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Editor's Note:  This interview was conducted nearly 20 years ago as part of a project I completed for the UCLA Educational Leadership program. The goal was to understand how educational leaders use computers in their daily lives and how they manage technology's many challenges in their workplace.  I am amazed at how well the issues raised by the twelve K-12 leaders and higher education professionals I interviewed have stood the test of time.  The hardware and software has changed, to be sure, but the challenge of using technology as a leadership tool still remains.  Enjoy!  *extra credit if you answer the questions at the end of each interview! 


When you think about technology, what are your feelings about it in general, does it have a role in education? Is it valuable?

Technology is a valuable tool, no question about it. In my history class, its useful for accessing information about different cultures or historical periods. On the Internet I can find information about authentic Mayan artifacts or the political climate of pre-World War I Europe. Having access to a world of information has been very beneficial not only for the students but for me as an instructor as well.

My personal feeling is that sometimes computers are a little challenging to use, but once you do figure them out, they are very powerful. I think that if you have at least one computer in every class for creating web pages, accessing the Internet, and accessing CD-ROM’s like multimedia encyclopedias, it can be a great compliment to what you are doing in the class. When I teach my English classes, I really need one computer for every student, like a writing lab. It just simply doesn’t work to have 20 computers and 30 kids when you are trying to have everyone do a writing assignment on the word processor. I’ve noticed that both the academic and the social skills of the students increase when they have access to the computer equipment. Its motivational, for sure, but I also think its helping to build some skills they need for the future.


Are there things about technology you would like to be able to do on a daily basis but aren’t currently because the school district doesn’t provide them?

I would like to have more computers and local access so I could send messages to other teachers. Although we have classroom access to the Internet, I feel cut-off from a lot of the district’s technology stuff because I don’t have the right access privileges and because I don’t really have any say in the type of software programs that are purchased for my classroom. I would like additional writing labs so I could take my whole class and just let them type for a whole period. I think access is a big issue for the kids, especially the students who don’t have computers at home.


What about the negative aspects of technology?

The worst part about technology is when it breaks down and stops working. When a battery goes out, or something happens that you don’t take into account, and then you have to deal with it. The students have a habit of cracking into the computers and messing them up. They mess stuff up on purpose. They actually download a program off of the Internet called Winhacker that permits them to access the school network or defeat the protection software we’ve installed. It can really mess up the machines by deleting files, messing up file directories, that sort of thing. I understand that kids can be destructive sometimes and its really frustrating, because it limits access to the machines and usually requires a tech person to fix it. I think it would be better if all of the computers on a site were the same, you know, IBM or Macintosh. That might reduce the incompatibility issues we have or the need to train people on both platforms.

Another problem is when the equipment doesn’t get serviced. For a year and half a teacher at my school had a computer that didn’t work. I mean, a year and half! What’s the point? In our district, there are only two guys that service all of the machines. And for a district with 5,600 kids and 300 teachers, and probably about 1100 computers, having only two maintenance guys is a problem. And they don’t give out access codes yet blame the teachers when something malfunctions. Nobody blames the drivers when the bus breaks down, yet somehow its our fault that the computers malfunction. And when the bus breaks down, they come out and fix it, or supply a replacement bus. When our computers break down, if you can’t fix it yourself, sometimes you are out of luck. Also, the maintenance personnel don’t have a real good sense of kids and what kids can do with computers. I think the bad thing is that you can let the computers get too centralized and limit the teacher knowledge for operation and maintenance. Its gotten to the point where the maintenance personnel, not the instructors, are responsible for purchasing instructional software and making decisions about who uses what and when. That’s just wrong.

I don’t think technology is a magic bullet, but for history courses, the idea of being able to hook up with information, and authentic sources, from around the world, is phenomenal. I am a little discouraged by the types of program that the district buys that limit access to the Internet because I think that teachers should be able to monitor what is going on. Kids are going to be kids. They are going to try and find adult or explicit content, but I don’t think that teachers should impose restrictions on the searching capabilities of computers. My students can’t do research on “breast cancer” because the software program restricts the use of that keyword. So it is sort of ironic that the school pays so much money for the machines and the Internet access, and the kids have less of a resource than they would have with books in a library.

Districts need to pay attention to maintenance issues in particular. I would like to see an annual report that details how many computers we have, where they are located, who is using them and how. That would enable us to make some real decisions about how best to use them in the classroom.

Reflective Questions:

  1. Who should make curricular decisions regarding the purchase of instructional software? Teachers? Parents? Administrators? Students?
  2. What options are available to the faculty to limit student and/or faculty access to inappropriate content on the Internet? Will it ever be possible to completely “safety-protect” the Internet in schools?
  3. What are the possible consequences of students and staff accessing illegal or sexually explicit materials via the school’s Internet?
  4. What are the average annual technology maintenance requirements and costs for a school like Culver City High School with a wealth of equipment? How would you staff that school to ensure proper and timely maintenance? Would you use district personnel or contract with a private company?
  5. Mr. Blois discusses using technology both in his class and in a lab setting. Is one setting more or less appropriate than the other? Or are both equally valid uses of technology in schools?
  6. How might you respond to student vandalism of computer or technological equipment or files? How do schools currently protect their investments in technology?
  7. How does the introduction of two different hardware platforms (MAC and PC) affect the ability of teachers and students to use the equipment effectively? Which, in your opinion, is the superior platform and why? What is the total cost of ownership for both platforms?
  8. How might the introduction of newer technologies (swipe cards for student attendance, less intrusive bell sounds, etc.) change the learning/teaching environment? The management environment?