents a future program of courses.

By 6:30 PM, Mary has recorded one long but not unusual day.

When Mary finally does leave school, she has one advantage that teachers of an earlier era could only dream about - her work is finished. There are no tests to correct, no lesson plans to invent for tomorrow, no grades to calculate. She is free to rest, ready to give her students her undivided attention tomorrow, Wednesday, October 18, 2006.

Chapter 21: Future Schools
James Bryant Conant as president of Harvard University had a great deal of credibility in the teaching community. His suggestions were welcome although there were times when education was unable to respond properly to his calls for massive changes in practices. Conant's suggestion on the size of schools however was embraced and followed. Nearly forty years ago, Conant and a group of educators and researchers studied many facets of schooling. Their thorough evaluation of the condition of secondary education advanced several recommendations, but one idea predominated. Conant wrote

"The number of small high schools must be drastically reduced ... Aside from this important change, I believe no radical alteration in the basic pattern of American education is necessary to improve our public high schools [ 53 ] ."

The reasoning behind this recommendation was simple. Larger schools can offer better education over small schools, because larger schools can hire instructors to teach specialized classes, which normally attract only a few students. Without these teachers, small schools cannot offer superior courses in math, science, social studies, and languages. A large school, however, can provide highly skilled instructors because many students will demand opportunities for advanced learning. Eliminating small schools, therefore, would improve education. In this scenario, larger schools would also be less expensive to operate because of volume savings.

Conant's strong recommendations ushered in a new era in school building. The influence of his credentials drove the switch to larger institutions. Small schools became passé. "Bigger is better" became a cliché in education, dutifully followed by school districts across America. Conant's wishes were fulfilled as the number of small schools sharply fell. Enormous schools, especially in metropolitan areas, flourished.

As proponents of large schools gained adherents and school boards fell in line, extensive research attempted to substantiate the value of these larger institutions. The results were not conclusive, but indicated that the original ideas about better education and economic value probably were valid [ 54 ].

However, that early research had a flaw, by the psychological impact on students of large schools. Later studies provided quite different results: better teachers provided better education for some students but the majority of students suffered in massive institutions.

Small schools provide several contributions to the well-being of students. For example, pupils in small schools are more likely to participate in extracurricular activities and are less alienated than students in large schools [ 55 ]. There are other benefits of smaller schools as well such as closer staff-pupil relationships. These schools are "more conducive to participating, emotionally healthy student populations [ 56 ]."

Parents never fully accepted the principle that "bigger is better." Many parents preferred smaller schools because it made the schools a part of the neighborhood. Smaller schools also gave parents more opportunities to know teachers and staff, promoting improved communication.

A lengthy study of schools in Montgomery County, Maryland provided additional evidence in favor of smaller schools. Smaller schools were found to be more innovative, and their staffs took on administrative responsibilities more readily. They were credited with a nurturing atmosphere in which children, teachers, and parents could know each other, developing a supportive environment with close community ties. These schools were led by a principal who knew the staff well and could make the best use of them [ 57 ].

Other factors began to come into play. With the increased costs for fuel, the supposed diminished costs of larger educational complexes was under fire thanks to the sheer expense of busing. When more students enroll in a given school, the average commute of students increases, requiring a more extensive transportation scheme.

Unfortunately, it was only after jumbo schools were well entrenched that the later studies negated their supposed positive features and their corrosive negative effects became apparent. Further investigation of large schools revealed far worse conditions. In 1990, thirty-one years after Conant's original proposal, a review of the literature concluded:

"Today, small is related to school effectiveness, community and school identity, and individual fulfillment and participation. Big corresponds with school inefficiency, institutional bureaucracy and personal loneliness [ 58 ].

Unfortunately, while Conant's proposals were in their ascendancy, the nation was saddled with thousands of massive schools. They remain today, particularly in the inner cities where education reaches its nadir.

Despite the unforeseen effects of Conant's ideas, his contentions were not completely wrong. Smaller schools have problems, too. A summary of the Montgomery County study concluded that schools with few pupils "had staffing problems because there were fewer staff members, students had little choice of teachers, there were fewer approaches to teaching, there was little use of specialists and there were fewer books, materials, and pieces of equipment [ 59 ]."

Today's schools must choose between the gains and losses from either small or large schools. Computerized education will bring the positive features of both while avoiding some of the problems. Computers could provide outstanding courses in small schools as easily as in large ones. Since each student will be taught individually, it won't matter if one student is enrolled or one hundred pupils take the same class. Schools can be far smaller and closer to the homes of the students, to reduce travel time and busing costs.

In computerized education, any school, large or small, will be able to provide a diversity of instruction. There is only one notable exception - poor teaching will vanish. The handicap of a shortage of specialists will disappear. In addition, teachers and scholars will assist in the development of new kinds of effective software, further improving instruction with computers.

Many teaching materials, in their digital forms, will be more plentiful than in any present school, large or small. The successors to today's CD-ROMs will eventually provide expanded opportunities, and equipment will always be abundant and state-of-the-art.

In recounting the pros and cons of large and small schools, I have said nothing about violence and vandalism that befoul many large institutions. In some part, the alienation of students in giant schools contributes to horrendous discipline problems. The more extended a school becomes, the more impersonal it is, making education more difficult for students and authorities. Discipline can be better managed when students feel more accountable for their actions, as happens in smaller institutions. Peer pressure in a small school is also more beneficial and easily enhanced.

In computerized education, minimum size limits to classes will be almost eliminated. In some remote areas, the school system could return to one-room establishments. The major difference between the old and new one-room schoolhouses will be the computers and software as well as the network connections. Even in the tiniest schools, students will have a vast array of classes in the regular curriculum.

Although studies show that students in small schools participate to a greater extent in extracurricular activities, one problem could arise. Having fewer students in a school may conflict with an American penchant for successful sports teams. Among educators a few years ago, a favorite joke in one "football mad" state was the definition of a school principal: a football coach after two losing seasons in a row. Some would argue that the development of winning teams is helped by having more athletes on hand, as in a large school. One solution would be for smaller schools to form athletic teams as a group. Where one large school now exists, five small schools can replace a behemoth, with only one football team. Even without athletics as the driving force for this arrangement, it may still be valuable. Bands and orchestras require more participants than can be found in a small school. Other activities might also benefit from occasional larger gatherings while keeping the basic small school structure.

If children can learn from computers, why not let them stay home and plug into their machines? They could be educated without the hassle of going to school and without the cost of schools to the community.

I have shown that teachers will be critical in computer education. They alone would make schools necessary. The value of interaction among students is another reason schools are necessary. Children need to develop interpersonal relationships as much as they need to absorb information. Schools are the place for developing these skills, which will be enhanced by the personal direction of teachers.

In computerized schools, another type of interpersonal contact will occur. Students will interact with other pupils in other schools through computer networks. To some extent, this sort of inter-school communication has already started, with students in different schools working on publications, projects, and other activities. Through enhanced telecommunications in the near future, children will discuss a large range of topics and be exposed to diverse viewpoints. They will evaluate ideas of other students and their own work will be judged by their peers in many locations. Students will interchange opinions with youth in places that they once only knew from a book or a newspaper headline. Diverse cultures will meet on the computer screen as students will correspond instantaneously with their peers in other lands and learn about them and from them. Naturally, these interchanges will be supervised but they will provide the means for students to develop independent thinking.

School Configuration
Computerized education will drastically reduce the physical shape of schools as well as permanently transfigure the layout of classrooms. With a computer awaiting the arrival of each student, schools will need many computers. Classrooms can be larger than the present limit of thirty students. This limit was defined by the sheer impossibility of handling more than thirty pupils at a time. That difficulty will be eliminated when a computer tutors each student individually.

Requirements for rigid silence will be less necessary than they are today, although horseplay and unlimited interaction will always be interdicted. Under specified conditions, students will be permitted to change to another room or to another section or time period. With computerized education, where and when students take classes is irrelevant. Discipline and order will be important but will differ from what present classrooms require. Although students will each have a computer, students may use different computers at various times. By occasionally shifting machines and physical locations, students can meet different groups of students during school sessions. This will also allow certain machines with special capabilities to be used by different pupils, and will avoid costs of duplicating more expensive devices. The central computer in the school will handle all equipment scheduling.

Pupils will usually be assigned to a room for a specific time, although defined periods are optional. Computers can download lesson material and interact with a child in any location. Each pupil will log on to a machine at a specified time. The computer will have a record of subjects for which a student is registered. Instruction will begin exactly where the student left off in the previous session. The machine will provide the appropriate lessons to a pupil, with extra material on a given subject ready at a keystroke. Not all students will use this additional subject matter, but for those with time and interest, supplemental opportunities will be available.

All computers will be connected to a central network and a file server where lessons and records will be kept. The computer file will have a record of subjects according to a schedule. The computer will check a given student's previous work to determine exactly where a lesson should begin. With a password, the lesson will be available immediately.

At this point, the student will begin class and continue until an appointed stopping time. Class periods of equal length will probably continue in many schools because they allow students to be free at the same time, encouraging informal interactions. Educators and researchers will decide, by experiment, the amount of time that students should be spent in their computerized sessions. Initially, classes may last as long as current classes but that may change in the future.

There may be lags in class instruction for some students, sick or otherwise unable to attend a given session. These instructional differentials may be even longer if a student was away on a vacation or absent for other reasons. Pupils will have many justifications, such as workshops or seminars, for being away from school for certain intervals. The computer will wait patiently for the student's return on the appointed day, and begin a lesson at the appropriate place.

Computers and programs are rapidly becoming ever more accessible. Nonetheless, some programming difficulties are inevitable. Most problems can be resolved with proper documentation off or online. When a difficulty arises that cannot readily be solved, it will require some expert assistance. Similar difficulties happen in computer applications in business and technical consultants, usually in the home office of the software developer, are easily reached by phone. In schools, the same practice can be followed. When a problem, insoluble to the student arises, a computerized education expert will be available to the student by using the modem and phone. The expert will interact with the student to help unravel the difficulty. The outside expert can always develop a solution, whether permanent or temporary, even if that means simply telling to student to go to another lesson. A record of the problem will be recorded, and the information will be passed back to the programmers who devised the program. They can correct the glitch and download it to the school. Each upgrade will prevent future troubles.

It may happen that the computer expert will be tied up with another pupil when the call is made and will be unable to provide an immediate answer. The student's computer could hold that lesson in abeyance and proceed to another lesson in a different subject until the expert is able to return the call.

When each session is finished, a record of what was completed, and other pertinent information, will be uploaded back to the file server. The main computer will note the date and determine the next material that should be relayed to the student, and when that lesson should take place.

Students will receive all academic lessons by computer. Classes like physical education, where intellectual attainment is not integral, will, of course, continue unchanged with present methods.

A person will never be "teaching" in a classroom. A human will usually be present as a monitor or a facilitator to encourage learning and ensure that classroom behavior is appropriate. Discipline problems will always arise as youths grow into adulthood. Human monitors will deal with those obstacles to learning as is done today, and notify the Leader Teacher when that is appropriate. These problems will be reduced sharply since computers generate increased student interest and few behavioral difficulties. As computerized education progresses, computer software will increasingly use psychological principles that will make learning even more stimulating and enjoyable.

In a given room, students next to each other in a computer lab may be taking the same course, or not. In a given setting, all of the students could be studying different subjects. Even students taking the same course may be at different levels, since students each have different learning rates.

At times, it will be advantageous for a group of students to work on a common project. The computers could schedule students to be in the same room simultaneously, provide the material, and prod students to solve the problem by group action.

When students are younger, human monitors will be more important. As students grow older, these monitors may still be necessary for some classes, but their need will diminish as students become involved in personally intriguing projects. Computers have demonstrated repeatedly, even under today's conditions, that they can totally absorb the attention of students. In certain classes with students that show few discipline problems, it will probably be possible to dispense with monitoring. Computers will keep accurate assessments of students and the work that they are completing. If some students require a monitor to help them behave or learn well, the computer will quickly spot the errant pupils. They can easily be moved to a monitored room.

Computers will check work accomplished by students in every class. If any problems develop, Leader Teachers will be involved at once. Attendance will be mandatory, and figures will be available to authorities immediately through computer records. Any unexplained truancy will be made known to the Leader teacher who will try to uncover causes and solutions.

Multimedia will be an integral part of computerized education. Computers can use material either through a player on their own machine or through file servers. If the disk is used at the student's machine, records will record the circulation of materials, just like in libraries today. Computers could process any paperwork needed to retrieve the disk so it will be ready when the student needs it. The computer will keep a record of the loan until the disk is returned. Computers will know what material students will require for the next lesson, and can tell them on the previous day to check out a specific disk.

Most computers will have some kind of network connection. Access will require use of a password unique to each student and authorization by the central computer. Every computer will connect to at least one printer to print materials such as homework assignments. For subjects like mathematics, copies of the problems can be taken home. For other subjects, the computer will print a list of the assigned reading material. In the next class, the computer will test students immediately. This will serve as a check on whether homework had been done. The practice will also take advantage of the value of frequent testing as an aid to learning.

For those who have computers at home, material from the computer at school can be downloaded to a disk and taken home. If they wish, pupils without computers will be able to remain after school to work on specific tasks. This practice will be easier as schools become smaller, are located closer to students' homes.

Computers could be available to students in libraries for homework or to do additional work on subjects that interest them. Extra study by students can be expected since learning, by its nature, is enjoyable. Many instances have been recorded of students in classes today who use computers and who want to continue their work on lessons when the class ends [ 60 ].

Some laptop or portable computers will be available for some students to take home with them. They might also be made available for students who will be absent for extended periods for various reasons.

All students will be required, of course, to fulfill certain basic levels of achievement in fundamental courses. These will include reading, writing, math, science, foreign languages, and social studies.

Although students will neither receive grades nor go through a regular series of advancements, such as moving from grade six to grade seven, the computer will be able to demonstrate sufficient progress by a student over a given time frame. A student who is moving at a satisfactory rate will be able to branch off when some part of the course is particularly interesting. Students will be able to request additional learning materials in those subjects that intrigue them. This extra material might be solely for the benefit and enjoyment of the student, but it might also be material that could provide the foundation for seminars moderated by teachers.

Computers will include safety features to protect against radiation emanating from the video displays. A fear may arise that some students will become hackers and raise havoc. Schools will prosper in spite this supposed threat. Exceptionally bright students, who might be able to create some minor disruption, will find their talents even more challenged as they progress at a much faster rate through computerized lessons. Moreover, with today's sophisticated security controls and constantly updated programs, it will be a rare student who can effectively interfere with the system, even to a small degree.

We began by examining some of the work of James Bryant Conant. Although some of his ideas about the value of large schools have been discounted, his eminent position in education remains. He was dedicated in his pursuit of better schools and better teaching for America. Conant was also a renowned scientist, recognized for his brilliant research. At the time of his death in 1978, personal computers were in their infancy. We can only speculate how he might have reacted to an opportunity to integrate modern science and technology with education. Advancements in computers now make it possible. One conclusion seems certain. Conant surely would have been interested in experimenting with computerized education, in the face of the futility of educational changes based on his original studies.

About the Author
Fred Bennett received his undergraduate degree in business administration. When he finished, he thought that he would never have to be in school again. After college, he started working as a salesman and later established a book distribution business.

Idealism then got the better of him and he decided to change the world. He chose to enter the Roman Catholic priesthood. It was back to school again and he received an STL (Licentiate in Sacred Theology) from the Pontifical University Angelicum in Rome, Italy. Returning to the U. S., he taught Greek and performed ministerial functions.

He returned to school again and received M. A. in counseling from the University of New Mexico, and then a Ph.D. in psychology from University of Utah in 1971. After the advanced degrees, he helped set up a treatment program for clergy with alcoholism and also worked in an inner city mental health center. In these environments, he first confronted the reality that some people without education could not get a job, regardless of how much they wanted to work.

Eventually, he realized he was not changing the world and left the priesthood. He directed public addiction treatment programs in Colorado and Florida and married a Ph.D. chemist, who was an excellent teacher. He then established, owned, and directed a group of private addiction treatment centers. He also became interested in computers and began to write programs to handle the paperwork for his company.

In 1990 he sold the business, moved to Sarasota, Florida, and began new projects. He wrote a computer program for artists, which he markets throughout the United States. He also started to think seriously about the problems in education and spent several years studying the subject. His wife's background in education was of immense help. Finally, he sought to bring together what he had acquired from his studying and education, from his experience working with people at all levels, and from his knowledge of computers. The result is this book, "Computers as Tutors: Solving the Crisis in Education."

Frederick Bennett can be reached at

The entire book is ©1996, Fred Bennett.

A Note of Thanks
My thanks go to Marge, above all, who was always so helpful and supportive as this book took shape, and to whom it is dedicated. A number of other people also offered many helpful suggestions, although they did not always agree with all my ideas. These people, in alphabetical order are Gene Best, Isa Dempsey, David Ellison, Margaret Kemner and Earl Krescanko. To all of them, my sincere thanks, and also to Paul Messink who first suggested that I put it on the Internet, and gave me so much help in getting it there.

52. Plato, The Republic, Book IV, 425-B.

53. James B. Conant, 1959. The American High School Today: A First Report to Interested Citizens. New York: McGraw-Hill, p. 40.

54. For a review of some of the research, see William Fox, 1980. "Relationship Between Size of Schools and School Districts and the Cost of Education," U. S. Department of Agriculture, Technical Bulletin no. 1621.

55. For a review, see Leslie Huling, 1980. "How School Size Affects Student Participation, Alienation," NASSP Bulletin, vol. 64, no. 438 (October), pp. 13-18.

56. Fritz Hess, Wilfred Martin, Donald Parker, and Jerry Beck, 1978. "School Size and Its Effect on Achievement and Other Educational Issues," Chapter I of Issues in Education: A Documented Look at Seven Current Topics, compiled by Fritz Hess and others, pp. 1-21.

57. Montgomery County Public Schools (Rockville, Maryland), 1982. "Report of the Small Schools Task Force," 1973 ERIC Clearinghouse on Educational Management, no. 21 (February).

58. Allan C. Ornstein, 1990. "School Size and Effectiveness: Policy Implications," Urban Review, vol. 22, no. 3 (September), pp. 239-245.

59. ERIC Clearinghouse on Educational Management, 1982. School Size: A Reassessment of the Small School. Eugene, Ore.: The Clearinghouse, Research Action Brief no. 21, [4] p.

60. e.g., Jim Stewart and others, 1989. "Science as Model Building," Educational Psychologist, vol. 27, no. 3, p. 334.


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