Moursund's IT in Education Home Page


Volume 26 1998-99 Editorial (with Retrospective Comments)

Reprinted with permission from Learning and Leading with Technology (c) 1998-99, 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.

1. Aug.-Sept. 1998 FREE is a good buy
2. October 1998 Try it -- maybe you'll like it
3. November 1998 Charter Schools
4. Dec./Jan. 1998/99 Is Information Technology Improving Education?
5. February 1999 The Spreadsheet
6. March 1999 The 15% Solution
7. April 1999 Enhance your opportunities to learn: A different slant on professional development
8. May 1999 IT-assisted Project-based Learning

FREE is a Good Buy

Moursund, D.G. (August-September 1998). FREE is a good buy. Editor's Message, Learning and Leading With Technology. Eugene, OR: ISTE.

On April 18, 1997, President Clinton asked Federal agencies to determine what "resources you can make available that would enrich the Internet as a tool for teaching and learning."

In response, more than 30 Federal agencies formed a working group to make hundreds of federally supported education resources available at a Website named Federal Resources for Educational Excellence (FREE). The URL of the site is

First I want to give you a few examples of some of the content that I have explored at this site. Then I want to comment briefly about the educational implications of this and others sites that offer free high quality content.

On the Home Page, one of the buttons is More for Students. That site links to more than 50 student-oriented sites. You may think that these sites have been laundered to be non controversial. Think again. I browsed under the heading Tobacco, and was soon rewarded with a section that began with:

Tobacco use remains the leading preventable cause of death in the United States, causing more than 400,000 deaths each year and resulting in an annual cost of more than $50 billion in direct medical costs.

Each year, smoking kills more people than AIDS, alcohol, drug abuse, car crashes, murders, suicides, and fires combined!

Approximately 80% of adult smokers started smoking before the age of 18. Every day, nearly 3,000 young people under the age of 18 become regular smokers.

More than 5 million children living today will die prematurely because of a decision they will make as adolescents--the decision to smoke cigarettes.

Some of your students may enjoy studying the article "Setting the Record Straight: Secondhand Smoke is A Preventable Health Risk" at <>. This long and detailed article asserts that:

Every year, an estimated 150,000 to 300,000 children under 18 months of age get pneumonia or bronchitis from breathing secondhand tobacco smoke. Secondhand smoke is a risk factor for the development of asthma in children and worsens the condition of up to one million asthmatic children.

Do you know any students who might want to make use of the types of information illustrated in this section? Perhaps such articles might fuel a school-wide project on smoking!

Central Intelligence Agency (CIA)

At the time I first began browsing the FREE site, there were 47 federal agencies listed, each with its own URL. I was intrigued by the Central Intelligence Agency listing <>, so pursued it in some detail.

On the Home Page is a link to the CIA Home Page for Kids which children may find both informative and entertaining. At the bottom of the page are links to history (of Intelligence), Geography (of the world), and Facts and Figures.

The URL for Facts and Figures is <>. There you can find up to date information and maps on more than 250 countries. Each report is about six pages in length, and much of the data is from 1997. [Editor's Note: This article was written in 1998.] In total, this one Website is about 1,500 pages of free, up to date information about the countries of the world.

One of the students in my graduate seminar is from Kuwait. This led me to checking out the Kuwait section of the CIA document. Did you know, for example, that Kuwait has a population of 1,834,269 (July 1997 estimate) which includes 1,381,063 non-nationals (July 1997 estimate)? Did you know that the sex ratio is:

  • at birth: 1.05 male(s)/female
  • under 15 years: 1.22 male(s)/female
  • 15-64 years: 1.83 male(s)/female
  • 65 years and over: 1.51 male(s)/female
  • total population: 1.59 male(s)/female (1997 estimate)

I wonder if a student might find it interesting to explore and explain the ratio of males to females at various age levels in Kuwait?

Environmental Protection Agency (EPA)

I spent hours browsing the Environmental Protection Agency site <>. I was particularly intrigued by the ability to search for hazardous waste sites and water pollution reports around my own community. Several sites located not too far from my home have been investigated as being potential hazardous waste sites. Several of the well water sites of various companies or organizations near my home town have had repeated violations of Federal water standards. I can imagine a group of students at a local school analyzing this data and then holding a press conference!


Free is a good price, provide that the free materials are of high quality. The FREE Websites that I have explored contain a huge amount of free, high quality content. These materials are developed by various Federal Agencies as a regularly part of their assigned duties. Thus, they tend to be both comprehensive and up to date. Much of the information available addresses real-world problems--problems that are important to our students.

Throughout the US (as well as in many other countries) we are gradually making progress in providing easy Web access to students of all ages. We are gradually beginning to implement the idea that curriculum content should be up to date and that students should take a major responsibility in researching for up to date materials.

With this steadily increasing wealth of free, up to date, high quality information, the role of teachers is beginning to change. Through a concerted research effort, a student can become a local expert on a specific topic. That is, the student can know more about a specific topic than his/her teacher, fellow students, parents, and so on. However, the student likely lacks the broad picture and the wisdom to put this set of data, information, and knowledge into context. The student may lack breadth of knowledge needed to properly interpret and use what s/he has learned. The student may lack the knowledge and skills to effectively report on and communicate his/her findings. All of these are areas in which teachers can make a major contribution.

The high quality free materials also will change the publishing industry. For example, how do you develop a social studies book that takes into consideration the very rapid changes that are occurring in the countries and societies of the world? The answer is that the book needs to teach general principles that tend to endure over the years. These principles need to be illustrated in case studies from the past and in case studies from current times. The latter can be developed by students, making use of up to date information that they find on the Web. In essence, students need to be writing parts of their own textbooks.


Retrospective Comments 9/15/00

Since this editorial was written, the US Government has continued to expand the FREE Website. There are now many hundreds of Web pages from hundreds of different Federal Agencies available through this site. Quite a bit of the material is specifically written to be useful to students.

The FREE Website is representative of a major change that is occurring in the educational publishing field. There are many organizations that provide free high quality educational materials that are useful to students and teachers. However, before the advent of the Web, access to these materials tended to be quite limited. Now, much of this type of material is being made available on the Web. These materials can be quickly accessed on an "as needed, just-in-time" basis. Many of the free materials are of high quality -- quite competitive with materials that are being sold.

The Web can be viewed as a global library. More and more of the library materials of the world are being digitized and made available via the Web. Of course, not all such materials are free, and much of the contents of the world's libraries remains to be digitized. The Web is continuing to expand quite rapidly. At the time this Retrospective Comment was being written, the Google search engine is indexing over 1 billion Web pages.

Try It--Maybe You'll Like It

Moursund, D.G. (October 1998). Try it--maybe you'll like it. Editor's Message, Learning and Leading With Technology. Eugene, OR: ISTE.

Computers are an innovation. In that sense they can be compared with other innovations such as cars, radios, television, and vaccinations for small pox.

Everett Rogers (1995) has spent a lifetime studying the adoption of innovations. His book (now in its fourth edition) is a treasure throve of stories about innovations that have been adopted and innovations that have not been adopted.

Rogers begins his book with a story about the innovation of boiling drinking water in a Peruvian village. All of the sources of water in this village were polluted. Typhoid and other water-born diseases were a serious and continuing health problem.

The health services in Peru undertook a two year campaign to convince the 200 families in the village of the benefits of boiling their drinking water to help prevent disease. The innovation was backed by solid scientific research. Within the village, the intervention was supported by 15 families that already boiled their drinking water, a medical doctor who visited the village to give talks on boiling drinking water, and a local public health worker who devoted a great deal of time to the project.

The innovation was not adopted. The two year intervention resulted in only 11 additional families adopting the innovation of boiling their drinking water.

This Peruvian village has been extensively studied. Why was the innovation of boiling drinking water not adopted? In essence, the answer lies in the deep seated culture of the villagers. The details of the culture are not particularly important. What we know is that a culture--be it in a village, in a corporation, or in an school--is hard to change.

Information Technology is a Complex Innovation

Some innovations are relatively simple. Consider the situation when color television first became available. A potential customer could look at a color television set, learn about the availability of color programming, explore the cost of various color television sets, and make a personal decision about whether to adopt this innovation. A color television set is relatively easy to use, and it was not a big step to move from black and white television to color television. Eventually, widespread adoption occurred.

As compared to simple innovations such as radio or color television, the innovation of information technology in the school is very complex. The adoption of this innovation requires significant changes in curriculum, instruction, and assessment. It requires a certain level of group consensus in order to obtain the needed funds and changes in the infrastructure. It takes a substantial amount of staff development as well as a supportive infrastructure for schoolwide adoption of the information technology innovation to take hold. Moreover, information technology is a rapidly changing innovation. One can be an adopter of the technology, and a few years later find oneself classified as a laggard.

The School Culture

However, there may be a deeper reason why relatively few schools have wholeheartedly adopted the IT innovation. The wholehearted adoption of IT requires a considerable change in the culture of being a school teacher.

The classical discussion of the school teacher culture points out the differences between a "sage on the stage" and a "guide on the side." The traditional model of a teacher is a person who is highly knowledgeable about the subject matter being taught and can "stand and deliver" instruction on this content area. The teacher has the knowledge, and the teacher helps the students to gain the knowledge through a combination of lectures, assigned readings and activities, tests, and so on. This "model" or description of a teacher represents a deep seated culture that is accepted by teachers, students, school administrators, and parents. This culture is highly resistant to change--even when research and the testimonials of experts point to better ways.


One of the key ideas in Everett Roger's book is the "trialability" of an innovation. Can a potential adopter try the innovation without making a full and major investment or commitment in the innovation? By and large, information technology in the schools has not provided an easy path of trialability. The threshold for getting started has been rather high.

Gradually, however, the threshold has been lowered. The early adopters have led their schools to having a substantial amount of hardware, software, and connectivity. Students have learned about information technology at schools and at home, so they have an increasing base of knowledge and skills. Large numbers of teachers own a computer, and educators as a whole have a significant and growing knowledge about how to make personal use of information technology.

Project-based Learning

It appears that conditions are now ripe for relatively wide scale adoption of information technology-assisted project-based learning (IT-assisted PBL). Many teachers already know about project-based learning that does not make use of computers and have experience in using it in their teaching. It is a relatively small step to try IT-assisted PBL. This step can be made using whatever current IT knowledge and skills the teacher and his/her class have, and whatever hardware, software, and connectivity are available to them.

A teacher who designs and implements an IT-assisted PBL lesson is taking a step in the direction of a significant cultural change. The teacher is becoming a guide on the side and a person who role models lifelong learning. Moursund (1998) contains a substantial amount of information to help such a teacher make this important step.


Moursund, David G. (1998). Project-based learning using computers. Eugene, OR: ISTE.

Rogers, Everett M. (1995). Diffusion of innovations. NY: The Free Press.

Retrospective Comments 11/4/00

It is interesting to look at the various technological innovations that come to market, and to see which ones are subsequently widely adopted. For example, consider cell phones. The telephone itself is a technological innovation that is relatively easy to adopt, because "talking" is something that most people learn while they are very young. Talking face to face with a person, and talking via telephone, are two different things. It is fun to watch a young child learn to do this and to develop understanding that they are able to talk to a person who is not located nearby. Clearly some learning is required, but this is a good example of near transfer of learning.

Before cell phones became prevalent, many people had cordless phones. The step from having a cord telephone to having a cordless telephone is small -- another example of near transfer of learning. The step from having a cordless telephone to having a cell phone is somewhat larger. However, it is well within the "easy" range for many people. The process of getting a cell phone and arranging for the needed cell phone service can be somewhat confusing, but has become easier with time. And, many people find that having a cell phone is highly advantageous. Thus, throughout the world, many hundreds of millions of people have acquired cellular telephones.

Three uses of microcomputers also tend to fall into the "easy to learn and to adopt" range. Hundreds of millions of people throughout the world now use a word processor, e-mail, and browse the Web. The movement from using a typewriter or from hand writing to using a word processor requires only a modest amount of learning. (Of course, with just this modest amount of learning, people use the word processor like a typewriter, and they do not take advantage of the "power" of a modern word processor.) Similarly, it is relatively easy to learn to use e-mail and to browse the Web at a beginning level. Most users of e-mail and the Web have not yet learned to use many of the powerful features of these aids to communication. For most people, all three of these microcomputer uses provide significant benefits relative to the learning and use efforts that are required.

As we think about more sophisticated uses of word processing, e-mail, and the Web, and as we think about uses of other microcomputer tools, we see that the road to adoption is more difficult. It tends to require significant formal training and considerable effort to learn to make effective use of a spreadsheet, database, computer graphics programs, and so on. Moreover, the advantages of learning to use these tools are not so evident to many people.

For a teacher, the step to integrating IT into the everyday curriculum is a still larger step then merely learning to use a variety of computer tools. The teaching and learning processes are complex. Classroom management is complex, and having the students using computers in the classroom and in a computer lab can make it more complex. Dealing with a variety of computer hardware, software, and connectivity is a major challenge to a teacher. When all of these difficulties are taken together, it is easy to see why widespread adoption of the innovation of fully integrating IT into the everyday curriculum will take a long long time.

Charter Schools

Small size is one of the important characteristics of charter schools. A school is a social institution, and smallness can help create a community of learners that includes students, teachers, school administrators, parents, and community members. The people in this community of learners can know each other and be responsible to each other. They can draw on personal and community resources as an integral component of the learning experience.

Some Design Elements

Charter schools vary widely in design and focus. For example, there are dozens of different school-reform movements, any of which might be the basis for the design of the curriculum, instruction, and assessment in a charter school. The people starting and initially staffing such a school have a heartfelt zeal for their particular school-reform movement. Parents may play a significant role in the design of the school.

Many charter schools place significance on initial and ongoing professional development—for example, preparing teachers to work well in the curriculum, instruction, and assessment environment that is the hallmark of the school. Moreover, many charter schools make use of differentiated staffing arrangements, using volunteers, paraprofessionals, regular teachers, and master teachers. Pay schedules may be quite different than in traditional public schools. For example, a charter school might have a performance-based pay mechanism.

IT use tends to be one of the distinguishing features of charter schools. Not all charter schools are high tech, but, on average, charter schools depend more on IT than do traditional public schools.

Roles of Information Technology

All schools have common characteristics. They have budgets and must deal with fiscal affairs. They have students and must deal with record keeping. They need to provide students with access to information. They have curriculum, instruction, and assessment.

IT can play a significant role in all of these areas. The steadily increasing power and cost effectiveness of microcomputers, local area networks, the Internet, and the World Wide Web make significant contributions to charter schools. In many ways, the economies of scale that used to give certain advantages to large schools are being obviated by IT.

To a large extent, IT is scaleable. Microcomputer hardware and software can be purchased in small increments, but at unit prices comparable to what buyers obtain when making large purchases. This has been achieved through statewide consortia or other purchasing arrangements. Schools can be small and cost-effective in providing their students with the benefits of IT.

One of the most obvious areas of IT use is the school research library. The Web is an emerging global library. Gradually, the contents of this global library will surpass even the best university research libraries.

Another obvious area of IT use is in access to curricula of great breadth and depth. Distance learning and computer-assisted learning already offer a wide range of learning opportunities and time-scheduling options for the learner. Eventually it will be commonplace for students to make significant use of distance learning and computer-assisted instruction in their schooling.

Many charter schools provide environments in which students can learn from each other. As compared to traditional public schools, charter schools tend to span a wider range of grades and to do more mingling of students from different grade levels. For example, a charter school might combine students in kindergarten through sixth grade into a single classroom. This type of multi-age grouping helps older students learn to help younger students. In terms of IT, it also provides an environment in which a younger student may end up helping older students.

Final Remarks

The people starting a charter school have the opportunity to create a school from scratch. They can build on the best ideas in curriculum, instruction, and assessment. They can decide the nature and extent of IT use. In essence, each charter school is an educational experiment. Most will initially succeed at least to a reasonable extent, because of the huge amounts of energy and enthusiasm of their founders.

Over the longer run, some of the charter schools will fail and be closed. Others will show performance results comparable to traditional public schools. However, some will be consistently more successful than the traditional public schools in their communities. They will serve as role models and may help facilitate improvements in the overall school systems in their districts.


Meier, D. (1998). Can the odds be changed? Phi Delta Kappan, 79(5), 358–360.

Raywid, M. A. (1998). Small schools: A reform that works. Educational Leadership, 55(4), 34–39.


Phi Delta Kappan [Theme issue]. (1998, March). 79(7). This theme issue contains three articles on charter schools. These articles provide research information about current charter schools as well as information about some of the successes and failures of these schools.

Retrospective Comments 5/22/05

The Charter School movement continues. An intersting piece of the Charter School movemetn is the development of schools based on Distance Learning. Thus, for example, a Charter School might be serving students fromn throughout a state, and not have a "campus" like a traditional school.

There are, of course, some public schools that have entered the Distance Learning arena, as well as some statewide public and private Distance Learning schools. Some draw studetns from throughout the country, or throughoutt he world.

Charter Schools, all by themselves, represent a paradigm shift. to a niche between a traditional public school and a traditional private school. When coupled with Distance Learning, we have a more narrowly defined paradigm shift. Such a Charter School nicely fits some of the needs of parents who are home schooling their children. The home schooled children receive direct benefits of the public money available for supporting public schools.

Gerald Bracy is a well known researcher and author in education. In 2005, he published an extensive report on Charter Schools.

Bracey, Gerald (2005). Charter Schools’ Performance and Accountability: A Disconnect. Accessed 5/22/05:

Quoting from the Executive Summary of this report:

This report argues that evidence exists for the case that the charter school movement is largely a failed reform. The report puts the charter school movement in the context of dissatisfaction with public schools and the public sector in general. It then describes the claims for charters made by the early charter school advocates, emphasizing the advocates’ promise of increased achievement. From there, the report reviews evaluations of charter schools in Arizona, California, Michigan, Ohio, Illinois, North Carolina, and Texas, as well as several national evaluations.

The review shows that charters have not lived up to their promise of increased achievement. This failure is surprising given that charter schools are small (most have fewer than 200 students) with small classes, two factors known to increase achievement. This failure becomes even harder to understand given the advantages that charters enjoy in their freedom from the rules, regulations, and contracts that are said to bureaucratically burden the public schools.

The Spreadsheet

The Software Publishers Association (SPA) has approximately 1,200 corporate members and is broadly repreentative of the software industry. The SPA annually gives Codie Awards to outstanding people and products. The winner of the 1998 Codie Award for Lifetime Achievement was Dan Bricklin. He invented the first spreadsheet—named VisiCalc (for “visible calculator”)—in 1979.

A Little History

Back in 1979, the microcomputer industry was in its infancy. Many competing companies were producing 8-bit microcomputers that ran at a speed of approximately 1 megahertz. These machines used the BASIC programming language, and a steadily growing number of games and application software was available. From the viewpoint of mainframe, minicomputer, and time-shared computer manufacturers, microcomputers were just toys. They lacked both the power and software to serve the needs of business customers.

The spreadsheet changed this. A spreadsheet is “merely” a computerization of the two-dimensional accounting sheet used for bookkeeping. The software is designed to allow easy entry of numbers and formulas into the spreadsheet’s cells. The software automatically carries out the computations indicated by the formulas.

A spreadsheet is a simple but powerful idea. It allowed businesspeople to develop financial models of a proposed business activity quickly and easily. A person can ask “What if?” questions with a spreadsheet, exploring various alternatives. Modern spreadsheet software also has the ability to graph results by using a wide variety of built-in graphing routines. This adds a visual dimension to the original spreadsheets’ numerical feedback mechanism.

Looking back, it’s easy to see why the spreadsheet was so successful. The end user was empowered. An ordinary businessperson could learn to develop spreadsheet. It was no longer necessary to deal with the programmers who worked in the company’s management information system. It was no longer necessary to wait weeks or months to have software developed that could explore new ideas.

The spreadsheet also represents another really important idea. The businesspeople who learned to use spreadsheet software already had a great deal of knowledge about business, business problems, and how to represent business problems with numbers and formulas. The spreadsheet brought this previous knowledge and these skills together in a way that it could be used to solve real, current problems.

Educational Implications

During the past 20 years, the spreadsheet has significantly changed the bookkeeping, accounting, and business curricula in high schools and colleges. We commonly expect that even beginning bookkeepers can develop and use powerful spreadsheet software.

Spreadsheet software is now built into integrated packages such as AppleWorks and into suites such as Microsoft Office and thus is available to tens of millions of computer users.

An introduction to spreadsheets is now considered an important component of the information technology standards being developed by various school districts, states, and the International Society for Technology in Education. Spreadsheet use can be taught to relatively young students, but it turns out to be far more than a simple task.

Here are the two important education-related ideas discussed earlier: First, many businesspeople learned to use spreadsheets quickly so they could build on what they knew about their businesses, bookkeeping, problem solving, and business math. They already knew the types of common business formulas—such as compound interest and amortization—that require extensive calculations. Second, businesspeople now use spreadsheets to develop models of proposed business situations and to explore answers to “What if?” questions. They have the business knowledge to interpret and use the results produced by spreadsheet computations.

My point is that businesspeople learned spreadsheets in the context of their current knowledge, and they were highly motivated because they had existing business problems they wanted to address and solve. Constructivism (or building on previous knowledge) and intrinsic motivation were the keys to their success. Contrast this condition with the typical middle or high school student who is exposed to spreadsheets for the first time. Most likely, the student lacks the background in modeling, calculation-intensive formulas, and problem solving—that is, the basic prerequisites to understanding spreadsheet use. The problem this student is learning to solve with a spreadsheet may not be personally or intrinsically motivating and may not require the use of such powerful software.

This presents a major challenge to teachers. The spreadsheet provides a superb environment for studying the representation or modeling of a wide range of problems, use of formulas for mathematical calculations, and problem solving. Problems can come from business, as well as from science, mathematics, the social sciences, engineering, architecture, and other academic disciplines. Developing a spreadsheet involves many of the ideas of computer programming—such as testing, debugging, and procedural thinking. Use of the graphing routines in a spreadsheet requires knowing effective ways to represent numerical data.

All of these ideas can be learned by teachers, although most of them need significant professional development to learn these ideas and how to integrate them effectively into curriculum, instruction, and assessment.
This provides yet another example of the crying need for further professional development and more curriculum materials for teachers. The spreadsheet is a powerful idea that contributed substantially to the microcomputer industry’s development. In the hands of a well-qualified teacher, the spreadsheet can contribute substantially to the education of students of all ages.

Over the years, Learning & Leading With Technology has carried many articles that detail how to use spreadsheets in the curriculum. We look forward to seeing examples from our readers on their own specific and integrated use of spreadsheets in their curricula.

The 15% Solution

The short section that follows was a left side Sidebar in the publiched version of the article.

Nearly 15 years ago, I boldly asserted that if our educational system would spend 2% of its budget for information technology, then great things could happen (Moursund, 1984). The 2% suggestion seemed rather wild-eyed, although some higher education institutions were already spending at that level. Well, here we are in 1999, and according to data in a report given to the president (Panel on Educational Technology, 1997), the expenditures in the 1994-95 school year had grown to 1.3% of the school budget. Even more recent data (1998-99)suggests that we are now close to the 2% level.

In a March1984 editorial, I noted: “A recent ad in my town’s newspaper indicated one could purchase a 64-KB machine with a 5.25-inch floppy disk drive, a printer, and a monochrome monitor at a retail price of $900. The ad was for a very widely sold computer system from a reputable local dealer. It was for a one megahertz, eight-bit machine that had been on the market for a couple of years.”

Now more recently I’ve seen an ad for a 64-MB machine with a 3.5-in. floppy disk drive, a 4.3-gigabyte hard drive, a 56K modem, a 323 CD-ROM drive, a color monitor, and a color printer at a retail price of less than $1,000. This is a 333-megahertz, 32-bit computer. I also saw an ad for a $999 16MB laptop with a 12.1-in. color monitor—a 233-MHz, 32-bit computer with a 3.5-in. floppy drive, a 203 CD-ROM, and a 1.6-gigabyte hard drive. Both computers have operating systems with graphical user interfaces and a mouse or a touchpad. The prices had dropped substantially from just a few months before, and they probably will have dropped still more by the time you read this article. When adjusted for inflation, the costs are substantially less than the 1984 machine.

What Percentage Do We Need?

Two percent of the school budget buys much more computer than it did 15 years ago. However, our expectations also have gone up a lot. Fifteen years ago we felt lucky to be in a school that had a student-to-computer ratio of 80-to-1. Now the national average is approximately 5-to-1—and still inadequate. A commonly stated goal is two students per computer, and we now have quite a few schools where every student carries a laptop. We also expect schools to provide good connections to the Internet and a wide range of multimedia facilities.

In The Future of Information Technology in Education (Moursund, 1997), I list a half-dozen expectations that a school might have.

  1. Provide every student and teacher with a powerful portable computer and a full range of computer productivity tools.
  2. Provide every classroom with a technology infrastructure that includes scanners, printers, camcorders, digital cameras, desktop presentation systems, and network connections.
  3. Provide every student and teacher with good Web and e-mail access, as well as access to the full range of distance learning and computer-assisted learning facilities both in and outside of school.
  4. Provide adequate maintenance and repair staff, as well as other technical support.
  5. Provide continuing inservice education and support for teachers.
  6. Provide ongoing curriculum revision and development to keep pace with continued changes in technology.

The analysis in my book indicates that meeting such expectations will cost far more than 10% of school budgets. The Panel on Educational Technology (1997) also analyzed many different forecasts of what information technology will likely cost schools in the future. Conservative estimates are approximately 10%, while bolder estimates are closer to 15%.

In many school districts, “discretionary” funds—that is, money available for books, supplies, equipment, and so on—are in the 15% to 20% range. Salaries, busing, ongoing maintenanceand repairs, insurance, and so on make up the rest of the budget. Clearly, a school cannot allocate all of its discretionary funds for instructional information technology.

Where will the needed resources come from?

The answer has four parts. First, reallocating current funds can put a significant dent in the resources problem. All schools, for example, have staff development, curriculum development, and library funds, and some of these resources can be reallocated. Second, good arguments can be made that school budgets will need to increase. Third, the E-rate or other sources of federal funding—or both—will make a significant contribution.

Fourth, the nature of school staffing will need to change. Businesses have massively cut middle management and support staff, and schools may need to do the same. Right now, in a typical school system only 40% to 45% of the budget is used for teachers’ salaries and benefits. In addition, few schools adequately use a differentiated staffing structure that includes instructional assistants.

Final Remarks

I predict that in 15 years a significant number of schools will have implemented the “15% solution.” Many of the needed resources will have come from staff restructuring. Schools that have the most flexibility in staffing—charter schools, magnet schools, and private schools—are most likely to take the lead in these types of educational change.


Moursund, D. G. (1984). The two-percent solution. The Computing Teacher, 11(7), 3–5.

Moursund, D. G. (1997). The future of information technology in education. Eugene, OR: International Society for Technology in Education. This book is available for reading or purchase at the ISTE Web site (

Panel on Educational Technology. (1997, March). Report to the president on the use of technology to strengthen K–12 education in the United States. Washington, DC: President’s Committee of Advisors on Science and Technology.

In Information Technology Improving Education?

Over the past 20 years, K–12 schools have invested billions of dollars on information technology (IT) for instructional use. Annual expenditures are now approximately $6 billion a year, or 2% of the entire school budget. People are asking, “Why hasn’t this large investment produced a significant improvement in education?”

This is a difficult question to answer. One way we can do this is by comparing business with education. Table 1 summarizes this comparison.

Table 1. IT in Business and Education Business

Business Education
The IT industry is now more than 8% of all U.S. business. It is successful and growing.
Many students are successfully learning about IT. State and national standards and goals are being developed.
Computer-assisted learning and distance learning are successfully used in staff and customer training. Progress is occurring on integrating IT tools with curriculum, instruction, and assessment, but educational investment levels lag significantly behind business.
IT tools that support the individual worker are relatively well integrated in the workplace. Business has invested heavily in this area. Progress is occurring on integrating IT tools with curriculum, instruction, and assessment, but educational investment levels lag significantly behind business.

IT in Business

For many years, there have been arguments about the immense amount of money that businesses have spent on IT and their lack of results. In the 1960s, businesses in the United States were spending an average of 3% of their equipment funds in information technology. This amount has steadily grown to the current average of 45%. Communications, insurance, and brokerage companies are now spending more than 75% of their equipment funds on IT.

According to the U.S. Department of Commerce (1998):

In recent testimony to Congress, Federal Reserve Board Chairman Alan Greenspan noted that “ . . . our nation has been experiencing a higher growth rate of productivity—output per hour worked—in recent years. The dramatic improvements in computing power and communication and information technology appear to have been a major force behind this beneficial trend.”

Other economists remain skeptical about the contribution of the IT industry to overall productivity. As yet, there is limited direct evidence in government data that investments in IT have substantially raised productivity in many non-IT industries.

Notice that Greenspan’s claim is specifically about the IT industry. The commerce department report also provides solid evidence to back up Greenspan’s claim. In brief summary:

  • IT industries have been growing at more than double the rate of the overall economy.
  • The IT share of the gross domestic product (GDP) grew from 4.9% of the economy in 1985 to 6.1% by 1990, 6.4% by 1993, and an estimated 8.2% for the current year.
  • In 1996 and 1997, declining prices in IT industries lowered overall inflation by one full percentage point. For example, without the contribution of the IT sector, overall U.S. inflation, at 2.0% in 1997, would have been 3.1%.
  • In recent years, IT industries have been responsible for more than one-quarter of real economic growth.

None of this data provides evidence that IT has improved productivity in non-IT businesses. Even though great effort has been made to support claims that IT has made a substantial contribution to increased productivity in non-IT businesses, the evidence is not clear-cut. Thus, it is not surprising that in education, where we have spent far less money for IT, we do not have much research evidence to support IT’s effectiveness.


Look at the first comparison row in Table 1. It suggests that the IT industry should be compared with the educational component that has students learning about IT. Teaching about information technology is a large, growing, and successful component of education. Education has not only developed computer science courses and computer science degree programs, but also facilitated huge numbers of students in learning to use tools such as word processors, spreadsheets, graphics, hypermedia, and the Internet. Our educational system has set this as one of its goals (International Society for Technology in Education, 1998), and it has made significant progress in achieving this goal.

The second comparison row in Table 1 focuses on computer-assisted learning (CAL) and distance learning. Business uses both methods in customer and staff training. Education also uses these aids to learning.

The evidence on the educational success of distance learning is strong. Students and educators can and do learn effectively through distance learning. The evidence of success is even stronger, of course, if one views distance learning as a new opportunity to learn—making coursework available that a student or educator would not otherwise have. For more information about distance learning, visit the Distance Learning Resources Network home page at

Next, consider CAL. Substantial research has been done on CAL in the past three decades. Kulik (1994) provides a meta-meta study that analyzes many meta studies on CAL. In brief summary, CAL works. On average, students learn faster and better as compared with traditional education. Test scores are raised through the use of CAL aligned with the tests.

The third comparison in Table 1 is that business has integrated IT as a tool throughout its operations, and that education is striving to do likewise. Remember, the evidence is still weak that IT as a tool is significantly increasing business productivity.

Clearly, the nature of many jobs has been changed by IT. For example, the business “secretary” now routinely uses a wide range of IT tools. The typewriter may get dusted off occasionally to fill out a preprinted form, but in many offices it has disappeared. We no longer measure secretarial productivity in terms of how many letters per day are transcribed from dictation or how many sets of notes are edited and typed. It is a challenge to measure a secretary’s changes in productivity when the nature of the job has changed so much.

Similarly, how does one measure the increased productivity of a student who has learned to search the Web for up-to-date information as compared with the student who has learned to retrieve information from a traditional school library? Although information is retrieved in both cases, how do we measure the difference in productivity? How do we measure the productivity of a student who uses a graphing calculator to solve math and science problems versus a student who has learned to solve such problems using paper-and-pencil techniques? The point is, we lack appropriate measures of student productivity. Until we develop such measures, we will have difficulty “proving” that IT is increasing student productivity.

Final Remarks

Integration of IT into education would mean that IT was thoroughly integrated into curriculum, instruction, and assessment. It would mean that students and teachers had routine access to these facilities, and that a technical support staff was in place to provide high quality and timely support. Business has spent far more per capita than education to support employee use of IT, and business is still questioning the effectiveness of this investment. It is not surprising that education lacks solid evidence that this aspect of IT improves the productivity of students and educators.

In essence, each teacher who is facilitating routine student use of IT in the classroom is a researcher experimenting with the effectiveness of such IT use. These teachers can make a significant contribution to education by carefully observing the results of IT use in their classrooms and then sharing their experiences. Learning & Leading With Technology is actively seeking this type of action research.


International Society for Technology in Education. (1998). National educational technology standards for students. Eugene, OR: Author.

Kulik, J. A. (1994). Meta-analytic studies of findings on computer-based instruction. In E. L. Baker & H. F. O’Neil, Jr. (Eds.), Technology assessment in education and training (pp. 9–33). Hillsdale, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates.

U.S. Department of Commerce. (1998, April 15). The emerging digital economy [Online document]. Washington, DC: Author. Available:

Enhance your Opportunities to Learn: A Different Slant on Professional Development

Moursund, D.G. (April 1999). Enhance your opportunities to learn: A different slant on professional development. Learning and Leading With Technology. pp. 4-5. Eugene, OR: ISTE.

We are all lifelong learners. As educators, we know a lot about how to help others learn, and we know a lot about how to enhance our own effectiveness as learners. This article explores how to become a more efficient learner of information technology (IT). The goal is to help you and your fellow teachers learn to make more effective of IT.

Learning is a Routine Event

When you talk with a friend, you learn. When you watch television or read a magazine, you learn. When you teach students, you learn.

What does it take in order to learn? In brief summary, learning requires:

  1. Appropriate and timely access to relevant information that is to be internalized as knowledge and skills. Remember, constructivism (building on one's previous knowledge and skills) is a key concept.
  2. Feedback. When you are using a computer, you and the computer can provide excellent feedback on the correctness of what you are doing.
  3. Time and effort.
  4. Opportunity to apply the knew knowledge and skills--opportunity to "cement" the learning.

Before a person goes to school, learning comes in small bites. A child hears an adult use a word or watches an adult carry out an activity. The child imitates the adult and gets immediate feedback. The act of learning and of applying the learning are intertwined.

In school, this changes. Reading, writing, and arithmetic are complex subjects. It takes a lot of learning over a long period of time to develop significant levels of knowledge and skills in these areas. Thus, the learner is put into a "delayed gratification" situation. Learning is made still more complex because the one on one feedback mechanism between child and parent is now changed, as the teacher tries to deal with 20 to 30 or more students.

Traditional Staff Development

Traditional staff development consists of a group of people coming together for a significant period of time as they participate in a formal class or "inservice." Usually the participants vary widely in their current knowledge and skills about the topic being presented. Typically they have different learning styles and different interests, and there is a significant period of time between the inservice and the opportunity to apply the knowledge and skills being taught. Typically the instructor-participant feedback mechanism does not continue beyond the time of the formal inservice presentation.

It is clear that the traditional inservice leaves much to be desired. It is not surprising that traditional inservice is not particularly effective in helping a teacher make significant improvements in curriculum, instruction, and assessment. These are difficult areas to change, and the traditional inservice is not well suited to supporting such change.

Taking Personal Responsibility

Fortunately, there are alternatives. As noted earlier, as a teacher you know a great deal about the teaching and learning process, and you know a great deal about how best to facilitate your own learning.

Here is a simple example of how to do this. You want to increase your knowledge and skills in use of IT in curriculum, instruction, and assessment. To do this, you need to create an environment in which 1-4 listed above are satisfied. You need to be in charge of your own learning of IT.

Ask yourself a few questions:

  • When I have leisure time and am channel surfing on TV, do I watch high tech educational programs? (There are a surprising number of these available.)
  • When I am reading magazines and other periodicals, do I seek out IT materials? (Three of my favorite "leisure time" magazines have substantial IT content.)
  • Do I take advantage of the IT knowledge of my colleagues, so that I can learn from them in our conversations?
  • Do I structure my curriculum, instruction, and assessment so they help me to learn IT on the job? (Do I routinely learn IT from my students?)

Curriculum, Instruction, and Assessment

The last item in the bulleted list is the most important. You can restructure what you do in the classroom so that it helps you to learn to make effective use of IT in curriculum, instruction, and assessment. Even the smallest of trials can get you started.

For example, for whatever topic that you are teaching, ask your students about how IT is affecting the topic. Note their answers. Does the class (collectively) know more and better answers than you could provide? How can you facilitate them developing some of the insights that you have, but maintain and build upon their vast collective knowledge and points of view?

Information retrieval and communication with other people are essential components of every academic discipline. Ask your students how IT is affecting information retrieval and communications. Have them provide specific examples of how it is affecting them within the disciplines you are teaching. What can you contribute to the conversation, and what do you learn from the conversation?

Ultimately, you want to move beyond a 'talking" knowledge of IT. You want your students to learn to solve problems and accomplish tasks making use of the power of the IT tools. That is exactly what IT-assisted project-based learning is all about (Moursund, 1999). Any teacher can design a lesson that is a project, and design the project so that it is appropriate for students to make some use of IT. In this environment you will learn from your students and your students will learn from each other. You will be in a learning environment in which you can build on your current knowledge and skills and make immediate use of what you are learning.

Final Remarks

When you decided to become an education, you made a commitment to being a lifelong learner within your chosen profession. For some of this learning, traditional large group or small group inservice education is effective and cost effective.

However, the amount to be learned overwhelms the amount of resources that a school district has available to support such traditional professional development. Moreover, many aspects of IT in education can better and more effectively be learned in other ways.

You owe it to yourself and to your profession to seek out and to create IT learning experiences that meet your specific needs. The routine use of IT into your classes--for example, through IT-assisted PBL--is an excellent approach.


Moursund, David G. (1999). Project-based learning using computers. Eugene, OR: ISTE.



IT-assisted Project-based Learning

Moursund, D.G. (May 1999). IT-assisted Project-based Learning. Editor's Message, Learning and Leading With Technology. Eugene, OR: ISTE

Project-based learning (PBL) has long been an important part of the repertoire of many teachers. Information Technology (IT) has added new dimensions to PBL and has increased its value in curriculum, instruction, and assessment.

Here are nine general characteristics of a PBL activity designed to be carried out in an IT environment. A project need not have all of these characteristics in order to provide a valuable learning experience for students. However, you will likely find that your most successful IT-assisted PBL lessons have many of these desirable characteristics.

1. Learner Centered

  • Students have some choice of topic as well as the nature and extent of content of the project. Students shape their projects to fit their own interests and abilities.
  • Students conduct research using multiple sources of information, such as books, online databases, videotapes, personal interviews (in-person or conducted via telecommunications), and their own experiments. Even if their projects are based on the same topic, different students will likely make use of considerably different sources of information.

2. Authentic Content and Purpose

  • Many projects focus on authentic, difficult, current real-world problem, such as an environmental or social problem. The purpose of the project is to help solve the problem. Such problems are complex and do not have simple solutions.
  • The project requires students to do research that draws on multiple sources of information. Such sources of information may be both complex and contain contradictory information. Many projects require empirical research.

3. Challenging

  • The project extends over a significant period of time, usually from several class periods to an entire school year. Students plan for the effective use of their time and share resources such as computers, camcorders, and computer network access. One goal in project-based learning is for students to increase their skills in budgeting their time and other resources.
  • The process of doing a project allows of and encourages students to experiment, to do discovery-based learning, to learn from their mistakes, and to encounter and overcome unexpected and difficult challenges.
  • There is a focus on higher-order skills including problem solving, learning to learn, becoming an independent researcher, setting one's own goals, and self monitoring (self assessment).

4. Product, Presentation, or Performance

  • The project involves the design and development of a product, presentation, or performance that can be used or viewed by others. Students may create products of significant and lasting value, such as environmental assessments or permanent information displays.
  • A project may produce a product, presentation, or performance that becomes a component of a student's portfolio.

5. Collaboration; Cooperative Learning

  • A team of people may work on the project. The team may be an entire class, several classes, or even students from several remote sites. In these cases, individuals or small groups work on different components of a large task, and their joint efforts are often coordinated through technology. Multi-site projects often rely on email or video conferencing.
  • Peer instruction is explicitly taught and encouraged. Students learn to learn from each other and how to help their peers learn.

6. Incremental and Continual Improvement

  • The definition of what is to be accomplished as well as the actual components and products in the project allow of continual revision and incremental improvement.
  • A project is viewed as a process rather than as a product. There is a strong parallel between process-based writing and project-based learning.

7. Teacher Facilitated

  • The teacher's role is often described as being "A guide on the side, rather than a sage on the stage."
  • The teacher looks for and acts on "teachable moments." Often this will involve calling the whole class together to learn about and discuss a particular situation that one student or a team of students has encountered.
  • The teacher is also a learner. The teacher and the students learn together, and the teacher role-models being a lifelong learner.
  • The teacher is in charge of the class. The teacher acts as a facilitator and mentor, providing resources and advice to students as they pursue their investigations. The teacher bears the ultimate responsibility for curriculum, instruction, and assessment.

8. Explicit Educational Goals

  • The project is designed to facilitate learning. It is designed to help achieve the overall goals of education as well as specific content goals.
  • The project is designed to facilitate students learning about IT and how to make effective use of IT in carrying out a project.
  • The project is designed to help increase student ability to carry out complex, challenging, "real world" projects.

9. Rooted in Constructivism

  • The design of the curriculum, instruction, and assessment is rooted in constructivism. Constructivism is a theory about knowledge and learning that is based on the idea that individual learners construct their own knowledge, building on their current knowledge.
  • There is considerable individualization (learner-centered) of curriculum, instruction, and assessment.

IT-assisted PBL can be used at all grade levels and throughout the curriculum. It is a teaching and learning environment in which both teachers and students can learn from each other and help each other to learn.

Learning and Leading With Technology would like to hear about your success stories. Please send us examples so we can share them with your fellow readers.