Janice Friesen
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Working on a Masters Degree in Educational Technology was a logical step for me. I had been working with elementary students and teachers using technology for six years. I began in 1990 in a lab with Apple IIe computers. When I began my studies I was working in a networked PC lab that was also linked to one computer per classroom. There was so much I wanted to learn. It had been a long time since I had taken actual University courses. It was definitely time to go back to school.
While working in schools with technology I became convinced of the need for a mediator between tech people and teachers. I observed that tech people often speak a language that teachers do not understand, and vice versa. Many of the technology gurus I met were totally convinced of the importance of integrating technology into classrooms, but were totally out of touch with actual school and classroom culture. They had no idea of how threatening change is or how difficult keeping up with technology is for teachers. They often lacked an understanding of the daily limitations that teachers face starting with no phone line.
Teachers are also caught up in the worlds of their classrooms and totally unaware of how technology could enhance what they are doing. Many were unwilling to take the time that to learn to use technology. Sadly, there were others who had experienced what happens all too often in schools. They were willing to make changes and took extra time and effort to learn new things. However, by the time that they learned to implement a new technology, it was replaced by a new and better technology and what they learned was useless. Willing teachers have watched as Apple IIes came and went, laser video disk players with bar scanners were encouraged, labs with programmed instruction came and went, software changed so much that it had to be relearned. Teachers are also very aware of budget shortfalls and resent the incredible amount of money that it takes to successfully implement technology use in a school.
I started my degree envisioning a new role emerging in schools. I felt that I could prepare myself for that role. The failure of one time in-service training and efforts to push teachers to use technology was so obvious. The new role in schools would be a technology coach. This is someone who knows education and has experience in the classroom and also knows technology. The role of this person in a school would be to act as a bridge and a buffer to technology for the educators including both teachers and administrators in the school. This person would have the ability and time to keep up with changes in technology as they occur. At the same time they would have the larger view of teaching and learning, so that technology can be applied in meaningful ways in classrooms.
When I started the program I was more skeptical about the need for technology integration than I am now. The amount of money it costs to get a school networked and to keep the machines upgraded, not to speak of the personnel needed to make this effective seemed too high. My first class opened my eyes to constructivism. I actually experienced constructing my own learning. It was powerful. I explored many of my doubts about the use of technology in schools by designing an artifact (the actual artifact is just pieces, but the design is done!) that could be part of a Virtual Library of Educational Psychology. I read books and articles about both sides of this issue and created a boxing match scenario where the two sides are debated. This helped me to see clearer what the two sides were and to work out some of my thoughts on the subject.
As time went by I became more and more convinced of the necessity of technology integration in schools. The growth of the Internet and the resources available there were influential in my thinking. In 1996 I began working with a group of students on a school web page and gradually understood how web page creation is a terrific authentic task for students to share what they are learning. Several classes in the school I was working in also participated in Online Projects that opened their eyes to different parts of our country and the world. These projects were so exciting and motivating for the students and teachers that I became sold on their value.
The one thing that has not been proven to my satisfaction is that test scores of students actually improve as a result of the use of technology. Many researchers argue that the tests are not measuring the types of learning that occurs with technology use. This issue is still unresolved, but I have come to the conclusion that it doesn't really matter. As I look into society at large and observe the immense changes that technology has made in every corner of our world, I can't help but think that even if test scores stay the same we are doing a disservice to students today if we do not change the way that they are educated. Schools and University classrooms are some of the last places to feel the effect of technology, yet everything around them has changed. In fact, school offices have changed more than classrooms. What school office does not have several telephones, a fax machine, several computers and a printer? Often this equipment is connected to a network so that grades and financial data can be shared throughout a district. At the same time the classroom is almost the same as the classroom I spent time in 50 years ago. I am convinced that needs to change and I am excited about making a positive contribution to this change.
So, the program at the School of Learning Science and Informational Technology at the University of Missouri of Columbia has prepared me for the role that I am now taking in education. I see the job that I am working in now in the eMINTS project as a model for what can happen when teachers are adequately supported in technology use.

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Last Updated May 30, 2004