Educating America for the 21st Century

A Strategic Plan for Educational Leadership, 1999—2004

by Robbie McClintock and Kim Taipale

New York: Institute for Learning Technologies, 1999. A color brochure, 22pp.

Length: 9,350 words


Entering the 21st century, Americans embark on an era of historic change in which they are using new information technologies to renovate education and society for the betterment of humankind. The Institute for Learning Technologies seeks to help advance these changes by exerting educational leadership through innovative projects, seminal research, and enlightened counsel. It aims to nurture, in a sustained manner, the humane application of information technologies, expanding educational opportunity and achievement for all.

At the turn of the century, a new strategic context for educational policy and practice emerges. Government, corporations, and philanthropies are investing substantial resources, opening access to information and research for broad use in schools, colleges and universities, and through libraries and other cultural and public service institutions. These large initiatives, together with secondary public and private funding, will invest many billions of dollars in information technology and its cultural uses over the coming decade. To achieve the educational and cultural potentials of such investment, educators need to step to the forefront of the effort, asserting leadership and taking responsibility for initiative.

Educating America for the 21st Century presents a strategic plan through which Teachers College and Columbia University can exercise educational leadership. By tradition, they must seize the opportunities presented by the flux of history to help shape a robust and humane information-based society. In the 21st century, information and knowledge will arbitrate the fate of both individuals and institutions, and, more than ever, an enlightened citizenry will need to be intellectually empowered to provide for the common good. The Institute for Learning Technologies exists to help shape the effort by Teachers College and Columbia University to grasp these historic opportunities, and the Institute's program of practice follows from this purpose.

To educate America for the 21st century, educators need a firm, astute agenda, a strategic vision that can inform the kaleidoscope of practice with purpose and direction. Established educational arrangements constitute a complex system of immense scale. A bright innovation, here or there within the system, will not change it. A diversity of large, sustained efforts, working in many different domains, all bound together through shared vision and energy, all combined over time, will result in transformative improvements.

Here then is the essence of the Institute's strategic plan: use technologies to enable educators to address the intractable pedagogical problems, seeking their clear correction; implement sustainable projects, each with the potential for evident success at the local level; use institutional alliances to pursue systemic results that transform practice at all its levels; and throughout all, chart, not correctives, but the fundamental betterment through education effective for all.

This document presents the Institute's strategic plan in three parts. "A Program of Practice" sets the basic objectives that the Institute works to advance and it explains why ILT holds these to be of compelling importance. "Effecting a Strategic Vision" addresses the problem of means, the challenge of generating significant historical force. How can a small group achieve resonant effects, advancing difficult objectives? "Imperatives of Implementation" concludes the plan by setting out proximate goals against which observers can assess the effectiveness of ILT's effort over coming years.

Through this plan, the Institute invites all who share its vision to participate in the effort to help all people use information technology to fulfill their aspirations and potentials.

A Program of Practice

Let us frame basic objectives with a sense of historical perspective. In the 21st century and after, education will differ significantly from education in the 20th century and before. The Institute's objectives aim to abet this transition.

Historically, changes in technologies change what people can do in life. New technologies do not determine human fates; they alter the spectrum of potentialities within which people act. The new communications technologies significantly affect the matters that give ideas value and power in human activity—they facilitate the production and reproduction of ideas; they expand the storage of ideas and make their retrieval faster and more adaptable to the constraints of situation, time, and place; they improve the transmission of ideas, expand selection among them, and strengthen the human capacity to use ideas to process information intelligently. As communications technologies change how people can reproduce, store and retrieve, transmit, select, and process ideas, they transform the range of options within which people determine their lives.

Technologies facilitate many modes of collaborative interaction in working with ideas and information. As collaboration with ideas increasingly pervades daily life, both work and leisure in the 21st century will increasingly resemble idealized models of academic scholarship—both work and leisure will be collaborative; they will focus on inquiry, innovation, and design; they will engage people in producing new knowledge, ideas, and experiences. Mentefacture is displacing manufacture. If 20th-century life was the era of industrial democracy, that of the 21st should become the era of intellectual democracy. The values inherent in the house of intellect will be central to the emerging commonweal.

Creating an era of intellectual democracy is a worthy mission for educators, but to fulfill it, they too must master the possibilities of the new technologies. Formal education must adopt a new pedagogy, oriented not to text-bound subject matters, but to dynamic operational skills and collaborative modes of inter-disciplinary thinking. Students will require new languages to interact with information systems—they will require a multi-modal literacy combining video, audio, graphics, animation, and simulation, along with text. Students will require a more refined ability to handle the language of inquiry, knowing where and how to formulate and frame their questions, to obtain useful information, and to create empowering ideas. They will require the capacity to produce new knowledge by discovering, selecting, and combining previously unrelated data in novel ways. Education will increasingly be judged, not only by what the well-instructed prove to know, but more fully by what people are empowered to do in fulfilling their lives and contributing to the greater social good. Knowledge is power—for all.

Schools—K12, colleges and universities—will increasingly use methods that engage students in inquiry and action. Teachers will become intellectual coaches, helping students to interact with diverse databases of networked multimedia resources and to participate actively in cultural work. Traditional teaching through extrinsic manipulation or reinforcement—in practice more random than planned—will give way to involving students meaningfully in task-oriented learning projects connected to their life-experience. Assessment will be through portfolios and performances rather than standardized tests and impersonal grade-point averages. Such assessment will encourage performance mastery, more than test taking or laboring at set assignments.

During the 20th century, educators created the large, comprehensive school as the norm of service. During the 21st, they are replacing that with a smaller, more personal place of education, the essential school—schools that students, parents, and teachers can find to be engaging, committed, meaningful, and moving. Efforts to effect educational reform are nurturing small, effective schools, committed to equity and engagement. These work well, and will become the norm of good practice.

Graduate Studies in Educational Informatics

Critics worry about an either-or, however: small, essential schools will either prove very expensive or they will be unable to provide effectively for a diversity of individual needs, something the comprehensive schools were designed to do efficiently. This worry will disappear as educators develop advanced technologies to create a networking infrastructure for education designed to enable students and teachers in essential schools to employ, at low cost and large effect, the full range of powerful educational tools, cultural resources, and social services available electronically. These technologies will enable small essential schools to provide comprehensive yet compelling opportunities for their students far more effectively than large, impersonal schools have done, working all-too-well as alienating instructional factories.

Educational change is not, and should not be, technologically driven—but it is, and always has been, technologically enabled. Printing enabled the transformation of education because it altered the limiting conditions under which people engaged in the advancement of learning. As with printing, new communications technologies will enable the complete redesign of educational practice because they likewise alter the constraints conditioning the creation and use of knowledge.

Although the digital technologies are enabling a new wave of educational innovations, they are unlikely to bring historically novel pedagogical principles in their train. Innovation occurs as new commonsense practice emerges from obscure, peripheral practices, from what traditionally was generally too difficult for general practice, however attractive in principle it might have been. This is the way of historical change. Communication innovations alter the ecology of historical effectiveness. Dominant practices become marginal; possibilities that were difficult under traditional constraints become feasible under different, emerging conditions. Thus, the once marginal becomes newly dominant.

New communications technologies create challenging opportunities. But opportunity is not tantamount to actuality. Educators must grasp the opportunities. Their educational innovations will determine the cultural and social characteristics of the resulting arrangements. The Institute seeks to implement such innovations according to progressive educational principles, holding that these will enable a greater proportion of people to attain an education that is both personally meaningful and culturally significant. The Institute's program of practice seeks ways for schools, universities, libraries, museums and other cultural institutions to capitalize on opportunities emerging through current innovations, to extend their educative resources deeply into the community, and to make them available to the broadest possible audience through effective use of information technology.

New communications technologies are facilitating once hard to practice pedagogies—learning by doing, inquiry-based education, project methods, autonomous study, in short, the great humanistic hopes and unfulfilled progressive aspirations that educators have long held. These have been the aspirations of the enlightenment tradition and the Institute believes that in the 21st century Teachers College and Columbia University should and will be at the vanguard of their historical fulfillment. Towards this end, the Institute seeks to advance four basic objectives:

These are large objectives, as befits the premise of historical engagement.

Effecting a Strategic Vision

In practical work through the Institute, history is primary. ILT's basic objectives arise from a context of historical reflection. Reliance on historical reflection makes the Institute distinctive as an agency of change in education. The dominant model of educational reform is one of applied educational and psychological research. Instead, ILT grounds its work in historical reflection and cultural interpretation. Effective educational practices are those that prove suitable with respect to complex historical and cultural conditions. Effective innovation rests on insight and understanding, both informed and inspired. The conscious pursuit of change, the design and implementation of an historical pedagogy, arises through immersion in the field of practice, seeding it with educational arrangements that have the capacity to flourish within the emerging cultural ecology. Simply put, in grounding pedagogical change historically, one bases effort, not on proven theory, but on strategic vision.

Effecting a strategic vision in education requires the sustained application of diverse resources in a deliberate manner, according to a reasoned plan. It is to help lay the groundwork for such an effort that the Institute has designed its program of practice. The Institute believes that there are four distinct requirements to effecting systemic educational change. These are:

The Institute has developed its program to meet these requirements and to provide a framework for the mobilization of disparate elements in a common endeavor.

A Proof of Concept

A significant alternative to current practice will necessarily not be novel. Technological innovation exerts historical influence by empowering traditionally marginal practices to become dominant and formerly dominant ones marginal. Technological change enables such new possibilities by shifting the balance of constraint and facilitation, altering which possibilities predominate and which hover eccentrically at the margins of practice. The proof of concept that the Institute seeks will show that several factors converge through the new technologies to make the implementation of progressive educational principles more effective in the absolute and relatively more suitable as the predominant form of educational practice than they have hitherto been.

Teaching Local History with Primary Sources

Traditional educational technology made implementation of progressive principles difficult. The individual teacher had a limited stock of knowledge. Were the teacher to give a class of active children free rein to inquire about a topic, starting from a given set of particulars, the children would quickly branch out beyond the limits of the teacher's competence. The school, which would have at best a limited library that is awkward to use in the give and take of questioning, could not respond effectively to the play of inquiry. Thus in practice the child-centered pedagogy encountered difficulties in implementation. The new information technologies significantly increase the ability of the teacher and the school to sustain the open-ended inquiries that diverse students can generate, making progressive pedagogy more practicable.

This resuscitation of progressivism is the concept. The proof of it will be in the practice, however. The real know-how essential will come from the field. The Institute is working with numerous teachers in diverse schools, across all grades and subjects. ILT will increasingly shape its professional development work to identify and communicate classroom-based know-how to an ever-widening circle of teachers. ILT needs first to help innovating teachers discover how to use digital tools to support progressive pedagogy, and then, observing and celebrating their discoveries, it needs to develop ways to spread successful practices to more and more electronic classrooms, disseminating the emerging norms of new practice. In this way, the Institute will test whether a renewal of progressivism can shift the balance of pedagogical practice.

A digital information infrastructure, enabling students and teachers to use powerful educational tools in the study of cultural resources, unprecedented in depth, breadth, and flexibility, will enable educators to raise the span of pedagogical possibility for all. These developments should have greatest value for those presently least-well served by our educational institutions. Many activities associated with the Institute seek to demonstrate that educational use of networked multimedia can greatly shorten the intellectual distance separating the frontiers of research, professional practice, and creative artistry from the introductory processes by which people, especially the young, construct their understanding of their culture. The Institute has been demonstrating the educational significance of such developments through diverse projects, among them –

Harlem Environmental Access Project

In typical schools, the reigning instructional strategy is based on the textbook as an abridgment of subject matter that students should master in unison, subject by subject and grade by grade, even school by school. The Institute believes that construction will displace instruction and curricula will become a study support system, helping students construct their understanding of a field by working in small groups, with advanced tools and resources, surrounded by engaging databases of networked multimedia resources, motivated by powerful pedagogical questions, ones inherent in living finite lives in an infinite universe. The Institute is seeking to develop a proof of concept for this alternative model of study and believes that there are significant opportunities for joint development projects between educational practitioners and a research university such as Columbia. Over the coming years, the Institute will continue to expand such efforts, currently represented by projects such as these –

The Digital Dante Project

Throughout the 20th century, a significant divide separated higher education from elementary, secondary, and adult education. Essentially the apparatus developed to support for higher education was too expensive per capita to deploy in elementary and secondary schools. This was especially true of the apparatus developed to support work in elite colleges and research universities, with the result that a gulf separated the cultural character of work in these institutions and that in typical schools. This situation is changing.

Creating a digitally-based apparatus for scholarship, research, and professional practice is still a difficult and expensive enterprise. But insofar as this digital apparatus has been created, the per capita marginal costs of extending access to it will be minimal. As a result, educators can dismantle the divide, and research universities, long set apart from the rest of education, can become the font of preferred educational practice, not by turning away from what they do best, but by pushing forward with it, adapting it fully to the possibilities of digital communication.

In this process, the Institute for Learning Technologies functions as a facilitator, helping Columbia and other universities redirect their on-line intellectual resources, creating pedagogical strategies enabling novices to use advanced materials productively, and developing the potentialities of a unified intellectual environment for educational practice writ large. To fulfill this role, the Institute seeks to push initial projects to a much higher level of development in two overlapping areas: curriculum development and teacher education.

The Curriculum Navigator

With curriculum development, ILT wants to mobilize substantial resources to convert its prototype, the Columbia Curriculum Navigator, into a premier Web portal for K12 education, bringing the intellectual resources of higher education fully into operation within elementary, secondary, and adult education. Columbia can advance this purpose with effective attention to three things. First, subject-matter specialists need to expand the correlation between national and state learning standards and the ever-changing contents of the web. Second, ILT and its collaborators should generate a growing, deepening body of on-line pedagogical insight, know-how, and reflection, providing would-be users—teachers, parents, and children—with immediate support. Thiial repor rd, the pedagogical implications of electronic curricula need much further development with careful attention to the way sustained assignments, addressed to small groups of collaborating students, may supplant collections of traditional lesson plans, which address the work and needs of teachers, not those of students. Students, not teachers, are the primary users of information and communications technologies in homes and schools. In the emerging educational environment, the locus of causal initiative in the process of education will shift from the teacher to the student. The successful design of a powerful pedagogical portal will follow from the degree to which it enables both the student and the teacher to act effectively in educational settings where this shift in initiative and control has taken place.

With teacher education, the near monopoly on the interaction between K12 classrooms and higher education, which schools of education have traditionally held, is fast disappearing as the World Wide Web opens the on-line reference, research, and course resources developed in colleges and universities to study by curious children around the globe. With digital communications technologies spreading throughout the world of education, the separation of schools and higher education into two, largely distinct, educational cultures will markedly diminish. Specialists in education will need to work closely with scholars, scientists, and professionals to embed powerful learning experiences for diverse students into the digital means for advancing knowledge. Students in schools will routinely have access to a wide range of sophisticated sources and intellectual tools, enabling them to raise questions to which teachers will frequently have no ready answers. In schools that use technology well, the teaching staff will need much greater sophistication than it has traditionally needed in managing open-ended inquiry by students, using advanced intellectual sources and tools. In short, those engaged in advancing the frontiers of knowledge will need greater sophistication in the pedagogies of its apprehension by the less sophisticated, and those engaged in helping the young learn to participate in the use of knowledge will need greater sophistication about advanced research and inquiry. Such changes suggest that recruitment to the teaching profession and the locus of teacher preparation in the university will undergo significant long-term secular changes. ILT will work across Columbia University and Teachers College to organize a consortium to use the University's telecommunications linkages with New York City schools to create a 21st Century Teacher Preparation network serving the schools in the Upper Manhattan Empowerment Zone.

ILT Internships

To provide a full proof of concept for a new paradigm of education, educators need develop comprehensive initiatives in all these areas. Educational institutions have entered into the initial stages of a profound historical reconfiguration. The Institute for Learning Technologies, Teachers College, and Columbia University have the responsibility and the opportunity to exert leadership in this reconfiguration, showing how networked multimedia on a national and global scale can support diverse, engaging efforts to transmit and extend the culture. By developing its planned initiatives in these areas, the Institute must show that significant transformations of education are in fact feasible, providing the first component, the proof of concept, requisite to its strategic vision. Consider now the second component, a driving force, something that might provide the historical energy needed to convert intimations of the possible into instantiations of the actual.

A Driving Force

Technological innovation is an essential enabling factor in the educational developments that the Institute seeks to promote. It is hard, however, to draw sustained strength from technological change alone. Too often educators adopt a new technology as if it were a stable foundation for their novel efforts; what starts as an energizing empowerment all-too-quickly becomes an impediment of installed obsolescence.

Over the past decade the Institute has kept current with the curve of innovation. During the early 1990's, ILT helped develop the Dalton Technology Plan, which represented the application of commercial grade local-area networking to the educational needs of the school. That project demonstrated the educational value of well-networked small-group workstations in the classroom, at a ratio of about one workstation to five students, linked to an advanced set of servers in the school, providing email and user accounts for all teachers and students, tethered to the Internet by a broadband connection. McKinsey & Company used that model as the basis for its influential report on the prospective costs of integrating technology into the schools nationally and ILT has continued to use it as the basis of its testbed construction through HEAP, the Living Schoolbook Project, and the Eiffel Project.

To draw power from new technologies over time, educators need to do so by engaging in the process of technological innovation, not simply by acquiring its products. A significant element of the Institute's program consists of efforts to integrate its activities into the very processes of technological innovation so that, over time, the processes themselves will become imbued with a substantial dynamism towards educational reform.

As a driving force in educational change, the well-networked presence in every classroom of multiple small-group workstations seems increasingly insufficient. Full access to the possibilities enabled by digital technologies requires a more complex technological environment. Until now, industry has designed few digital products specifically for use in schools. Educators generally must select hardware designed for home or office and turn it to classroom use. They should shift from perceiving potential educational value in products developed for non-educational activities to defining specifications for products optimized for educational purposes and finding manufacturers willing to provide those products at affordable costs.

For instance, high-end laptops designed for corporate executives are beginning to prove very useful in the classroom. They are nevertheless not necessarily optimized for those uses. Cheaper, more flexible devices might work even better. The Institute plans to develop and publicize a clear request for educational products, such as a student's hand-held digital companion. Such an appliance would have a distinctive list of features, and manufacturers should find it feasible to package these together effectively. If they did it well, the device could have a potentially very high-volume (although very low-margin) market. The era of adapting designs developed for other purposes to the needs of schools should end. It is time for educational leaders to define the hardware requirements for the devices they need and to challenge industry to deliver them at top quality and rock bottom prices.

Community School District 6 Laptop Program

Another problem with educational tools arises because schools often proceed on a one-size-fits-all basis. In reality, schools need tools for a number of different types of users in several different typical settings. In the school the network should be ubiquitous, offering wireless hook-up so that students and teachers need not be tethered to a room or to a desk. The needs of children vary, let us postulate on the basis of K through 2nd grade, 3rd through 5th, 6th through 8th, and 9th through 12th. Teachers need an in-class installation that supports their work with the whole class; they need a professional support center in the school; and they need a reasonably full-featured home or portable computer for use outside the school. Higher level administrators should move about the school and need flexible, easy-to-use, digital communications devices wherever they happen to be, while support staff should have well-networked desktop information management resources that allow them to interact effectively and efficiently with students, teachers, administrators, and parents. Parents should have access to information appliances that allow them to be apprised substantively about their child's educational experience and to act in support of the teacher and the school. In actuality, schools rarely plan with their full spectrum of needs in view. They respond first to one need and then to another. As a result, a hodgepodge of resources are usually available from one school to another.

Given an infrastructure, adequate programming is a further fundamental. The software available for education is incomplete, poorly integrated, bloated with unnecessary features, and difficult to use. Powerful corporations have designed the dominant operating systems and applications programs to market to affluent businesses and individuals under quasi monopoly conditions. This presents a problem to schools. One does not equip school-bus fleets with luxury tour buses. Developers have not yet optimized software for educational uses. Schools require a comprehensive, well-integrated user environment, serving a wide range of purposes, often in unique ways. Commercial software development conditions put the creators of educational software in difficult situations. Schools cannot afford all the different programs that they need, assuming they could find them all on the market. The Internet has, of course, greatly facilitated this option, providing a flood of quality content at very low costs with immense interoperability over diverse systems on the market. Yet content alone does not an education make; schools must integrate in many other programs as well—applications, simulation tools, experimental probes, multimedia editing and presentation programs, email and conferencing, information management resources, and on. With conditions of systems-bloat inflating costs for all these components and delaying their development, even affluent schools end up with an incomplete collection of programs that work poorly together and a staff desperate for sufficient training.

There is a chicken and egg problem in developing the educational uses of the information infrastructure that can only be solved by binding systems design and applications design in a tight, iterative reciprocity. The Institute will offer a full range of technology consulting services to schools, helping them design comprehensive, sustainable installations. With respect to hardware, ILT will work with large schools systems, particularly that of New York City, to develop specifications for technology appliances and systems optimized for pedagogical usefulness, and will serve as an expert agent ensuring that major producers supply the types of products schools require. A major project of the Institute over the next five years will assemble a coalition of software developers to create a stable, easy-to-use, comprehensive body of software for schools through open source development. Educators will develop a driving force from new communications technologies as they move from the current level of per pupil software expenditure and force that cost down to $0 through a concerted effort to provide educational leadership to the open source software movement.

A Moving Social Vision

Technology is a powerful, yet indeterminate, tool of change. Educators must make their actions with technology serve determinate values; they incur historical responsibilities to be activists with respect to the problems of their times. Technological change is neither a malevolent corrupter nor a beneficent machine that guides itself, able to cure social ills without people choosing to make an effort to do so. In the course of its work in education and technology, the Institute intends to address social and civic problems that merit effort as digital technologies become pervasive in education and culture.

At the turn of the 21st century, the rich enjoy ever-more dynamic wealth while the poor face civic stasis. It is a time of public parsimony. To understand what to do with technology, educators need a diagnosis of this prevailing paucity of purpose. Western societies seem to have backed away from further pursuit of their underlying ideals and aspirations. Post-modernist intellectuals legitimate this abdication with chatter about the irrelevance of grand narratives, as if their endless description of symptoms might somehow serve as a redeeming remedy. It is but another opiate. Educators must ask whether the ideals of equality, autonomous participation, and rational self-governance are intrinsically meaningless and worth no serious common effort? Or have people now withdrawn from pursuing the historical fulfillment of such ideals further for some other reason?

Educators need to diagnosis why a generous civic spirit turns mean and stingy. Public parsimony makes sense, often even to those who still believe and feel deeply committed to the ideals of our liberal traditions, if people believe that effective means for achieving those ideals are not available to them. The problem may result from the context, not from the text. The stirring aspirations of enlightenment for all may not be wrong and defunct, unworthy of human hope and effort. Rather people may perceive that the means now available for pursuing these ideals, namely, the techniques of programmatic administration in the context of the democratic nation-state, have reached the limits of their historical effectiveness. The whole complex context of bureaucratic social service and rational public control—schools, hospitals, police, sanitation, public transportation, social services, benefits for this and that, the protection of rights, and on—have all done great good in providing conditions under which life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness are meaningful expectations to the majority of people in some societies and to significant minorities in others. But where they have been most effective, the further extension of their effects slows; their costs accelerate; and they approach the limits of their effectiveness—limits that leave the driving ideals far short of fulfillment.

The New Deal Natwork

To break through the prevailing public parsimony, educators need to rekindle belief that people have effective means for advancing basic ideals towards historical achievement. With familiar means approaching their limits, this breakthrough requires a transformation in which new principles of action incorporate and transcend the old, working well where the old have ceased to have effect. Educators should adopt new communications technologies, not because these are, in themselves, some sort of good, but because they may offer new means, renewing pursuit of long established, but far-from-finished goals. As people address the limits of action evident in existing programs, a moving social vision will emerge. Public parsimony will give way when people begin to see significant achievements in areas where they have ceased to expect them. The Institute wants to address two such domains.

From social reproduction to educational self-determination. Ideas of educational self-determination motivated the original creation of modern school systems. Each person should have substantial opportunity to cultivate his or her potentials to the full, and as Jefferson perceived, those societies that best delivered such opportunities to their members would thrive, able to draw on the fully developed spectrum of human abilities dispersed through the populace. During the 20th century, the leading nation-states have expended vast resources to implement this rationale. The results, profoundly characteristic of modern life, fall far short of the ideal. The system legitimates a second-class status for those who fail at school. It offers some a measure of educational self-determination, which works to co-opt renewing talent into established elites while in the aggregate it reproduces socio-economic divisions and biases.

Existing schools do not serve significant portions of the population well, and very few members of the public believe that additional monies and improved leadership will suddenly enable existing schools to meet effectively the needs of those it now so poorly serves. The Institute believes it is of compelling civic importance to redress poor performance by the schools. Educators using technologies in ways that will transform the system must show that a new system of education can meet the needs of the rural and inner-city poor. The Eiffel Project and the North Hudson Electronic Education Empowerment Project (NHEEEP) have this goal.

North Hudson Electronic Education

Advanced media in education are promising as a positive solution to existing inequalities because they introduce new causal forces in education. New technologies are not merely a good to be distributed, but a force to be shaped and activated. In concept, networked multimedia can make the richest, most powerful resources of our culture available to anyone, anywhere, at any time, and in principle this change should have greatest relative value to those who presently have least access to the fullness of our culture. All children will benefit, but the least advantaged children can benefit the most. The Institute holds that digital learning technologies bear within them potentials for renewing pursuit of progressive social consequences. The Institute will work to activate that promise.

Democracy in a world of global, inter-generational choice. With the rise of industrialism and the spread of advanced techniques in economics, medicine, law, and government, much of life has been stabilized and rendered relatively predictable. That has not, however, banished risk and uncertainty, but rendered them more abstract, more global, and more long-ranged. With these transformations, problems of public choice change significantly. Accountability, which could once be handled well through elections every few years within localities, regions, and nation-states, now becomes, in addition, a global, inter-generational problem, turning often on obtusely abstract relationships, visible—if visible at all—only through very sophisticated statistical analyses and projections.

Global development brings challenges of astounding complexity and frightening finality. In the face of experience, measures of educational quality for the person and for the public are prospective, not retrospective. Old norms mean little if they prove irrelevant to future hazards. Henry Adams described it well—"Not a man there knew what his task was to be, or was fitted for it; every one without exception, Northern or Southern, was to learn his business at the cost of the public.... Their education was to cost a million lives and ten thousand million dollars, more or less, North and South, before the country could recover its balance and movement."

In the 21st century, the destabilizing challenges will arise from the complexities of global interrelationships. For the first time in history, humans are becoming aware of how everything affects everything else in health, industry, agriculture, planning, transportation, trade, government, and the nurture of nature, as these cut across all walks and conditions and cultures of the world. The ability to experience these global interrelations arises largely through the capacity of digital communications to manage stupendous complexities of information and ideas. Learning to cope with this complexity is the long-ranged pedagogical challenge that current systems cannot manage.

To craft an education that allows our progeny to prepare prospectively to cope with these complexities without a forced re-education imposed by cataclysmic events, Americans need to extend their collective capacity for comprehension far beyond norms of past sufficiency. Declining standards are not the educational problem; the inability to raise standards—markedly, rapidly, across the whole spectrum of achievement—is the truly portentous problem. The Institute has begun to address such issues through the Harlem Environmental Access Project and work with Columbia's Earth Institute, Biosphere II, and the Black Rock Forest Consortium. But these efforts are at most a mere beginning. The Institute seeks to join with other innovative groups, nearby and round the world, to address this pedagogical challenge created by the human need to exercise public choice on a global, inter-generational scale.

Institutions seeking to influence change incur historical responsibility for the consequences of their actions. The Institute intends for its efforts and those of Teachers College and Columbia University to stand the test of time as a national model for an effective information-based society, one that people will experience as both empowering and equitable, renewing the Enlightenment agenda, displacing the current public parsimony with a renewed liberality in the pursuit of the public good.

Tangible Institutional Leverage

Institutional leverage helps advance innovation in education. To move new possibilities from potentiality to actuality, educators need powerful leverage on working institutions. Schools and colleges are remarkably resistant to change. One can demonstrate the power of new practices; one can link them with material forces restructuring the practical use of information and ideas; one can imbue them with a compelling sense of public purpose; but without gaining institutional leverage on the educational system, the effort will remain peripheral.

Institutional leverage must be substantive; it must comprise significant changes in specific, active institutions and experiential realities in the life and work of individual students and teachers, parents and administrators, professors and researchers. In addition, institutional leverage arises when innovations become contagious, spreading infectiously from school to school, from college to college, from level to level, from locality to locality. When that happens for a sustained period, systemic change will result.

How? One requisite is an alert attention, an open mind, a willingness to observe, hypothesize, and test. Another is to look for the deep diagnoses, insights into pervasive etiologies that go almost unquestioned because they seem to be a necessary part of the order of things. The Institute is working with two such deep diagnoses, one pertaining to assumptions about the relationship between the size and the quality of schools and the other to assumptions about the relationship between the transmission of knowledge and its generation. Both sets of assumptions involve defining a dilemma, a key trade-off that seemingly must be made and that, in being made, appears to set the leading characteristics of most educational efforts. By developing the educational uses of digital resources through networked multimedia, educators can restructure these trade-offs in hitherto impossible ways, generating leverage for change.

Consider first the relationship between school size and school quality. The twentieth century has been the era of school consolidation and common sense long held that the good school was a large school, one able to accommodate students of different needs with the services of specialists with different skills. The mid-century vision pointed to the comprehensive school as the school of choice, able to serve at once the academically gifted, the remedially needful, and the vocationally minded. This vision, which seemed so reasonable with respect to the aggregate, has not necessarily served well with respect to the person. Individual children, their parents and friends, teachers, coaches, and counselors, all need a place of bonding, one in which each can engage with others in the creation of shared meaning. Increasingly, late-century research shows students in small schools doing better than in large, learning more and coping more effectively with the stresses of coming to age. As an alternative to the comprehensive school, reformers increasingly turn to the essential school, the school that respects the essentials of interpersonal relationships, of the human dignity and thoughtful values common across all the cultural diversities of our heterogeneous society.

Playing to Win

Yet the dilemma remains—people differ in their needs, interests, and abilities. The small school caters to these differences only at great expense; the large school nurtures a sense of meaningful place only through heroic exceptionality. Here is where digital technologies can alter the traditional trade-off. Small schools supported by powerful, wide-area networks can provide students with effective access to a great diversity of experiences, resources, and specialists, yet they can do so on an engaging, personal scale in their immediate surroundings. Essential, intensely inter-personal schools, supported by comprehensive digital networks will transform the twentieth-century either-or into a twenty-first century both-and. The Institute believes that this combination can develop into a thorough-going structural reconfiguration of educational institutions of immense cultural and social import.

Consider second the relationship between advancing and transmitting knowledge. Since the Renaissance, scholarship and science have become increasingly esoteric. To advance knowledge in virtually any field, scholars and scientists required access to costly, sensitive instruments and painstaking, exhaustive collections. These have been assembled with great patience and diligence and they have been difficult to use, requiring subtle skill and careful interpretation. Materials have been hard to acquire, experiments hard to conduct, results have been transient and difficult to record.

Great strides have been made through printing and related techniques, through photography and the like, in making the results of systematic inquiry accessible to the general public and to discerning specialists. But access to the conduct of inquiry itself has been severely limited. How many have worked directly from a papyrus fragment of Homer or prepared a metallurgical sample for scanning by an electron microscope? In field after field, the working laboratory and academic archive are special places reserved for initiates, who gain access only after arduous preparation. They are not places for educating raw youth and bumbling novices.

Throughout the era of print, education has rarely been empirical, understanding empirical education as a process by which students master fields of inquiry and practice by using the data and tools of the different disciplines and professions to solve substantive problems and to answer challenging questions. Instead, education has been dogmatic and derivative, based on digests, authoritative at best. Even school laboratories are stylized simplifications having little resemblance to the working laboratories of the subjects they represent. Too often, the laboratory becomes a place where students go through the motions that an authoritative menu prescribes.

Traditional limitations are changing. Nearly all the data acquired in working laboratories is fast becoming digitized and it moves rapidly across networks from lab to lab and researcher to researcher. More and more, scholars capture, observe, analyze, and interpret all this material with computer-based tools, many of which are not difficult to use. The emerging information infrastructure can transport all these observations, measurements, collections, and models to virtually anyone anywhere, along with control over powerful tools of rendering, calculation, comparison, selection, organization, and expression. Collaboratories spring up, electronic linkages for sharing findings and discussing implications. These are the developments restructuring the relationship between the production and dissemination of knowledge. These developments make empirical education a general possibility and change the relation ordinary people can have to the work of producing knowledge.

To make empirical education work well, educators need two key elements: fast, flexible, easy access to advanced digital libraries of data and tools, and powerful challenges and questions that will activate curious minds. When educators put such challenges to students, the students in turn will engage themselves, individually and as groups, in the work of empirical inquiry and reflection. A significant part of the funding for the national information infrastructure can support such work. It is in this sense that the idea of empirical education is commensurate with the emerging information infrastructure. As more and more resources and activities pour into the information infrastructure, empirical education becomes more and more feasible, more and more powerful.

Through a University-wide initiative to promote empirical education, the Institute will help shape and deploy these developments, in which efforts to advance research and to improve education converge. The more research and education converge in practice, the more leverage there will be for the use of advanced technologies in education.

Action through technical innovation is too contingent to have foreknowledge that chosen strategies will lead decisively to desired destinies. History is always rich in ironies. Despite such imponderables, however, educators should seek to shape the processes of change to reflect their deep-felt purposes. With that intent, the Institute affirms a strategic vision. Guided by this vision, the Institute seeks to achieve historical effects of humane significance through a sustained effort to develop proposals, and through them projects, that provide:

The Institute is working towards this strategic vision in a sustained way. To facilitate this work, the Institute has identified a few imperatives of implementation, practical goals to pursue while engaged in the diversity of its activities.

Imperatives of Implementation

This strategic plan sets an ambitious agenda for the Institute. Although ambitious, it is a plan proportioned to the scale of action requisite to make technology deepen and extend the potentialities of education for all. Moreover, it is a plan commensurate with the stature of Teachers College and of Columbia University.

Any group that seeks to help transform education with digital technologies must find the wherewithal sufficient to exert meaningful effects on comprehensive, pervasive institutions, such as education and the information infrastructure. These are universal concerns that touch an incredible diversity of people. To change them, one must act through local institutions and specific programs in ways that have distinctive consequences far beyond those local institutions and specific programs.

To work towards the renewal of education with digital tools, the Institute, Teachers College, and Columbia University should concentrate on the four basic objectives of this plan—technology configuration, curriculum innovation, professional development, and policy formation—and by effecting its strategic vision—developing a proof of concept, harnessing the driving force of technical innovation, generating a moving social vision, and exerting tangible institutional leverage. To accomplish these general aims, the Institute must achieve proximate goals in concrete ways. Over the next few years, the Institute will work systematically to fulfill seven implementation imperatives by 2004. These are challenges that relate to the particulars of the immediate situation, the Institute's means towards its objectives and its strategic vision.

  1. Act to bring the full resources of Teachers College and Columbia University to bear in using technologies to improve education.
    • Continue building the linkages between ILT and the program in Communication, Computing, and Technology in Education at Teachers College. Fund a broad range of paying internships for students in CCTE.
    • Build the capacity of Teachers College to provide graduate students in GSAS, SEAS, and other Columbia schools general know-how about teaching and the requisite mentoring to acquire teacher certification, should they desire it.
    • Work with the Columbia Center for New Media Teaching and Learning to identify technology-based resources that may have significant educational value for use in K12 schools.
  2. Mobilize the resources, financial and human, needed to implement the Institute's strategic plan.
    • Increase ILT's endowment from approximately $1,000,000 to $10,000,000 in order to enable ILT to maintain an adequate core staff and well-equipped quarters while ceasing to need support from the University's Strategic Initiative Fund.
    • Recruit key new staff members, especially a chief operating officer who can direct day-to-day operation.
    • Design at least one new media resource, probably the Columbia Curriculum Navigator, that produces significant royalties by 2002.
  3. Develop sustained initiatives shaping the hardware and software available for use in schools.
    • Publicize specifications for school networks and educational appliances and get major suppliers to produce them.
    • Initiate creation of an open-source software environment for schools and see that the complete repertoire is available by 2004.
    • Lead consortia making effective educational use of Bell Atlantic's Diffusion Fund and the E-Rate.
  4. Create the connections and procedures that will enable ILT to work in concert with existing organizations to achieve its objectives.
    • Put together a management structure for the diverse schools participating in ILT projects.
    • Establish formal consulting arrangements, paid through a Board of Education contract, with key high schools and community school districts in Upper Manhattan, especially CSD6.
    • Submit successful proposals extending the Eiffel Project beyond 2001 and providing funding to keep the ILT school testbed at the leading edge of technical and pedagogical practice.
  5. Promote the educational use of digital research resources.
    • Secure funding, and a broader base of participation, to continue development of efforts such as Digital Dante and the New Deal Network.
    • Find ways to enable K12 schools to participate in Columbia's digital library projects and work with researchers to make their on-line resources and tools accessible in schools to non-specialists.
  6. Implement just-in-time arrangements for technology-based pre-service and in-service professional development.
    • Establish school media centers in 50 or more schools connected to the Columbia testbed and deliver on-demand technology-based professional development through them.
    • Put collaboratories for teachers and administrators in New York City schools into operation and build a broad base of participation in them.
  7. Activate the Web as a medium for developing and disseminating educational ideas and practices.
    • Complete the thorough revision of ILTweb by the start of the 1999-2000 academic year.
    • Construct ILT web resources as tools of program implementation and require all staff to participate in the development of ILTweb.
    • Engage a wide circle of teachers and students in the use and construction of ILTweb as an educational resource.

With sustained attention to these implementation imperatives, the Institute can help shape the way educators use information technology to construct a worthy educational future. Through such effects, Columbia University and Teachers College will advance their leadership in education. Significant opportunities exist through government and industry to win funding for projects of sufficient scale to make a difference in developing the educational uses of technology and the national information infrastructure. Educators can mobilize the means for a great effort. To grasp this opportunity for leadership and excellence, educators need two essentials: commitment and collaboration.

Commitment requires decisive action—an active decision, a resolve to make the effort required to achieve results. The challenge entailed in the ambition to reform our educational activities is massive; the opportunity to do so is an exceptional historic opportunity—exceptional in two senses, as an extremely infrequent opportunity that occurs rarely in the fullness of time, and as an extraordinary opportunity that, should we grasp at the present juncture, will lead to great historic achievements. This exceptional opportunity merits the commitment of an unstinting effort, one in which we mobilize all the talent and resources required to shift the spectrum of educational possibilities upwards for all.

Collaboration follows from attention to the large, important goal—the betterment of education and the quality of life. Narrow, cramped visions beget spiteful competitions, each against all. So long as the end-in-view requires a large vision, the many possible projects, groupings, and participants can naturally fit together in a shared effort. The Institute believes that to accomplish the large goal, it must create strong alliances throughout Teachers College, throughout Columbia University, and throughout the world of education in all its forms. The Institute invites participation on all levels from the greater Teachers College and Columbia University community, as well as from the community at large. Together let us act to achieve a vision in which all people can use information technology to enable themselves to fulfill their greatest potentials and highest aspirations.