CMCM LOGO CMC Magazine / Volume 2, Number 6 / June 1, 1995 / Page 6

Beyond the Hype
Planning for Computer Telecommunications in the Classroom

by Arden Rauch (

Internet, the Web, distance learning. . . buzz words that give the impression that schools and teachers are committed to a carefully conceived plan to obtain and utilize the new technologies. Although comprehensive programs do exist in some areas of the country, they are certainly not universal. In order to move beyond all the hyperbole and glitz surrounding the subject of computer telecommunications, schools need a clearly articulated two-part strategy.

First, design a well conceived and pragmatic plan which is technically, educationally, and economically sound. In 30 years of teaching, I have seen quick fixes based on the latest red hot technology. All too often, schools invest in equipment with no coherent plan and, as a result, the purchases are under-utilized, misused, or, sadly, even remain in unopened boxes.

I propose that the "industry" design a Q&A type program that supports the planning process for system design and subsequent integration of the technologies. Many administrators are not computer knowledgeable and rely heavily on, or defer totally, to a person who is willing to assume the responsibility. Even though that person may be technically astute, if consideration is not given to all the factors necessary for successful integration, more failed expectations and unopened boxes will accumulate.

Involve Teachers In The Design Process

The second phase of the strategy is a carefully considered commitment by the school system to involve the teaching staff in the system design and integration process. Unfortunately, equipment without training is frequently the norm. Without substantive training, teachers are left to reinvent the wheel within the isolation of their classrooms. Some will try and succeed, but many will not.

In the business community, support for cooperative and collaborative projects is standard, but that workplace model is not common in schools. Therefore, it is imperative that a school have a clear commitment to training as an integral part of their strategies. For example, without any prior announcement, our department received an expensive computer with a CD-ROM drive; but no one has the faintest idea how to use it. A few of us did figure out how to connect and turn on the components, however the potential for classroom and curricular integration remains totally unaddressed.

My "expertise" in this area stems from the development and management of a bulletin board service for teachers in the Capital Region of New York State. Several years ago, a professor at Union College asked if I would help set up a computer bulletin board for math and science teachers in the area. Although I knew nothing about the subject, I agreed, and with the help of some very patient people, I have since learned some of the basics. Now, with the continued support of Union College and the Greater Capital Region Teacher Center, Capital Area Bulletin Board System (CABBS) has grown to more than 500 users and three telephone lines.

Teacher Reluctance Must Be Addressed

From the beginning, I concluded that my primary task was to give workshops to encourage teachers who are often reluctant to use the technology and are not comfortable with the frustrations involved in the learning phase. Simply, availability does not assure use.

These workshops in turn, led to funding by the Annenberg Corporation for Public Broadcasting to make a video/handbook to increase the use of computer telecommunications among educators. I mention this project not for commercial reasons, but because the video/handbook addresses the central issue of teacher reluctance. Part I conveys the message that this technology is not just for "techies"; non-technical people can do it too. Part II of the video/handbook encourages educators to consider the design and maintenance of their own BBS.

(Editor's note: This video/handbook (CABBS) is listed Annenberg/CPB catalog and can be ordered by calling 1-800-LEARNER.)

Educators Need Industry Support

It is my hope that the computer industry will assist educators in the formulation of a coherent and adaptable strategy to bring their students, and, as a result, their students' families, and the community into the world of computer telecommunications. Neither plan, nor purchase, nor implementation will occur effectively or efficiently without informed and sustained industry support. -

Arden R. Rauch is a high school Earth Science teacher. With support from Union College, Schenectady, NY., she developed a free 14 county BBS for science and math teachers in the Capital Region of New York State.

Copyright © 1995 by Arden Rauch. All Rights Reserved.