M.C. Escher Drawing Hands, 1948 www.mcescher.com
My research at Captain Dewey High lasted for a year and a half. To convey the events and my analysis, this chapter is divided into two major sections. The first section is a descriptive overview of relevant conversational events. The second section is an analysis of the conversational reality that emerged and developed during my involvement with the school. My analysis is based on Gilligan's theory of justice and care, Shotter's conversational reality theory, and Third Force psychology's emphasis on self-actualization through conversational interaction. The description of data briefly covers some of the organizational and interpersonal issues that affected the primary action research initiative, the integration of technology into the Fine Arts Academy, later broadened to include the school as a whole.
In both the descriptive and analytic sections of this chapter, the emphasis is on conversations that took place face-to-face, on e-mail, over the telephone, or in meetings during which concepts of justice and care were shared and moments of self-actualization took place or were stymied. As previously explained in Chapter Three, participants are referred to in gender-neutral terms in the descriptive section while in the analysis section the gender of participants is openly discussed. Throughout the dissertation, participants are referred to by their pseudonyms. An annotated list of pseudonyms can be found in Chapter Three.
Captain Dewey High opened in 1953. Its perimeter was approximately one mile. The Fine Arts Academy was established as a curricular path within Captain Dewey High in 1989. Even before 1989, Captain Dewey High had a reputation of supporting the arts, creativity, and the shared articulation of interpersonal relationships. Students from anywhere in the district could apply to the Fine Arts Academy and based on an audition (or a portfolio) and an interview, could be accepted for transfer to Captain Dewey High.
Both the Fine Arts Academy and the high school had a city-wide reputation for social liberality. Teachers at the school were known to take a personal interest in students. One teacher had adopted and raised a student and many teachers, counselors, and staff had their own children attend the school or had themselves attended the school and returned as teachers. Often school policies had been based on a belief in the power of discussion to work out difficult situations. When the school became racially integrated, there were incidents of verbal and physical violence. Interracial student support groups were formed that enabled cross-cultural communication. Although I did observe evidence of systemic sexism, I did not witness overt acts of sexual or racial stereotyping by students or staff.
The East side of the school grounds lay alongside a major two-lane thoroughfare. The North and West sides of the school bordered on neighborhoods primarily made up of two and three bedroom houses. The South side faced a mix of single-story professional buildings and undeveloped land.
Permanent installations of student artwork and topical posters graced the walls of Captain Dewey High. When I began my research there, copies of a poster "Think it. Believe it. Achieve it." were posted in every hallway. I supposed that the poster was meant to encourage individual achievement. However, I interpreted the poster as referring to my research questions: Could the interpersonal articulation of individual thinking generate belief in and the achievement of collaborative action? Could the goal of technology integration be achieved as a result of co-agentic conversation rather than through the current much-researched model of expertise-centered teacher technology training? I have divided my research chronologically according to my interpretation of consultation phases: entering, meeting, transferring, and completing.
In November 2000, I responded to an e-mail from Sable, the Fine Arts Academy Administrator at Captain Dewey High. (See Appendix E for Sable's e-mail.) Sable e-mailed a message to the coordinator of an arts-based research conference and his/her e-mail was forwarded to the conference listserv. Sable requested researchers to come and work at the Fine Arts Academy. The idea of working with art educators appealed to me. After several phone conversations and e-mails, Sable and I made arrangements to meet in person to discuss potential research projects.
I arrived to meet Sable for the first time in January 2001. Among my first impressions of Captain Dewey High School recorded in my journal were, "Schools are sites of continuous transformation," and "It [Captain Dewey High] feels like America to me." Walking down the hall as students made their way to their classes was a heady experience. In my journal, I wrote of the joy I felt being in the midst of such a heterogeneous mix of young people. I felt privileged to be a participant in what seemed to me to be the site of a young America in its becoming.
Sable's initial e-mail characterized the Fine Arts Academy as "a grass roots effort that has come a long way in five years." Initially, the academy was the idea of the founder of a well-renowned performance arts high school in another part of the state. Sable was hired in 1995 as the academys first full-time administrator. The academy did not have official status as a magnet school but functioned instead as a special program under the aegis (and dependent upon the good will) of the school as a whole and its current principal, Lightyear.
Sables office was small. Most of the offices at the high school were small. None were ostentatious. Sable and I decided that the most productive avenue for our collaboration would be to upgrade the Fine Arts Academys web site. For several weeks, we discussed our ideas with committees of teachers, parents, and students; and we interviewed teachers who might be interested in participating specifically in the web site project or in the more general goal of technology integration into the curriculum.
Creating collaboration. My understanding of what my role should be as an action researcher was heavily influenced by the work of Argyris (1982), Lewin (1948), and Mink (1993a). I felt my purpose of initiating and supporting change and innovation in order to impact the organization of human and educative systems barred the simple dispensing of expertise. My goal was for technical knowledge to become embedded in the daily workings of the Fine Arts Academy. I felt that my role was to initiate and model long-term collaborations that would support the continuous development of the use of instructional technology.
By the end of February 2001, Sable and I had collected all the necessary permissions to proceed and had identified two teachers who were highly motivated to work with me, Tower, the Head of the Art Department, and Wiser, the High School English Teacher of the Year for 2000-2001.
In retrospect, even in initial conversations, teachers, parents, staff, and students were generous with useful and accurate information. The parents I spoke with conveyed reliable organizational analyses as well as penetrating self-reflective portrayals of the significance of parents role in support and change. (See Appendix F for excerpts from online conversations with Elvinor.)
Teachers and students repeatedly informed me that they valued inclusion, in particular that any program taking place in the school ought to be available to every student. Some teachers let it be known to me that efforts benefitting the Fine Arts Academy would be viewed as draining needed resources away from the rest of the school. There seemed to be universal agreement that the school and the academy needed more resources of all kinds: space, equipment, training, money, teachers, and time.
My general impression was that the shared mythology of lack was supporting a D-need motivational approach to the full integration of technology into the curriculum. The challenge for me would be to collaboratively re-story this mythology so that teachers, parents, and students could perceive themselves as supported and capable of fulfilling both basic technology goals and the "higher" goals of aesthetic and intellectual engagement with technological tools.
I began the long process of clarifying for myself my interest in implementing aesthetic principles of education and innovation as bases for the development of technology literacy, creativity, and continuous innovation.
Understanding resistance. It has bothered me that polarities are used so often for explanatory schemata. Intellectuals perpetuate irreconcilability by reifying polarities in thought and action. The research literature on teachers and technology was filled with examples of teachers responding negatively to innovation. It did not make sense to me that teachers would inherently be against change. How could the educational technology literature fail to notice that teachers have just as often been the change agents as they have been conservators and traditionalists? I wanted to go beyond Hodas' (1993) characterization of teachers as non-readers who, by the very nature of their role, were doomed to resist new forms of knowing. I thought it likely that there were qualitative differences between the techniques, policies, and innovations that teachers accept and those that they resist. I wondered what those qualitative differences might be.
I took for granted that the researchers who had found teachers to be resistant were telling the truth. Teachers as much as anyone can resist change when they deem the change to be dangerous. Was it in the way the innovation was explained to the teachers or the substance of the innovations themselves that was causing teacher resistance? I thought that if I moved very slowly and carefully and listened closely I might be able to determine the nature of teacher resistance to technology innovation. I assumed that Hodas (1993) had been accurate in his identification of a phenomenon of resistance but that he had misrepresented its psychological and intellectual origins and purposes.
The meeting phase dated from March 2001 through May 2001. This phase of the action research was characterized by intensive and often quite interpersonally revealing conversations. The conversations all concerned our roles and our hopes for education at Captain Dewey High. Often these conversations became heated, passionate, emotional. These conversations quite literally became the engines of change. Although the primary or core participants/collaborators remained the original three, Sable, Tower, and Wiser, a secondary group of participants including teachers, parents, school and district staff became involved in the change effort.
Elvinor was the parent of a Fine Arts Academy student musician. When Elvinor and I discussed the role parents played in school change, I was moved to re-evaluate my interpretation of the role parents could and did play in the communicative organization of school. In an online chat, Elvinor beautifully captured the spirit of our hopes, "It's way too much work for any one soul to do. That's also the beauty of the interwovenness of the web that we were talking about....the more brains at work, the better." (See Appendix E for more of Elvinor's contributions.)
Sable often discussed with me the complexities of the Fine Arts Academy's relationship to Captain Dewey High. Sable had to negotiate through Lightyear (principal) and Strong (building supervisor) for resources, teachers, money, and equipment. The academys finances and even its organization depended on the high schools administration. Often the needs of the academy were perceived as contrary to the needs of the school as a whole and this was a great frustration for Sable. (See Appendices F and I for Sable's memos to Lightyear and parents.)
Although the academy had recruited a sufficient number of students to require the appointment of additional teachers to the art department, the district had refused to hire more teachers. Some art classes had to be cancelled, many others were overcrowded. During this series of conversations with Sable, we often discussed parents potential to effect systemic organizational change. In Sables experience, parents had succeeded where administrators had failed.
Conversations with district technology staff were always pleasant and informative. It seemed particularly odd to me that everyone I contacted on the district level regarding technology integration was well-informed and considerate and that the technology infrastructure was well-designed but teachers, students, and parents at the academy and the high school did not feel supported or encouraged in their technology use. Where was the disjunct between a district policy that was eminently coherent and a daily school technology praxis that could at this stage be characterized as chaotic and fraught?
For example, the district had provided a server-supported information structure, a password-protected set of folders, one for each student and each teacher in every school in the district. Each school members folder was accessible from all networked computers on each campus. Practically speaking, all campus computers were networked. This well-designed system represented a commitment on the part of the district to support intra-campus use of information technology for instruction and collaboration. Theoretically, students and teachers could make their work accessible electronically throughout the building; collaborative work between teachers from different areas was a technically-supported possibility. And yet no one at Captain Dewey High was using this functionality. Except for Gold, an English teacher and the chairperson of the District Technology Leadership Team (DTLT), none of the participating teachers even knew of the systems existence. None of the high school teachers had been trained to access the system and there had been no school-wide dissemination of information concerning its educative or organizational potentials.
Classroom computers. Some places have powerful effects on our psyches. Some classrooms embody the philosophy of a teacher so well that the room itself teaches. Wiser and Tower both had classrooms of this type. Tower's art room and Wisers English room were spaces in which it was possible to have deep and penetrating conversations. Both teachers expected self-reflection from their students and both encouraged students to use both creative and critical intelligence in their class work and in their homework assignments. Towers and Wisers classrooms reflected their personalities and their teaching style. Neither room was overly tidy, each had a lived-in quality. Resources were organized and kept in order and students were allowed to make themselves comfortable while they were working. Students working in these rooms were encouraged to show a sense of pride in their work. Both teachers offered generous and timely analyses and in-depth feedback to each student.
Wiser had four Macintosh computers. They were networked together so that Wiser could access them all from a single desktop. Students could be found using the computers throughout the day. Tower, on the other hand, had only one Macintosh in his/her classroom. Students rarely used this computer because it was password-protected and required Tower to walk over and type in his/her password every time the computer was idle for more than 15 minutes. Towers (art) computer did not have any art or design programs installed. In contrast, all of Wisers (English) computers were equipped with a popular word processing program and did not require a password for student access.
In the first few weeks of the research both Tower and Wiser communicated to me their concern for students with special emotional or intellectual needs. Both of these teachers spent extra time and effort to appreciate the life situations and the psychology of their students.
Competency. Competency has many connotations in educational discourse and several research methodologies have arisen for studying and defining competency and methods for its acquisition (Hyland, 1993; Tarrant, 2000). I was not concerned with technological competency as an element in my research because I felt that teachers competency as teachers (not as technologists) was what ought to be important; and that any definition of technology competence should be altered depending on each teachers subject area and preferred teaching style. I was surprised when both Wiser and Tower, in our respective, initial, face-to-face conversations, described in great detail their struggle with the districts computer competency test. Both teachers felt that the test was an unfair and unrealistic assessment of their ability to utilize computers in their curriculum. Both teachers had spent hours working on the tests. Tower had not yet passed but Wiser had spent a weekend struggling with it, engaging the help of family and friends (one of whom happened to be Carver, technology support-person) and had at last passed. Both Tower and Wiser asked me if there was anything I could do to change the system because in their view many teachers were discriminated against because of this test. My response was that I would like to see the test myself and then I would ask someone at the district level for the rationale for using the test. Perhaps district policy had not been conveyed correctly.
Prior to my work at Captain Dewey High, I had not heard of the existence of computer competency tests for teachers being a pre-requisite for the allocation of computers for student use. According to both Wiser and Tower, every teacher who wanted to have classroom computers was required by the district to pass this test. Teachers were given one computer for their administrative responsibilities but to receive computers for their students, they would have to pass this test.
The test required a knowledge of DOS, an operating system that had become embedded and invisible in PCs but had never been used in Macintosh computers. Wiser and Tower had Macintosh computers but both PCs and Macs were used on campus. The test questions were not cognitively challenging. One exercise was to outline an image of scissors and place them on the left side of the screen. But understanding and using DOS commands appropriately was daunting for most non-programmers. Neither Wiser nor Tower would ever have occasion to use DOS commands on their Macs. Interestingly, the district did not supply a set of instructional materials so that teachers could study for the test. The situation seemed so odd to me, and every teacher I spoke with (not just Tower and Wiser) mentioned the test as a stumbling block, that I resolved to find out more.
Force fields. Some Lewinian force fields affecting teachers ability to integrate technology into their curriculum were becoming apparent. The competency test was a hurdle that teachers were having difficulty surmounting before they could even acquire computers or begin to utilize technology pedagogically.
The District Technology Leadership Team (DTLT) was made up of a group of Captain Dewey High teachers and was charged with disseminating district-wide instructional technology information. The DTLT seemed to spend more of its time and energy focused on the acquisition of hardware than on educational guidance and pedagogical support. During the course of my research, as far as I know, the DTLT at Captain Dewey High did not organize any instructional technology events. And the only school-wide communications from the DTLT were memos, sent in Lightyears name, reiterating the necessity of taking and passing the technology test. (See Appendix K for an example of one of these memos.)
Rather than working together to initiate new teaching practices utilizing the potentials of technology, teachers were pitted against each other, competing for computers. Teachers at the school who were interested in using technology had no direct access to intellectual or technical support. The emphasis on the competency test and a shared belief in the scarcity of resources meant that teacher relationships regarding technology issues were often adversarial and competitive.
Gold Crisis. Crises can result from Lewinian forces pushing in contrary directions. Lewin (1936, 1951) wrote that individual behavior can be understood as a reaction to external forces that either restrict or enable an individual to achieve her goals. Almost as soon as Sable, Tower, Wiser and I had defined our goals - a summer technology workshop for teachers, students, and parents, the development of the fine arts web site, and the improvement of the technical support for creating the schools yearly literary journal we experienced external resistance. The most outspoken representative of the resistance to our projects was Gold, an English teacher who was also the chairperson of the DTLT.
The literary journal project (desktop publishing) was the focus of my collaboration with Wiser. Tower was committed to the web site project (web publishing). And Sable was my primary collaborator for the technology workshops (graphic arts, multimedia, research, and business software). Theoretically, none of these projects required Golds participation or assistance.
Wiser and I had once asked Golds advice on accessing the shared folder system. Gold gave us a printed handout with step-by-step instructions and, when Wiser and I were unable to make the written instructions work, Gold, at Wisers request, briefly assisted us in accessing the system so we could see how it worked.
Gold had been mentioned to me in the context of the competency tests. Gold was reported to be a fierce advocate of the tests. During my research at the high school Gold and Lightyear sent three memos, all of them on the subject of the vital importance of teachers taking the competency tests. The memos used threatening language saying that computers would be removed from the classrooms of teachers who had not passed the tests and that those teachers who did not yet have computers would not receive any unless they had passed the tests. (See Appendix K for one of these memos from Lightyear and Gold to the faculty.)
In my view, competency was not the fundamental problem but rather was masking an avoidance of the challenge of fair allocation and distribution of computer hardware and software. This more fundamental issue of computer allocation brought about a public confrontation between Gold and myself in the hallway outside the teachers' lounge.
Sable and I had been immersed in an organizational nightmare, trying to find rooms and computers we could use for summer technology workshops that would not interfere with the yearly cleaning of the school or the Ninth Grade Initiative summer school. During the course of our brainstorming of possible solutions, Sable had told me how a few years earlier s/he had organized a summer multimedia workshop taught by Aztlan, a university professor of dance and multimedia. Sable had borrowed one computer from each of several friendly teachers and carried them one at a time to a room approved for use. Sable told me this story as a fable, the moral being, that his/her previous method was daunting and time-consuming but, worst case scenario, could be tried again.
Building supervisor Strong had suggested to me that we use Bryghts vocational technology lab. Strong further suggested that Bryght might be interested in working on the project. I had met with Bryght (Business Technology Teacher) and Genesis (Head Librarian) to discuss the possibility of using their (already computer-equipped) rooms. The library contained approximately 20 computers and the vocational technology lab held approximately 35 computers.
The day following our initial conversation, Genesis came out of the teachers' lounge and stopped to talk to me in the hall. S/he told me that Gold was in the teachers lounge warning teachers that I was planning to remove computers from their classrooms without their permission. Genesis and I were still talking when Gold came out of the lounge. I greeted Gold and stepped forward so that s/he would stop and talk. When it became clear to Genesis and the others who were standing around us that I was not intending to create a scene, everyone drifted off and Gold and I were alone in the hall.
We spoke for about 20 minutes and though we covered a lot of ground we did not find common ground. Gold denied spreading rumors about me and I stated that I would prefer that s/he come directly to me if s/he had objections or questions regarding my plans. Gold agreed in principal. I then asked Gold about the competency tests and the memos that threatened the teachers with the confiscation of their computers if they had not yet passed the computer competency tests. Gold said that the teachers who had not passed the tests were lazy and refused to make the commitment to learn about technology. Gold said that using threats was the only strategy that would work with Captain Dewey High teachers and when I had been there longer I would come to accept this fact.
Clarifying district policy. It took many weeks to get a meeting with Archer, the district instructional technology director. And, although we had intended to meet once more, Archers job was extremely demanding of his/her time and after Archer cancelled three appointments because of emergencies an area flood, an emergency district meeting, and a personal emergency my research time had expired.
In our face-to-face meeting, Archer began by explaining to me that the district had created a "vast and robust" technical infrastructure but that there was a growing realization that more attention to human factors was needed in order to utilize and maintain those systems appropriately. S/he said that "the [districts] first line of defense" was made up of five facilitators who were responsible for providing training to district teachers. Archer admitted that the district was not yet providing adequate technical support but s/he skirted the issue of whether or not the district was providing teachers with sufficient cognitive support for technology integration into the curriculum. Throughout the duration of this study, neither myself nor any of the core participants ever met or saw any of the five district technology trainers at Captain Dewey High.
When I asked Archer about the districts position on the competency tests, s/he seemed to hesitate about agreeing that they were outdated and irrelevant but did become animated when explaining that the districts new policy was to replace the competency-based allocation of computers with an enrollment-based assessment and allocation. The districts goal was changing from teacher competency to the availability of computers for student use.
Archer had taught English at Captain Dewey High before going to law school and joining the district as an administrator. S/he had taught in the same department as Gold and was familiar with Golds approach to education. I asked her/him to come to a meeting at the school to discuss district policy. I explained that my hope was that Gold might be influenced by the new district policies. Archer agreed to come and said that s/he looked forward to being in the school again.
Are we in it or not? While I was collaborating with the teachers at the high school, I was working on presentations for conferences on Artificial Intelligence in Education (AIE) and Computers and Writing (CW). My presentation to the AIE conference was on the relationship between ontology and epistemology, specifically how the symbolic structures of ontologies often limit the exploratory potentials of epistemologies. My presentation to the CW conference was on the same topic but was posed as encouragement to teachers to realize their power as consumers of instructional software to influence the course of its development.
My hope in both cases was that educators would have the confidence to promote the educative value of unpredictable, interpersonal relationships. And that AIE designers would have the open-mindedness to perceive a value in open-ended instructional designs. During my research on this topic, I became fascinated with Ilya Prigogine's conceptualization of the relationship between chaos, creativity, and the arrow of time. The ontological conception underlying educational programs invested in fixed-answer questions was similar to the reasoning underlying reversible time equations: a fixed universe. Incorporating an appreciation of the arrow of time into educational designs could mean a greater sensitivity to change, growth, and interaction in learning moments.
When I realized that Prigogine was a professor at my university, I sent an e-mail to his assistant asking if s/he would be willing to let me interview her/him about Prigogines work. S/he wrote back with the message that Dr. Prigogine would like me to call him at his home to arrange an interview. I was surprised and thrilled. Our phone call led to his suggestion that we meet in his office a few days later to discuss further the relationship between his theoretical work and my research interests.
After our initial greetings in his small office at the University of Texas, Dr. Prigogine began our discussion by saying, "I simply wanted to know: Are we in it or not? And what is your question?" Unfortunately, at that time I did not have a coherent question, only a broad wondering. Dr. Prigogine patiently listened to my rambling, groping for perspective. When I mentioned Cassirers work on the history of science, Cassirers theory regarding the ubiquity of symbols and symbolic thinking and then my interest in how underlying ontological conceptualizations influence pedagogic practice, Prigogine said, "I think I know this Cassirer He was a Kantian?" I concurred. We smiled. He was pleased that I had found his theories by following Kantian idea-threads. We found that we were both interested in the analytics of a humanitarian science, a humane and human science whose epistemology accepts the responsibility of biological embeddedness and social interwovenness.
I asked Prigogine how he could have written that time could be considered reversible in some cases. His response was that in cases where only two factors are involved, mathematically reversible time can predict behavior with some accuracy. But in situations involving living organisms, there are always far more than two interacting factors. For practical purposes, the arrow of time, the effects of change over time, must be taken into consideration.
Sable had asked me to take the position of on-campus technology support-person, the position that Carver had vacated when s/he took a district-wide technology support role. The situation was complicated. There is a large body of literature exploring the relative pros and cons of internal vs. external consulting. If I were to take a job with the district and work in the school, would that compromise the integrity of my study? I had reason to believe that Sables administrative instincts and abilities were excellent and his/her reasoning seemed sound. Sable had explained to me that a local technology company had provided a grant for a technology support position, software, and equipment. $35,000 remained in the fund but the grant stipulated that the school could not use the money if the technology support position was vacant. If I took the position I would have to abandon my research design, immerse myself in the priorities and goals of Captain Dewey High, the vagaries of district bureaucracy, and the thankless headaches of grant management.
With Prigogines question reverberating in my mind, I decided to choose to be in it rather than not. I accepted the job. I was hoping that my new role as internal consultant would not cause me to abandon my objectivity but, even if it did, it was exciting to consider that my new position might allow me to enter into a more profound state of inter-subjectivity.
More meetings. Two technology meetings were held at Captain Dewey High before the meeting with Archer. I was unable to attend the first of these but was told by Sable and Tower who had both attended, that the meeting had become heated and there had been yelling. Tower left the meeting early rather than lose his/her temper. Sable said that the argument stemmed from Gold and Strong objecting to our summer technology workshops on the grounds that they were disruptive. Tower and Sable felt that Lightyear could have been more active in our defense.
Meanwhile, I had pursued Strongs suggestion to involve Bryght. I hired Bryght to teach some of the summer workshops and s/he allowed us to use her vocational technology lab.
The second technology meeting was a meeting of the Fine Arts Technology Committee and took place in a small room off the library. The room was crowded, nine people Principal Lightyear, Assistant Principal Hunter, Sable, Tower, Head Librarian Genesis, a geology teacher, computer-based design teacher Shyer, parent chairperson of the Fine Arts Technology Committee Pierce, and myself sat around an oval table that took up most of the 8 x 14 room. I attributed the large turnout to the fact that there had been yelling at the previous technology meeting. At this meeting participants were attempting resolution and interestingly, Gold and Strong did not attend.
Although there was no yelling, there was noticeable tension. I used a conversational strategy of counter-interrupting when someone interrupted Sable or Tower. More than occasionally, when Sable or Tower would try to clarify their positions, someone would cut in and speak over them before they could express themselves. Then, hoping to create awareness, I would break in with my counter-interruption and suggest that Tower or Sable be allowed to finish what they were saying. On one occasion, having interrupted the interrupter, I took the liberty of speaking for Sable and Tower myself.
Essentially, Sable, Tower, and I were explaining that the $35,000 in the grant budget had to be spent within a matter of weeks. We were spending the money the only way we could, given the grant categories. The summer technology workshops were free and open to anyone. There was a tremendous amount of work involved in closing out the grant with dignity and educational honor and we would appreciate any help but at the very least we were hoping for the good will of this Fine Arts Technology Committee and anyone else committed to technology integration. After this meeting, Sable, Tower, and I ceased to experience overt negativity or resistance.
The Captain Dewey High meeting with Archer was in a large open area of the library. Gold, Shyer, Bryght, Lightyear, Pierce, Genesis and Strong were among the 12 people who came to the meeting with Archer. Tower and Sable had previous commitments. The meeting was formal in structure but Lightyear had brought us pizza so that we would feel relaxed and comfortable. The agenda was in three parts. Lightyear opened the meeting, before Archer arrived, asking us to read excerpts from texts about technology and intellectual life. S/he asked us to consider how the faculty who were not particularly interested or well-versed in technology perceived those of us who were enamored of its potential. Lightyear identified her/himself as someone who was less than comfortable with a technology-based educational system. This part of the meeting was lively and elicited a variety of responses from participants.
The second part of the meeting (Archer had called to say that s/he would be late) was taken up with visioning what was needed at Captain Dewey High for technology to be integrated into the curriculum. Gold dominated this portion of the meeting. Lightyear repeatedly suggested to Gold that s/he refrain from interrupting others but Gold ignored Lightyears suggestions and continued to overpower most of the speakers with his/her own opinions.
The third part of the meeting began when Archer arrived apologizing for being late, and said that s/he was glad to have brought us copies of the first draft of the district's new five-year technology vision and plan "hot-off-the-presses." S/he made a short speech explaining the districts vision. The district's official view was that technology should support learning. The long-range goal was "any time, any place learning." In five years, every student was to have their own laptop computer. In an attempt to shift the focus from hardware to education, during the following school year, one million dollars was to be cut from the hardware budget and made available for training and education programs. (See Appendix H for a summary of the district's technology vision.)
After Archers short speech, Gold continued to dominate the discussion. Surrounded by technology professionals, parents, the principal and the district information technology supervisor, Gold presented her/himself as the most knowledgeable educational technologist in the room. Bryght and I left the meeting early so that we could install new software in the vocational technology lab for the summer workshops.
The meeting stage of a consulting process has always been the most difficult for me, requiring me to model and engage as deeply as possible in meaningful interpersonal conversations. The transferring stage, on the other hand, is much less affectively challenging. The transferring stage is primarily cognitive in its process, explanations are followed by examples; my focus is on participants incorporating information and practicing skills and I am free to support openly or to observe quietly. During the entering and the meeting phases I was modeling collaboration and making it as clear as I could that I would support any and all attempts at incorporating technology into the curriculum. During the transferring stage my role became that of a traditional participant-observer.
Summer workshops. We offered day and evening classes in PowerPoint, Illustrator, and PhotoShop. Approximately 40 people attended the technology-art classes. Five were parents, the rest were Captain Dewey High students. The responses on the feedback forms we handed out at the end of the courses were generally positive. Some participants reported that they would have preferred more structure while others felt that there was an appropriate amount of creative freedom. One of the graphic arts teachers had attended Captain Dewey High in the 1980s. We offered a second series of technology-art workshops in multimedia taught by university dance and technology professor, Aztlan. S/he taught Flash, Director, and Poser to 20 students. Tower attended all the technology-art workshops as co-teacher and workshop co-organizer. S/he was paid for his/her time, allocated a computer in each class and was able to learn alongside his/her students.
We offered a web research class and a class in Microsoft Office. Both these classes were originally intended for the Ninth Grade Initiative (a summer school for eighth graders who were lacking the requisite credits to enter high school the following fall). Sable had suggested that we use part of the grant money to provide some classes for the initiative as this would benefit the school as a whole. Sable thought that this would also ameliorate accusations that we were only interested in benefitting the fine arts academy and satisfy Strongs request that we not conflict with the initiatives use of school facilities.
Unfortunately, the initiative was traditionally organized at the last minute. Quinty changed plans several times, the result being that the web research class ended up with only two students (one teacher and one high school student) and the Microsoft Office class had none. To preserve the integrity of our budget and our commitment to pay Bryght and Genesis, Sable and I asked those teachers with few or no students to turn their lesson plans into open learning materials for the district. With design help from one of the graphic arts teachers, we created two high quality overhead-projection presentations with hard copy versions of each. We intended to distribute them to the district but found that there was no bureaucratic mechanism to make teacher-generated learning materials generally available.
Writing together. Tower and I wrote a proposal for a special issue of Theory in Practice called "Doing Curriculum Work as a Public Moral Enterprise." Our proposal was not accepted but the experience of writing together helped us to understand each other. The following was our proposal:
"It's all about Culture really "
This paper examines the forces and essences we are experiencing as we work to integrate technology into a fine arts' curriculum. Currently, technology is assigned first to "core" subjects. Fine Arts is considered an elective, lacking the academic credibility necessary to command fiduciary respect from the existing bureaucracy. Equally powerful constraints are imposed by current curriculum designs: The arts curriculum is organized categorically, according to technique; efforts to teach the socio-cultural embeddedness of art are not presently supported. Articulating and developing a mutual understanding from our working collaboration, we have imagined and are implementing a co-evolution of the arts and technology curricula.
Art as vocational or academic training. Throughout the course of our collaboration, Tower had represented our ideas to the fine arts (parent-run) booster club. Before the beginning of the new school year (2001-2002), Tower requested that I come to the booster clubs planning meeting. S/he indicated that s/he was having difficulty representing his/her ideas to the group and would appreciate my help. I was glad to oblige.
The meeting took place in a local city library meeting room. The room was large. Pierce, Oliphant, Sandragon, all parents of fine arts students, Tower, and myself sat around a spacious table and talked about money. How much money did Tower need to accomplish his/her goals? Where would the money come from? I listened and observed, hoping to perceive the dynamic that had bothered Tower enough for her to ask for my support. Sandragon was quiet. The conversation was between Pierce, Tower, and Oliphant.
Oliphant and Pierce suggested that Tower apply for a grant from a program called "Career to Work." According to Oliphant and Pierce, the music department at Captain Dewey High had received $20,000 the previous year from this program. Career to Work was a vocational program. Oliphant and Pierce said that a vocational technology-art strand would generate funds and prepare students for jobs in the local technology industry. Tower tried to express an alternative vision but was overridden by Oliphant's enthusiasm. After considering how to proceed, I offered, as Tower and I had spoken often of issues relevant to this particular discussion, to share some of our concerns.
I explained to the group that although there was strong national support for art to be part of the core curriculum of public schools, local governments and parents were not always in agreement with this national priority. There were districts where art was cut from the curriculum entirely. Tower and I agreed that art at Captain Dewey High must strive to be a vital, intellectually stimulating, core academic course. If Tower put his/her program in debt to a vocational structure s/he would risk sacrificing time and energy from the academic, the fine art strand in favor of a commercial art strand. In order for students to continue producing high quality, prize-winning art (something the academy students were noted for, in all of the art disciplines offered), Tower had to remain committed to academic rigor. However, if the district would supply the funds for a new teacher, Tower would hire a graphic arts teacher who could be supported in acquiring the certification necessary to apply for vocational funding. Note that the previous year there had been enough enrolled (some transferring from other schools) art students to require a new art teacher, the district had refused to provide the funds and classes had to be merged or cancelled.
Our conversation was lively. Tower participated fully. Oliphant shared valuable information and advice, as did Sandragon. Oliphant owned a graphic arts company and Sandragon worked for a large technology corporation. We began a round of delightful brainstorming. We came up with ideas and visions, many of which became actualities during the following school year.
I brought up an idea I had been mulling over for awhile but had not known how or with whom to share it. I wanted to involve Bryght (vocational technology teacher) in teaching the basic levels of creative software such as PhotoShop, PowerPoint, and Dreamweaver. The group was interested in this idea for several reasons. The majority of art students were white while the majority of Bryght's students were Hispanic or African-American. A collaboration between the vocational technology curriculum and the art curriculum could increase the diversity of both departments. Bryght's vocational technology program was already certified to request funds from the Career to Work funding sources. Art students interested in technology-based art could study in the vocational strand to achieve technology literacy and vocational students might go from Bryghts class to the academy or simply explore their talent in an art class.
Though we did not realize it at the time, a partnership similar to the one we were then co-imagining between Bryght and Tower developed later between the computer-based design teacher, Shyer and 3D art teacher, Copley. Shyer became frustrated with the limitations inherent in his/her technology curriculum. Even though Shyers students were ostensibly in a design class, they were not given any substantive creative guidelines. The lack of art theory in the computer-based design curriculum was frustrating to Shyer. 3D art teacher, Copley taught sculpture, jewelry making, and mobiles. By the end of the next school year (2001-2002), Copley, Shyer, and I were actively investigating the possibility of acquiring the same 3D design software (SolidWorks) and teaching it in both classes. At the same time, Tower, Sable, and I were investigating the feasibility of re-arranging the master schedule so that students could take computer-based design and 3D art classes as part of a unified curricular pathway.
The highlights of the completion stage of my research at Captain Dewey High were the dissemination of my questionnaires, Sables organization of "The Dream Team," the realization of the fine arts web site, the redesigning of the literary journals procedures, and Bryght and I designing and delivering together the first web design course at Captain Dewey High.
The dog days. August, 2001 was a difficult month. School began in mid-August. Very few new teachers had been hired in the district and many high schools as well as elementary and middle schools were coping with the negative effects of overcrowded classrooms. Sable told me that the district justification for not hiring new teachers was that existing teachers had been given raises. Once again teachers were being put in a position of being pitted against themselves. Money was also an issue for me personally because discrepancies in bureaucratic regulations had resulted in a three-month delay in the payment for the work I had done as technology support-person and grant administrator. I remained off-campus for the few weeks remaining until my check arrived. I did not wish my negative feelings to affect my collaborations.
While off-campus, I continued to communicate with Sable, Tower, Wiser, Carver, and Genesis by phone and by e-mail. Tower and Wiser were overwhelmed with record numbers of students; they were both teaching without a free period. Sable told me that the school was in crisis, that teachers and staff were exhausted. The district had introduced a new computer-based system for taking attendance and was requiring every teacher to use the system immediately. The system was not working well, there was no on-site technical support and a call to the help line often meant a wait of more than half an hour, time teachers with no free periods, could ill afford. Sable suggested that I hand out my questionnaires while "the teachers are angry." I could not give out the questionnaires then because the district and university permissions for the previous year had expired while I had taken the job of technical support for the high school. I had resubmitted and was waiting for the committees approval before I could resume collecting data.
September arrived with no sense of foreboding. On September 11th 2001, everything changed. The shootings at Columbine in 1999 had elicited in me a focusing onto the field of education my commitment toward the development of peaceful coexistence. Although the scope of my concerns was enlarged by the events of September 11th, I understood that my present challenge, my contribution, my piece of the humanist puzzle, was to continue working towards the development of interpersonal negotiation and creative collaboration at Captain Dewey High. I returned to the school on September 25th to participate in the fine arts open house. Students sang and played music in the courtyard outside the art room. Student art was exhibited throughout the school. Parents, students, teachers, staff, and community volunteers were sharing ideas and enjoying the creative work. The mood was both somber and celebratory, a soft sadness permeating the festivities added a stroke of ponderousness to the youthful creativity and hopes tentatively emerging. Lightyear gave a speech. S/he said, "We will continue to support the creative spirit of our children," and, "nothing is going to dampen our spirits."
A few weeks later, Principal Lightyear had two PCs sent to Towers art room. Tower had still not passed the competency test. Because Tower did not want to ask, we never found out how or why Lightyear had decided to give those computers to the art department. Regardless, within days students could be found working on the computers in the art studio. Only a few weeks later, Tower brought in a local multimedia artist who showed the art students how to make collages merging digital pictures with handcrafted ones.
The week before I left Captain Dewey High, Tower and I finished writing the criteria for creating and evaluating student web portfolios. Every art student made a web portfolio for their final art grade. It had taken us the full year and a half to acquire the digital camera and to teach everyone how to use it. However, the acquisition of the two PCs was the event that made our dream come true. Until we had more computers, it was hard for students to fulfill any computer-based assignment and almost impossible for me to train enough students in any process sufficiently to make a computer-based arts assessment feasible or fair.
This breakthrough that benefitted all the art students at Captain Dewey High must be credited to Principal Lightyears unsolicited generosity. The two computers that Lightyear allocated to the art room provided Tower with the equipment necessary and sufficient to achieve our long-hoped-for goal of student-created web portfolios. In the Spring of 2002, Captain Dewey High art students were the first group in the district to showcase their work online. Every art student was given the opportunity to self-represent to an unimaginably large audience of family, friends and internet users worldwide.
The questionnaire. I had intended to give questionnaires only to the people I had worked with closely at the school but Bryghts colleague, vocational technology teacher, Miller requested one and then Lightyear's secretary, Winston, suggested that I give questionnaires to the heads of the curriculum departments, the Campus Leadership Team. I handed out 20 questionnaires and received eight responses. (See Appendix G for questionnaire responses.)
All respondents reported a lack of district support for the technology already in place. Several respondents mentioned the teachers role in relation to technology and pointed out ways that technology affected this role. Respondents did not attribute any resistance they had toward technology to any inherent difficulty in understanding or manipulating technology or software but to the awkwardness of working with technology on a daily basis without sufficient technical support.
Although in casual conversations with teachers and staff, the distance learning lab that had been built during the summer of 2001 was characterized as a pointless and expensive mistake, questionnaire respondents reported interest in the potential of distance learning to enhance their curriculum.
Sable and I were surprised that so few people filled out the questionnaires. We had thought that teachers would welcome the chance to express their views officially.
Assessing accomplishments. December marked the official end of my research at Captain Dewey High. At that point it would have been difficult for me to state exactly what we had accomplished. At the time it seemed that we had spent a year planting seeds but nothing had come to fruition. I worried that the participants and the research community would feel that I had shown that time spent nurturing relationships and collaboration was a waste of time. Our accomplishments had not been directly credited in the report that parent and Fine Arts Technology Committee Chair Pierce wrote concerning the progress of Fine Arts Academy technology projects (Spender, 1982a). (See Appendix L for Pierce's report.) However, by comparing the report to those of previous years, I could see the influence our conversations and collaborations had had on the conceptual structure and goals of the technology committee.
The changes that we effected were: the clarification of the teachers role with regards to technology implementation, the acknowledgement of the role that district initiatives play, and the reiteration that the primary goal of technology initiatives must be student access.
Then, in January 2002, from having too many official roles (media artist, technology expert, district technology support-person, and novice researcher), I suddenly had no official role to play. I continued to work in the school as an artist and community volunteer for several months until I left the site in April 2002.
The Dream Team. Sables concern was always how the Fine Arts Academy could benefit students both academy students and the entire population of Captain Dewey High. During the course of our collaboration, Sable began developing a new vision of the organization of the academy.
In parallel with my realization, but reached independently, Sable had come to appreciate that parents were a pivotal source of power in the school district. Leaning on the solid relationships s/he had created with parents of fine arts students, s/he leveraged the opportunity presented by our goal of developing the web site to create a central committee of booster club parents. This central committee, made up of individual parent volunteers, self-selected from the variety of subject area and afterschool activity booster clubs, would be responsible for organizing cross-curricular collaborations. One of the first projects on the agenda of this central committee of booster club parents was a revitalization of the school web site. Sable expanded our goal of developing the fine arts web site and broadened its vision to include coordinating a school-wide collaboration responsible for improving the Captain Dewey High web site.
Sable asked Bryght if s/he would lend the vocational technology lab and asked me if I would teach a once-a-week web development course for parents from the booster clubs. We agreed immediately. Sable called the group "The Dream Team" because we were using Dreamweaver as the web design software. Representatives from the theater, music, several sport booster clubs, a math teacher, fine arts parents (including Sandragon), Sable, Bryght, and Shyer attended the classes and created pages that were put on the web site by Sandragon who emerged as the school webmaster. Sandragon had been the booster club parent responsible for coordinating Towers fine arts web site (which had evolved from a hodge-podge of odds and ends to a focused, contemporary, elegant web design). The fine arts parents developed a beautiful, professional web site featuring information on the academy, the fine arts curriculum, examples of prize-winning student art, and many fine arts students web portfolio.
The literary journal. One of the most developed computer-supported creative methodologies has been in the field of desktop publishing. Wiser and I had planned for many months to upgrade the way students were putting together their yearly literary journal. We wanted students to use technology more efficiently and for more students to understand the process of digital layout and design. In the Spring of 2001, the (student) editor of the literary journal was not particularly interested in working with others so Wiser and I did not have an opportunity to introduce the collaborative potential of desktop publishing to support group creativity. However, in the Spring of 2002, the new (student) editor had a talent for organizing others and was interested in technologys collaborative potential. The new editor (who happened to be a gifted, fine arts student) asked me to coach his/her staff. We set up processes and procedures, and reorganized the computers and files so that the team could work more efficiently. Additional roles were created so that students interested in digital design and layout could concentrate on those areas.
Bryghter days. Happily, the final initiative was the most successful, with the fewest bureaucratic muddles, the most beneficial student effects, and the most significant curricular impact.
In the spring semester of 2001, Bryght decided to offer a web design course the following year and I committed myself to helping design and deliver the lessons if and when the time came. It was spring semester of 2002 before we actually sat down to think out how we would approach teaching FrontPage (a web site design program) to students of radically differing abilities. Bryght taught the vocational business technology course five periods out of seven every day. His/her students had won the citywide competition for excellence in using business software for four consecutive years. Bryghts commitment to his/her students was total. Taking advantage of our past collaboration and my continuing presence in the school, s/he was determined to expand the experiences available to his/her students.
We worked together on lesson plans for the first week of a three week curriculum. We delivered the first week of lessons together. We designed these first lessons to cover the most complicated of the basic techniques so that Bryght could absorb them along with his/her students. In order to minimize anxiety due to the overwhelming amount of new information and ways of knowing involved in web design, each lesson culminated in the creation of a new kind of web page so that students would have a sense of tangible accomplishment each day. We were surprised and gratified when students brought their friends in on the second day to see their projects during lunch. Our class was the talk of the school and the other vocational technology teachers were inundated with requests by students to offer the same experience.
|This section of the data chapter consisted of a description of my experiences as an action researcher at Captain Dewey High. My focus was the nature of interpersonal interactions conveyed through mediated and face-to-face conversations. In the next section I will describe some of the analytic structures that I used in interpreting the events and conversations that were described in this section.|
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