Moursund's IT in Education Home Page


Volume 17 1989-90 Editorial (with Retrospective Comments)

 David Moursund

Reprinted with permission from Learning and Leading with Technology (c) 2000-2001, ISTE (the International Society for Technology in Education. 800.336.5191 (U.S. & Canada) or 541.302.3777,, Reprint permission does not constitute an endorsement by ISTE of the product, training, or course.

Note: Most of these editorials are not yet available.

1. Aug.-Sept. 1989
2. October 1989 On Being a Technology Advisor
3. November 1989 Effective Inservice for Computers in Education
4. Dec./Jan. 1989/90
5. February 1990
6. March 1990 One Consequence of the Information Age
7. April 1990 The Information Age: Evolutionary and Revolutionary Change
8. May 1990

On Being a Technology Advisor

This editorial is intended for instructional systems technology (IST) coordinators at the school building, district, or higher level. In the "good old days" we called such people computer coordinators. The IST designation emphasizes that the focus is much broader than just computers.

This editorial focuses on just one aspect of your job—that of being a instructional systems technology-oriented technical advisor to your boss. If you are a school building IST coordinator, your boss may be a principal or an assistant principal. If your are a school district IST coordinator, your boss may be a superintendent or an assistant superintendent. In either case your boss is an administrator with a wide range of responsibilities. Your boss makes decisions that strongly affect instructional use of instructional systems technologies in your school or district.

Here is a little evaluation form that you can fill out. If you have a good working relationship with your boss, then you can have your boss fill out a modified version of the form. (For example, where is says "My boss has " change it to "I have .") In any case, the results can serve as a fruitful basis for assessing the current situation and/or for discussion with your boss and with others.

The Instructional Systems Technology Advice Instrument contains six statements that are to be answered on a five-point scale. On this scale (1) indicated "Strongly Disagree" and (5) indicated "Strongly Agree."

On Being a Technology Advisor Instructional Systems Technology Advice Instrument

1. My boss has a good knowledge of instructional systems technologies. This knowledge is quite adequate for making appropriate decisions concerning allocation of resources and in making other decisions that affect their use in schools.

(Strongly Disagree) 1 2 3 4 5 (Strongly Agree)

2. My boss works closely with other administrators who have a good knowledge of instructional systems technologies. This close working relationship provides my boss with the advice needed to make appropriate decisions concerning allocation of resources and in making other decisions that affect their use in schools.

(Strongly Disagree) 1 2 3 4 5 (Strongly Agree)

3. My boss has an instructional systems technology advisory committee and meets regularly with this committee. This committee is broadly representative of the people both within and outside the school system who are most interested in and affected by decisions related to school use of instructional systems technologies.

(Strongly Disagree) 1 2 3 4 5 (Strongly Agree)

4. My boss relies quite heavily on the advice of instructional systems technology hardware and software sales representatives when making decisions about instructional systems technology hardware and software acquisitions and the use of such facilities.

(Strongly Disagree) 1 2 3 4 5 (Strongly Agree)

5. My boss relies heavily on other people (not mentioned above) who are not educators when making decisions about instructional systems technologies. (Examples of such people include electronic data processing staff in the school district business data processing office, professional programmers, secretaries who are computer users, and children who are well versed in using computers.)

(Strongly Disagree) 1 2 3 4 5 (Strongly Agree)

6. My boss relies heavily on my advice in all decision situations involving instructional systems technologies. We meet regularly together and I am quite satisfied with our working relationship and how my advice is received.

(Strongly Disagree) 1 2 3 4 5 (Strongly Agree)

You can decide for yourself the profile of answers that would be most appropriate to your situation. If you have your boss fill out a similar evaluation instrument, the two of you can then compare your perceptions. If you or the two of you have given a number of low ratings on items 1, 2, 3, and 6, and high ratings on items 4 and 5, the chances are that this is a bad situation.

There are two key issues.

1. Instructional systems technology is changing very rapidly. It is even difficult for a person who devotes full time to this field to remain reasonably well informed.

2. Instructional systems technology has the potential to have a massive impact on education. It is a major (potential) change agent in our schools.

If you are happy with the your boss' sources of information, that's great. If you are unhappy, you need to chart a course of action.

The first step is a needs assessment, and you have done that. Give it a little more thought. What are the strengths and weaknesses of your boss' sources of IST advice? What can you personally do to reinforce the strengths and to decrease reliance on the less appropriate sources?

Next, set some short-term and some longer-term goals. Remember, you are working to change the way a person functions. People resist change!

Next, begin to develop a plan of action. Remember, education is political. On average, school administrators are far more politically astute than IST coordinators. But you are quite capable of learning to play the political game. Also, it is easy to take advantage of your boss’ political astuteness.

We will give just one example to illustrate the point. Suppose that your boss relies on very few sources of advice except IST hardware and software vendors. This is a very bad situation and can easily lead to major inappropriate decisions. Moreover, it is a situation that is politically untenable once it comes to light.

Thus, you need to engineer having someone hint to your boss that he/she is in an untenable situation. Such a suggestion can come from a school board member, a higher-level school administrator, a couple of parents, a local business leader, a spokesperson for the teacher's union, or a variety of other people. In any case, the hint should be accompanied by a suggestion that an IST Advisory Committee is needed. This committee should play a major role in all IST-related decisions being made in the school or school district.

Don't expect immediate success. Keep up the pressure on your boss. More than likely you will win out in the end. Good luck!

Effective Inservice for Computers in Education

Inservice education is a major vehicle for increasing the appropriate and effective use of computers in schools. But most inservice education is not nearly as effective as it could be.

Over the past four years, I have spent a great deal of time studying and practicing in the area of design and implementation of effective computer inservice. I have taught two graduate courses on effective inservice, done a number of inservices on effective inservice, and written a book on the topic. Now, I believe I have a clear understanding of some of the major problems that computer inservicers face and what can be done to overcome these problems.

Here are a few overriding ideas:

  1. Inservice is a vehicle for school improvement and change. (Not all change leads to improvement.) If a school is to improve, the teachers and administrators must make a concerted commitment to work together towards the desired improvement.
  2. The inservice designer, coordinator, and/or facilitator is a key change agent in our school system. This person has important leadership responsibilities.
  3. There are many research-based models for school improvement; many of these are heavily dependent on inservice.
  4. A great deal is known about effective inservice practices; systematic use of these practices will greatly improve inservice.
  5. But education is political, and reality dictates many non-optimal choices in the design and conduct of inservice.

The most common type of inservice is a group inservice, with a number of people coming together for one or more sessions. A highly effective and often cost effective alternative is the one-on-one or very small group inservice.

The list given below is a conceptual model for the key design features of a really good group inservice.

1. Needs assessment based on possible participants.

An inservice facilitator can base a needs assessment on introspection, knowledge of educational research on school improvement, talking to colleagues, careful study of district educational goals, long-range planning that the school or district has conducted, and so on. But it is very important that substantial attention be paid to the potential participants in the inservice. Information can be gathered from potential participants by one-on-one interviews, groups interviews, questionnaires, and so on. Often use of a combination of these is desirable.

2. Design the inservice; prepare and/or obtain handout materials; make arrangements for time, place, refreshments, credits, and so on.

A substantial amount of work needs to be done before the inservice begins. Pay careful attention to details. Lay out a timeline that has plenty of flexibility. For example, it may take months to arrange for district or university credit for participants in an inservice. It may take a month or more to obtain software and print materials.

3. Recruit actual participants. Gather baseline data on participants and their students, school computer facilities, and so on, so that you will be able to do summative evaluation after the inservice ends.

Often it takes a substantial “sales effort” to recruit participants. Every effort should be made to have a critical mass of teachers from each school that is participating. In general, it is far better to reach a large number of teachers in a small number of schools, rather than vice versa. Be aware that the research strongly supports having school administrators participate in the inservices for teachers.

If your evaluation is going to include measures of change in participants and/or their students, quite a bit of baseline data will need to be gathered before the inservice begins and/or almost simultaneously with the first inservice session.

4. Hold an inservice session and do formative evaluation as appropriate.

The research strongly supports the assertion that “one-shot” inservices are seldom effective. However, sometimes the choice boils down to having a one-shot inservice or no inservice. If the inservice is two or more sessions in length, it should include relatively formal formative evaluation that provide information for mid-course corrections.

5. Participants implement ideas in their classrooms; they have support from peers and/or inservice staff.

The underlying goal of the inservice is to improve the education being received by the students of the participants in the inservice. This means that the participants must appropriately and effectively implement some of the ideas covered in the inservice. In a multiple session inservice, implementation should occur between sessions. Support for this implementation should be provided. It might be provided by a combination of peer coaching and inservice facilitator coaching.

6. Repeat 4 and 5 as needed.

It is highly desirable that an inservice have multiple sessions, with time for implementation between sessions. Remember, the goal is to have participants implement the new ideas that they are learning. For most educators, the type of changes we are talking about require multiple inservices and a substantial amount of follow up support.

7. Do summative evaluation at the end of the inservices on perceived quality and effectiveness.

Ask participants what they think and feel about the content, quality, and effectiveness of the inservice. Be aware that such evaluation tends to encourage participants to think about what they have learned in the inservice; it encourages them to apply what they have learned.

8. Provide short and long-term follow up support of participants as participants implement what they have learned.

Participant support can come from colleagues, from the inservice provider, or perhaps from other people in the school district. (One reason for strongly encouraging participation of school-level administrators is that they can provide follow up support and encouragement.) The key idea is that participants continue to receive support and encouragement to implement and to continue to use the new ideas that they have learned.

9. Do short and long-term evaluation of residual effect of the inservice on the participants.

The key idea is that you want some “residual effect” to continue to persist long after the inservice is completed. The mere process of attempting to measure it is apt to contribute to it. (If participants know that you will be visiting their classrooms a few weeks after the inservice is over in order to see what they have been doing, they are apt to be doing something.)

10. Do short and long-term evaluation of the effect of the inservice on the students of the participants.

This is only possible if baseline data has been gathered before inservice participants begin to implement ideas they are learning in the inservice. By and large, it requires a relatively carefully designed and implemented research effort to adequately determine short-term and long-term effects on students. Relatively few inservice projects make any significant effort to do so.

Think about the computer education group inservices that you help to design and facilitate. Do you follow the ideas in the above list? If not, chances are that there is substantial room for improvement in these inservices.

One Consequence of the Information Age

According to John Naisbitt, in the United States the Information Age officially began in 1956.

Outwardly, the United States appeared to be a thriving industrial economy, yet a little-noticed symbolic milestone heralded the end of an era. In 1956, for the first time in American history, white-collar workers in technical, managerial, and clerical positions outnumbered blue-collar workers. Industrial America was giving way to a new society, where, for the first time in history, most of us worked with information rather than producing goods.

While the milestone was passed in 1956, the trend has not stopped. The number of blue-collar jobs in the United States is now less than 20% of the total and is still declining. The magnitude of the change is not unlike the change that occurred as the United States moved from being an Agricultural Age society to being an Industrial Age society. When the Revolutionary War began in the United States in 1776, about 90% of the population lived on farms. Now, about 3% of the work force are classified as farmers.

It is relatively easy to count the number of workers in different categories. It is more difficult to understand the meaning of the changes that have occurred. And it is still more difficult to design an educational system to appropriately meet the needs of people in this changed society.

Part of the difficulty lies in the widespread acceptance of certain models of success. To a large extent, we have come to believe that almost everything worth measuring in school can be measured by a multiple choice test. Moreover, we tend to believe that such “objective” tests are reliable and valid measures of what we are attempting to accomplish in school.

There is an interesting parallel here with what is going on in educational research. A large amount of current educational research can be divided into two categories—quantitative and qualitative. The quantitative researchers are the number crunchers. They measure things and carry out statistical computations on the results. The qualitative researchers draw on careful observational techniques from anthropology. They observe, and they provide “rich” descriptions of what they observe.

A quantitative study may gather data on hundreds of subjects and report results as being significant at the .05 level. A qualitative study may gather data from one or just a few subjects, and it will report results in a long, carefully written document.

Interestingly, both methodologies of research can be applied to almost any educational problem. Moreover, it appears that the pendulum is swinging from quantitative research to qualitative research. More and more educational researchers are acknowledging that many educational research problems are better addressed by qualitative methodology or by a careful blend of the two methodologies.

Teachers have long known that both quantitative and qualitative methodology is needed in the assessment of students. They realize that there is a substantial difference between the numbers in a gradebook and the mental model they have of a student. However, the (Industrial Age) educational system has forced teachers to place the greater emphasis on the quantitative model of student performance. It is a rare teacher who adds more than a few sentences to the student grade report at the end of a term. Generally, the permanent record is merely a number or a letter—quantitative data that may be completely divorced from the mental model that the teacher has formed of a student and the student's performance.

Now we are at the essence of a major educational problem. Computers make it even easier to gather quantitative data and to represent a student as a set of numbers. A computerized gradebook may help in this process. Indeed, the computer system may even include a list of “canned” comments that a teacher can select and have added to the grade report. These are stock phrases that give an illusion that the teacher is providing individualized, carefully-thought-out comments about a student.

Some proponents of computer assisted instruction point to the record-keeping abilities of the computer and the ideas of computer managed instruction. In computer assisted instruction, we can keep detailed records on every keystroke the student makes, and we can subject this data to careful statistical analysis.

The problem is, we have very good and increasing evidence that this quantitative model of education is inappropriate and inadequate. If the model is inadequate, no matter how good we get at quantitative measurements of student performance, we will not succeed in making major improvements in education through this approach.

There is an excellent discussion of quantitative and qualitative educational research in the October 1989 issue of Educational Researcher.2 It is written from the point of view of a researcher in the year 2009 looking back to 1989 as a time of major change in educational research methodology. The article suggests that researchers will come to understand that both methodologies are quite important and in most instances need to be used in conjunction with each other.

Let’s assume that this prediction is correct and that the same holds for the “mini research” that each teacher conducts on each student each term. Then the research report that a teacher writes on a student (the end-of-term grade report) should be based on a carefully crafted combination of quantitative and qualitative methodologies. The report should be a blend of succinct “statistical” statements and “rich” description.

This gives teachers and teacher unions a target to shoot at. The size of classes and the demands placed on teachers must allow teachers to use both quantitative and qualitative methodologies in determining and reporting student progress. This is a simple statement with far reaching implications. For example, it suggests that teachers need careful training in both quantitative and qualitative methodologies and in the reporting of results obtained from use of these methodologies. It means that if we want to permanently store student records, we need facilities that store both quantitative and qualitative reports. It means that we need to educate school board members, taxpayers, parents, and legislators on the merits of this more broad-based perspective.

The task is formidable. The general public has been educated to expect reports such as, “The SAT scores for the school district were up two points over last year.” Such reports do not question the meaning or value of the SAT. They do not reflect that perhaps teachers have been “teaching to the test” or that students have had increased access to computer software specifically designed to improve SAT scores. They do not reflect the large and increasing percentage of students who do not take the SAT test (they have long since dropped out of school) and for whom such measures are totally inappropriate.

What can we do about this? Here is a little piece of an answer. You, the individual teacher, can begin to experiment with qualitative methodologies. Select a single class or a few students in a class. Begin to create a “rich” description for the students you select. If you want to use a computerized gradebook, select one that allows you to type in substantial comments on a daily basis. At the end of the term, compare your qualitative description with the quantitative description. Begin to think about the similarities and differences between the results. Pay careful attention to how this different methodology can help you be more effective. You will likely discover that this new perspective on student evaluation is making you into a better teacher!


John Naisbitt. (1982). Megatrends: Ten New Directions Transforming Our Lives. New York: Warner Books, Inc.

N. L. Gage. (1989). The paradigm wars and the aftermath: A historical sketch of research on teaching since 1989. Educational Researcher, 18(7), 4-10.

The Information Age: Evolutionary and Revolutionary Change

Moursund, D.G. (April 1990). The Information Age: Evolutionary and Revolutionary Change. The Computing Teacher.

During the past year, we have seen a major change in the nature of the governmental structure of Eastern Europe and the USSR. Undoubtedly these changes will be analyzed for many years to come. Why did these changes come about? Were they all due to one man, Gorbachev, addressing an economic crisis in the USSR?

In this editorial, I argue that the Information Age is directly responsible for the political changes mentioned above. Then I explore the analogy between this and possible changes in our educational system.

The Information Age is often defined in terms of a change in the nature of employment. In the U.S. in 1956, the number of people holding white-collar jobs first exceeded the number holding blue-collar jobs. We were witnessing a major decline in industrial production jobs and a major increase in service jobs. Many of these service jobs involved working with information, in jobs such as teacher, nurse, bank clerk, and computer programmer.

However, this change in the dominant classification of jobs fails to capture the essence of what was going on. The Information Age is characterized by a number of simultaneous and continuing changes that are having a major cumulative effect. A few of them are:

  1. Transportation. Jet airplanes and more air travel; more efficient transportation of goods via land, sea, and air.
  2. Telecommunications. Rapidly improving telecommunications making use of microwave, fiber optic, satellite, and more conventional systems. Explosive growth of the television industry.
  3. Computers. Massive improvement in our ability to store, process, and retrieve information; more cost-effective process control devices.
  4. Automation. A continuing gradual increase in the productivity of blue-collar workers.
  5. Education. More people receiving a higher level of education.
  6. Research in science and technology. There have been major breakthroughs in understanding key ideas in science and applying this knowledge to produce goods and services.
  7. Worldwide economic competition. This is facilitated by improvements in transportation and communication.

The Information Age changes are not affecting all parts of the world equally. Changes have occurred more rapidly in Western Europe than in Eastern Europe and the USSR. The people living in Eastern Europe gradually became aware that there were major differences between their life style and the life style of those in Western Europe. The leaders of the Eastern bloc countries attempted to build a wall that would keep out information. The wall severely restricted travel, and that certainly helped keep out information. A few hundred years ago, that might have succeeded. In those days information flowed mainly via people either personally carrying the message (oral tradition) or via written letters.

Unfortunately for the Eastern European leaders, it was necessary to keep open some holes in the wall, and the wall could not keep out radio and television signals. Holes had to be kept open in order for Eastern European scientists to build on knowledge being developed outside their area. A certain amount of transportation and interchange of goods was necessary for economic reasons.

Perhaps even more important, a country that wants to prosper in the Information Age needs a highly educated citizenry. Education must stress problem solving and other higher order cognitive skills. Such education breeds people who challenge the system and who resist oppression.

To summarize, the factors underlying the Information Age led to a gradual change in the nature of life in Western Europe and other major parts of the globe, and a gradual increase of knowledge about this among people in Eastern Europe. The gradually increasing pressures on the economies and governments of Eastern Europe and the USSR could not withstand the onslaught.

Now compare this with our educational system. The question is, do we have a similar situation shaping up in education? We have the transportation and communication that allow key constituencies in our educational system to be aware of what others are doing, and of the outcomes. Thus, the issue is whether there are major stakeholders who can see other, similar stakeholders, who are "getting a better deal." Here are some examples of things to look for:

  1. Students in one region-city, county, state or nation-getting a far superior education.
  2. Teachers in one district enjoying a far superior set of working conditions, such as the level of respect, pay, work load, and the general nature of their students.
  3. The members of one ethnic group being able to provide their children with a better education than is available to the children of another ethnic group.
  4. The private sector in one region having access to a better trained pool of workers than the private sector in another region.
  5. A nation and its government competing better economically and politically due to an overall superior educational system.

When big differences exist and the stakeholders become aware of them, there are several possible results. First, the stakeholders can say, "I am aware of these differences. I am not bothered by them. I am satisfied with the current state of affairs." Or, they might say, "That is not right. Something should be done about it."

In the latter case, we have a power struggle. Does the stakeholder who says "that is not right" have the power to do anything about it? If the overall system is oppressive to key stakeholders, the inevitable result will be a revolutionary change.

In my opinion, our educational system is poised on the brink. Massive change agents such as distance education, computer-assisted learning, transportation of students, and the corporation-run schools could lead to massive, relatively rapid, revolutionary changes in our current system.

Alternatively, our current system may change fast enough to accommodate the revolutionary pressures. There are a few signs that it is attempting to do so. Some states are developing voucher systems that give students a choice of what schools they will attend. Some states are passing legislation that facilitates increased use of distance education and of computer-assisted learning. Some regions are increasing the pay of teachers and attempting to improve their work conditions.

The outcomes are in doubt. It will be interesting to see what happens.