Symposium Activity: Forging a Common Language, Building Alliances
ACTIVITY BACKGROUND AND SCOPE
As desired, the symposium attracted people from the three distinct domains—education, industry, and the learning sciences. Many participants were contributors to more than one domain. On the second day, symposium participants self-assigned into four breakout groups1 to consider three design problems (two groups discussed the same challenge). The symposium organizers chose to provide each group with the broadest design problem idea (i.e., a project title), but not to dictate any other requirement; this would allow the participants to struggle with their assumptions about each problem and to rethink conditions for addressing it. Facilitators were asked to note the context, product, and process undertaken by their group members. The following summarizes the discussions at these three-hour breakout sessions.
The composition of the working groups was verified to assure that all three domains were adequately represented.
Creating an Advanced Placement Calculus Course for a Rural High School
Jeremy Roschelle, SRI International, and Uri Treisman, University of Texas at Austin, facilitated this breakout group.
Context: This breakout group devised its own context from which to launch its discussions: In Texas, there are 500 rural high schools serving 7 percent of the students. These are small high schools that cannot offer much math and science. About 280,000 students are taking math at any given time in the schools. The goal is to enroll 12,000 students per year in calculus. State policy requires equalizing opportunities for these students. Many are poor. It is an ethnically mixed demographic. Historically, most of these schools have only taught algebra and have no experience teaching calculus. A growing Spanish-speaking population wants AP calculus to be available, and a strategy must be found to serve these schools. The ultimate goal is to achieve a higher rate of acceptance to college for these students.
Funding for the technology infrastructure consists of approximately $150 million for hardware, which has been invested in numerous yet makeshift ways. Some schools have expensive videoconferencing and some thin client-run equipment. Most districts have a T-1 line into the principal's office. Very few classrooms are connected, but computer use is growing. Most people have a 28K modem connection at home.
Texas already provides some professional development for teachers, at least five days during the summer and some days during the school year. However, the math teachers have determined that they need fifteen days of professional development and have formally requested at least these days be made available.
One-third of the math teachers are teaching the subject without a good math background. About 10 of the 500 schools are success models and are already providing calculus. Some of these schools succeeded mainly by coordinating the effort from middle school onward—AP calculus is not treated as an isolated activity. In other cases, the achievement is attributable to determined individual teachers who persevered on their own.
Rural Texans are increasingly interested in using the Internet to gain access to products and services, and the state is investing in rural connectivity. By 2003, the Texas state legislature is going to issue a request for proposals to build a system. The governor wants several solutions offered to
promote competition. The governor also wants districts to control some of the dollars. The state wants the systems to start being delivered by 2004.
The breakout group devised a framework for discussion: plan of action, likely barriers, the role of technology, and assessable measures of achievement of the project goals. One participant suggested the discussion concentrate on a challenge faced by administrators and educators in Texas before the group attempted to grapple with the goal to provide AP calculus to students in rural areas.
Product: The group realized that this problem was too complex to tackle in its entirety in the allotted time and therefore decided to consider some specific dimensions of the problem. The group attempted to construct a Request For Proposals (RFP) whereby successful bidders were allowed to learn from their work, to create revisions, and to develop the necessary technology over the course of the project, using as much of the existing equipment as possible. There was some debate about whether the RFP should ask for a single AP calculus course or require a longer-term effort by districts and the provider that would begin at the middle school level and refashion how students are prepared for high-level mathematics.
Process: All the participants felt that the pivotal opening strategy would be to understand the environment in which the technology would be used. The group immediately rejected the stated goal of “creating an AP course”; instead, most of them agreed that the real task was to build something far more robust, something “that had a verticalness to it.” The group wanted a system that would support teachers at different levels and thereby build a pedagogical infrastructure that would lead seamlessly to offering an AP calculus course for which both students and teachers would be prepared.
Because the group had begun by generally agreeing that an infrastructure was required before introducing AP calculus, the discussion focused on the realities of the schools: the needs and requirements, the challenges for teachers, and the need to support them in learning and performance. Many participants identified difficult challenges during this conversation.
First, some members stated that although IT has offered advances in many domains, it has not yet done so for calculus because of its many mathematical symbols and the free-response questions on the AP examination. Participants from industry also pointed out how important it was to understand capacity in different learning environments. Many of the things academics and learning scientists really value —such as generating a large proportion of students prepared to take calculus or developing many cus-
tomized learning options for students—might not be realistically possible. Lower-end, more generic options might be necessary instead.
Tensions between the use of calculators versus the Web were noted. Although participants naturally envisioned a computer-based solution, the AP course requires calculators, not computers. Yet the group did not consider how calculators would be part of the solution. Furthermore, even as some people asserted that the system obviously should be web-based, one participant claimed that some data indicate that web-based AP calculus is actually not as effective as “real” AP calculus with a teacher.
Educators emphasized that the assets of education are people. Any strategy adopted to incorporate calculus into the curriculum must be designed in a way to retain teachers. The educators explained further that Advanced Placement has thrived because it is an elitist course that enables students who are good learners to take a university-level course in a high school setting before they go to college. However, in an age of increasing accountability and increasing teacher shortages, the incentive for teachers and schools to take on the most rigorous, demanding work is unclear when, in the short term, they will be judged only by how many students take the exam and do well.
The idea of using IT assessment tools was appealing to the group: It would allow teachers to assign better targeted and more appropriate work and would give them the help they need in grading and evaluating the work. IT was also viewed as a means for helping students, teachers, and other stakeholders evaluate strategies to improve student learning and teaching. This point led the group to consider ways to increase and facilitate information sharing via technology. If a school is to succeed in such an ambitious goal as establishing a new course, there must be constructive leadership that encourages people to talk openly about student work. If the kinds of communication that technology supports do not assist that local leadership in such efforts, the mismatch could be damaging for calculus and other areas of the curriculum. Taking the time to understand the leadership and organizational structures in these Texas schools would be critical.
Some privacy issues were raised: Who would have authority and access to watch what teachers do? Who would control data about individual students? How would the necessary iteration and improvement process be interpreted as implementation unfolds? Furthermore, would these new technology-based assessment tools be defensible, both politically and in the
courts? These questions emphasized how critical it is to understand the complex social environment before introducing such fluid, flexible data mining. Who has access to what data and how the data might be used are complicated issues. The group struggled with how to change the oftentimes-negative image of assessment into one that is constructive for both teachers and students.
Participants from the learning sciences community commented that, although a lot is known about learning in general, the particulars of learning in this specific discipline (calculus) would be important in this project. And the experts appeared to agree that much work remains to be done. What are the organizing principles that underlie the teaching and learning of calculus? In general, the facilitators noted that the cognitive scientists required a great deal of evidence and exercised a lot of professional caution in the discussions. However, educators and policy makers must often act without what a cognitive scientist would consider sufficient evidence. This difference in perspective raises a potentially serious challenge to developing cross-disciplinary partnerships.
One person offered a challenge to the breakout group, which mirrored on a small scale the challenges that the ILIT committee is likely to encounter as it works to bring these groups together. This participant commented that the goal of the AP course seemed to be to enable students to pass the AP examination. He questioned whether society should be harnessing the Internet and all of those other technology tools just so more people can have the opportunity to pass the AP calculus exam. Is this a good purpose? Do we want to take something like the AP examination, which has been part of the traditional educational culture, and put it into a more flexible and dynamic learning environment? He suggested that maybe educators need to change their thinking about the purpose of taking an AP calculus class.
Another tension centered on the question of time scales. Rather than developing a longer-term, more ambitious strategy, this group concentrated on what could be done in the next couple of years. But one key element of the long-range view is that 10 years from now, the role that teachers play will almost certainly have changed. Teachers may become student motivators, and other resources such as experts may be available only online or as specialists in one domain. The job descriptions for the teachers of the future are going to look very different from what teachers do in classrooms today. Those changing expectations present an inherent tension between the current emphasis on curricular management and the support system
needed to build this new community. The technical, sociological, and educational challenges must all be addressed simultaneously.
This group very quickly recognized the multifaceted challenges of the design problem of building a real system that is going to affect real students.
Enhancing Literacy in Children: Reading to Learn
Marilyn Adams, BBN Technologies, and Tom Landauer, University of Colorado, facilitated this breakout group.
Context: One of the participants in this breakout session presented the following challenge:
The governor declared, “Here is what I want. Imagine that I have unlimited resources. I want to ‘enhance literacy in children' and develop their skills to ‘read to learn.' I have been advised that you are the experts best able to tackle this challenge. Tell me what to do. Offer a convincing proposal. Make it practical. Make it usable. Make it address this issue publicly and be tailored for individual needs, conceivable within our decentralized public school system, and accepted and supported by both parents and teachers.”
The group began its discussion by asking each participant to suggest the most urgent and important issue facing literacy education that could be addressed with technology. The participants introduced themselves but did not explicitly address their biases or assumptions. They generally thought that the real promise—the excitement inherent in information technology—was its potential to enhance and deepen the literacy of students. In this group's estimation, IT could not only close the functional literacy2 gap but also increase children's analytical literacy.3 IT could enable students not only to read stories more capably, but also to think and interpret while reading in other subject areas such as algebra or science. The ambitious goal would be to enable the definition of literacy to evolve to a more sophisticated level.
Functional literacy refers to the ability of an individual to use reading, speaking, writing, and computational skills in everyday life situations.
Analytical literacy refers to the ability of an individual to use analytical skills to question and respond to such elements as perspective, purpose, effect, and relevance of what they read and write.
Product: Following the governor's challenge, the breakout group members selected a problem area for which to “make an invention”—the development of literacy for middle school students. Participants felt that this was an area of critical importance because it involved serving the needs of adolescents, an age group where ever-widening gaps in literacy develop, often with irreparable consequences. Some children need basic reading support, while others read adequately but need help integrating or advancing their understanding of the material. The group wished to guide all children in more active thinking and engagement with the text.
Furthermore, some asserted that the commercial market was not serving this age level adequately, perhaps because it is such a diffuse community. However, the group reasoned that this very neglect made the issue ripe for addressing through some complex technological assistance.
Another strategy to improve literacy was to use technology to remedy the dreaded “fourth grade slump,” when reading progress often stagnates or even declines. The group thought that the real utility of reading is its contribution to a person's ability to engage with other people and with his or her society and culture, and thus achieve success in life. Developing a technology-enabled or -enhanced system to aggressively tackle the decline would be vitally important. The breakout group thought that any system should address all the challenges together and try to remedy them simultaneously. The group spent 15 minutes to allow everyone to suggest a component of the system, which over the project cycle of three years, might be integrated into a strategy to confront the problem.
Almost everyone had a product or component to suggest. One of the facilitators remarked that the complementarity and range of products were impressive. While the likelihood of “solving” the problem was unknown, participants' suggestions appeared to be positive steps toward meeting the challenge. The group was enthusiastic about the idea that a demonstration project was not only possible but probably necessary for the literacy community, which has not been broadly exposed to how IT tools could work in that domain. The group, however, did not abandon its eagerness to celebrate books and emphasized that IT would not replace books but increase their accessibility.
The following ideas were generated for the proposed demonstration project. Some already exist in whole or in part, while others are “blue sky” proposals.
A Needs Assessment Proposal. Participants encouraged the draft-
ing of a proposal to gather data from customers and stakeholders in the literacy issue—students, teachers, parents, the public, politicians, others— about their needs, the resources currently used, and a wish list of improvements or suggestions.
A Human-Computer Interaction (HCI), Participatory Design. A common fault of the past has been that it is technologists who identify the components needed to manage problems (NRC, 1997), including problems such as how to enhance literacy. Participants were vocal in their critique of that paradigm. They were eager to encourage engaging the educational partners in the process by working with them to assess their problems and their resources, and by partnering with them to help build and employ information technology that will be useful in tackling the challenge.
Writing Assessment Tools. Develop technological tools to assess comprehension and expression in free-form writing. Tools that could assess comprehension and give feedback to students (and their teachers) could motivate, assess, and track students' progress and drive a cyclical improvement of the entire system.
An Online Reading Adviser. Construct a sophisticated web-based program or software package to make reading more enjoyable and encourage more reading. This system would offer each student suggestions for further reading based on his or her past experience, just as commercial websites recommend new books that are in line with a customer's past purchases and browsing behavior.
An Interactive, Text-Based, Oral, Reading-Based Tutor and Assessment Tool. Make a product that would let students read aloud, correct them as necessary, and give advice for improvement. It should track progress over time for longitudinal assessment and tutorial feedback.
A Network Learning Community for Education of Teachers. This network could link teachers who are proficient with new technology or new methods with those who are not. This system could be particularly useful in cultivating expertise and confidence in teachers during their induction years, when they are most in danger of leaving the profession. Furthermore, in an age of “revolving-door” teachers, when many teachers move between grade levels or positions within or across schools and districts, a system such as this would help capture the skills and talents of those with the greatest experience so that the turnover does not unduly impede the educational process within the community. Technology should be able to help each cohort of new teachers adjust more quickly and be mentored more easily and effectively. After all, as one participant reminded
the group, writing was intended to allow a faster and more voluminous passing of knowledge and skills between generations. Information technology should do no less.
A Network Learning Environment for New Teachers. A variant of the above suggestion, this network would have collaborative and supportive activities for a virtual community of teachers. The network would enable teachers to work together to reach consensus on methods and tools to enhance student literacy.
A Change Management System for Principals. This system would help principals learn what technology is available and how it is being used in classrooms/schools. It would provide a method for principals to share their opinions and knowledge for the benefit of others. This would encourage buy-in by principals for these new pedagogical tools and instructional styles and engender greater support for faculty innovation and experimentation.
Powerful, Persuasive Technologies Like Data Mining. Data mining, the extraction of implicit, previously unknown, and potentially useful knowledge from data, is one of a variety of techniques used to identify and extract nuggets of information or decision-making knowledge from bodies of data so that they can be used in areas such as decision support, prediction, forecasting, and estimation (Witten and Frank, 2000). Data mining and other new tools that people in other domains find useful (such as CRM—Customer Relationship Management —tools by companies like Siebel) could be adapted for use in education. Databases could be constructed for both description and prescription. A complex database could keep track of what students have done, what they know, what their current skills and needs are, what is available for their continued progress, and what teachers can offer them. Technology has the power to help diagnose what the student or teacher needs and identify useful resources to correct deficiencies.
An Individualized Education Program (IEP). While IEPs are currently mandated for certain segments of the school population, technology could be harnessed to provide an individualized instruction program for every student. This might be done by employing the tools used by marketers to create and send individualized ads based on the recipient's shopping history.
A Literacy Engagement Module. A literacy engagement module connects students to the social context related to their reading interest. Participants encouraged drawing upon literacy activities such as social con-
texts, interaction with popular media, and interactive activities to engage students, while at the same time employing an assessment, response, and guidance module to adapt and extend the program capability.
Off-the-Shelf Technologies Adapted as Peer-Peer Tools. Some participants suggested finding or creating tools that students can use among themselves to practice, use, and encourage literacy. Some in the group suggested that similar tools could be used to enable teachers to share their experiences and problems in literacy instruction.
A Spontaneous Speech and Vocabulary System. This system could evaluate and track students' interests and capture their speech. It could assess each student 's speech to identify problem areas and gauge vocabulary level. Such a system could employ new text understanding tools as well as the movement in XML and other ways to mark text to understand spoken text. And finally, the technology could be used to create a master model for developing literacy in children.
An Online Virtual Literacy Guild. An online system filled with literary treasures would enable children to find and use literature they will enjoy. If this is a real-time system, teachers could use it as a resource.
Enabling Technologies for Learning Design Choices. Participants were eager to consider how technology could allow learners to choose their own environment for learning, diagnostics, and prescriptions.
A Task and Tutoring System to Support Reading. Breakout group participants were interested in having a real-time system that would support student readers or writers by making suggestions about tools or strategies that would increase proficiency.
Web-Based Scaffolds of Reference Materials. Participants were eager to see a web-based scaffold of reference materials to support the growing writer and reader. One participant mentioned an example, “Just Read It.” This is a collaborative magazine in which students' creative writing is published online and then read and discussed by friends and classmates.
Full-Scale Assessment. Given the earlier plenary discussion regarding assessment and accountability, this group encouraged an assessment of an entire system to gauge its general effectiveness and to monitor progress on an iterative basis in order to provide a user-driven, fully tested design system within a three-year timeframe.
Equity. The participants envisioned this system as a “collective parent” that would help equalize the differences between students' backgrounds by extending educational resources in space and time. Computing power customized for individual learning styles and needs would compensate for
variable preparedness when students are entering school and as they advance educationally.
Pilot Sites for Exploring Systemic Change. Finally, the group was ambitious in suggesting a strategy for incorporating many of the above suggestions. They called for forging an integrated test bed of trial sites made up of principals, parents, teachers, students, and tools to be used for the iterative development of this large, comprehensive system.
Process: As with the previous breakout group, this group benefited from having participants who were comfortable in two or, in some instances, all three of the domains that were the focus of the symposium. Consequently, there was an affirmation that different perspectives will be needed to successfully address the goal of improving children's literacy. The group's discussion of the social and cultural aspects of the problem ranged from new literacy issues to the possibilities for collaboration through tools such as remote communication. Participants considered the tension between global connectivity and local isolation and between encouraging collaborative work and engaging each child 's individual investment in his or her cognitive responsibilities. And, along with the social and contextual issues, not forgotten during the conversation was the buy-in needed from children, teachers, parents, and the larger educational system for the success of any solution.
The technology component of the discussion centered on individualization, not only to enable each student's independent pursuit of learning based on his or her interests, but also to construct a pedagogical IEP to customize learning for optimal results for every student. Information technologies were deemed sufficient to do this fairly well by means of data warehousing and aggregation. Other technical challenges were scaling problems and putting the components together.
Professional development and support were also critical. Technology that could enhance the diagnostic, prescriptive capabilities of the teacher would be very promising.
Across the whole educational system, the key component is effective assessment to serve as the driver of ideas and improvements. That is, technology should allow decision making based on a variety of data and then package data in ways that will be most useful and meaningful to people with different perspectives who will use them in different ways.
In conclusion, each participant had a rather different view of what was needed. Almost all had a suggestion, either completed or in mind, for
solving the part of the problem that they saw. The consensus was that the group needed a comprehensive system that could incorporate the variety of suggestions offered, while allowing room for more ideas as well. One of the facilitators speculated that one reason the “product discussion” was so productive was that everyone felt free to offer his or her own component of the solution, and no suggestion appeared to conflict with another. What people contributed were strategies in which they were often already deeply engaged, so the activity resulted in enormous “handshakes,” that is, participants recognized the complementarity of other group members' suggestions.
Developing Environments for Learning Eighth Grade Science
Elizabeth Stage, University of California System, facilitated this breakout group.
Context: The goal was to improve science literacy for both students and teachers by encouraging more inquiry-based learning. One participant, reacting to what she perceived as the group's difficulty in conceiving a design problem to discuss, suggested a scenario centered on improving the climate and environment for teaching and learning science in the eighth grade. She challenged the group to offer advice to the people at the National Education Association (NEA) who have been assigned to design a web-based portal for their 2.5 million members. She asked group members to concentrate on the classroom channel of the portal, although discussants also identified other portals such as those for the community and for parents. She posed the following challenge:
How should the designers construct this portal so that users will come to a better understanding of eighth grade inquiry-based science? What is the role of information technology? How can one tackle the bigger challenge of large-scale implementation in concert with an ongoing learning community? What tools are needed? What is useful? How does one sort information? How does one adapt to the anticipated development of proficiency and expertise?
Other participants offered additional context. The middle school dimension likely includes students who have trouble reading, are not proficient in English, may have attitudinal blocks against science, and almost certainly are experiencing emotional and physical development issues. Likewise, many teachers may be totally unprepared to implement an inquiry-
based science curriculum, mainly because they lack appropriate education in this subject. They may be teaching out of subject or they may simply not be up-to-date on current activities within the field.
Product: The group first attempted to design a portal where information could be disseminated. This concept evolved into building a web-based learning community. The group thought that many helpful resources currently exist and that broader dissemination would be a good first step in attempting to change the environment of middle school science. But group members did not reach consensus about how to build such a learning community. They acknowledged that many exemplars exist that could contribute to this community, and centralizing that knowledge would be valuable.
Process: The members of this breakout group began by identifying some resources that are information technology-based or have IT as a component that would likely be part of a portal. For example, some educational programs involve students tackling local environmental issues, such as testing local water sources, and then generating data tables to track changes in water quality. IT enables activities like videoconferencing so that students can talk with others who are physically, intellectually, and culturally distant from them. The technology also enables classes in different communities to collaborate on science experiments, sharing data and results to enrich each other's findings. Less ambitious examples included using the Web as a real-time access point to retrieve current information such as news on a fast-breaking science event. These examples and many others convey the range of uses for IT in the classroom. A portal could be one avenue by which schools share their programs in a centralized, organized, and multi-indexed way. Furthermore, the group envisioned the portal as a strategy to transform and deepen students' work, not simply to incorporate IT to improve the efficiency of the status quo.
Although identifying the resources would be daunting, the breakout group thought that it would probably be the easiest task in the process. Indexing and organizing resources so a teacher could determine how to use them in the classroom or a student could draw upon them for projects would be more difficult and more time-intensive. Quality control was also a major issue, with the definition of “quality” requiring a broad consensus. Many in the group emphatically agreed that the portal could not be static, and, therefore, the review process would have to be ongoing and evolutionary. Many participants wished to see gradations within the system so that teachers of varying skill levels could constructively access the portal. For example, some teachers might need a script with precise directions on how
to implement a component, while others might only require a guidebook or general advice. Early adopters and classroom innovators should have an avenue to share their experience and to mentor peers.
Finally, many participants in this breakout session wanted a system that could track and highlight the evolution of IT examples from the initial introduction into a classroom or curriculum to IT as an inherent, embedded component enabling sophisticated scientific inquiry. As one member noted, the education community is only at a preliminary stage of dialogue right now. This means creating resources at the edge of innovation that might not have a lot of impact initially, but will help move the whole community toward a higher level of IT-based instruction. The task of the group was to find methods of encouraging people, through the tools themselves, to move from their current position to a more complex level.
To conclude, the facilitator observed a tremendous amount of patience and good-natured professional behavior throughout the session. The conversation oscillated between the specific problem of the portal design and the general concern that what is really needed is a learning community adept at addressing socio-cultural-textual challenges.
Developing Environments for Learning Eighth Grade Science
Sharon Derry, University of Wisconsin, Madison, facilitated this breakout group.
Context: The facilitator suggested that the group keep in mind the challenge that most teachers of middle school science are not trained in science. The group further assumed that the science environment would be developed in a state where teachers would be furnished with state standards, and the accountability system would not necessarily be aligned with inquiry-based teaching. The group decided to focus on implementation strategies for a lower- or middle-income community.
The other group assigned to examine this subject area considered improving eighth grade science education in general. This group sought to design a learning environment for eighth grade that would not only help students learn science, but would also help teachers become better science teachers and learners.
Product: In addition to the constraints listed above, the group assumed that the teachers also do not have pedagogical content knowledge (Schulman, 1987) for this subject area. Many do not understand what
“inquiry” is and therefore do not know how to teach an inquiry-based approach. Furthermore, many teachers without adequate science backgrounds do not enjoy teaching science. The group also acknowledged that the school administration and community do not always support new pedagogical approaches in the classroom.
Also because every state has different standards, devising a single generic strategy that would fulfill each set of standards could be quite difficult.
The introduction of technology would involve a lot of initial investments, but the breakout group members decided that if they were to act as leaders planning a solution, they would assume that computers would be available. They would also assume that money could be moved from one budget category to another and thus could be shifted toward the purchase of IT resources. After long debate, the participants also assumed that any computing power needed would be available because they were projecting their plans into the future. There was a consensus within the group that two years from now, educators could attempt IT-intensive pedagogy without worry, and five years from now, the question of sufficient computing power would be a non-issue. The group further thought that two years would be an appropriate timeframe for the development of a prototype that would demonstrate what good eighth grade science learning could look like.
The participants set some criteria for what the design should encompass: It should be cost-effective, resource rich, and incorporate all the possibilities provided by technology. It should be inquiry-based —that is, the curriculum should contain learning objectives that require not only factual recall, but also the ability to help users analyze data or information, synthesize new ideas, and test hypotheses. (The facilitator noted that there was no discussion about what “ inquiry” meant, and she speculated that it likely meant different things to different participants.) Whatever was designed should not only address the students' needs, but also help change teachers' view of their role and of learning itself. The focus was on both student and teacher learning.
Process: The facilitator commented that it was a challenge for the group to decide on a focus. Initially, she asked everyone to offer his or her vision of the solution.
The group began by saying they did not want to focus on a particular curriculum or a particular content, but on what a big learning environment would look like—that is, they were committed to considering not just the
local classroom, but the entire school and any place to which the school might network. Students might connect to other students in other learning environments and teachers to other teachers. Both groups might connect to experts. This kind of connectivity would allow the roles of teachers and students to evolve.
The participants wanted students to be empowered to take charge of their own learning. One strategy was to practice project-based learning grounded in the real world. The system would include built-in assessment. Students' work would generate continuous feedback, which would tell them what steps to take next. The teacher might be orchestrating the tactical framework, but students would make procedural decisions. Students should be doing real research that they design themselves, perhaps using multimedia to report their findings, and with end products that are real and concrete. Participants envisioned that students would also reflect about their learning to foster deeper understanding. The system would be designed to incorporate operating principles of what is presently known about human cognition and learning.
The group discussed the roles computers could play. Participants really wanted students to be immersed in a multisensory way in how the world works, and the computer could play several roles. It could help extend students' explorations beyond what they could otherwise experience by offering them simulations to overcome size, time scale, and safety constraints. Teachers and students could have the experience of performing experiments that cannot be done in the physical world. The group thought that the system should incorporate both simulation and modeling tools.
There was some discussion about the definition of “immersion.” Some questioned whether immersion had to be through technology. Most participants agreed that they wanted students to be immersed in the multisensory experiences, but that immersion would sometimes be through technology and sometimes through real-world materials.
The group wanted software to support interpretation of collected data. The members thought having multiple representations of the same data to compare and contrast would be helpful. They also wanted students to be able to explore the world around them, take measurements from it, and discover how it works. Therefore, probes and sensors should be available for real-time data collection.
Some participants raised the idea of incorporating digital networks to extend knowledge and resource bases for both teachers and students. By sharing data and collaborating with classrooms beyond their own, stu-
dents could make a system more comprehensive and useful than any single component. Participants were also committed to including lifelong professional development, from preservice onward, for all levels of school personnel.
Finally, the group suggested that they did not have time to consider other important issues related to development of a learning environment for eighth-grade science. They did not talk about particular learning objectives (except for inquiry), how to use technology to address topics or concepts that students find difficult, or any particular software that could address these issues. They also did not concentrate on challenges that are unique to middle schoolers: For instance, what do they enjoy? What will engage them? The breakout session did not discuss classroom issues, but surmised that the next step would be to consider the alignment with the National Science Education Standards (NRC, 1996a) content for eighth grade.
The representatives from the IT community emphasized the need to have a vision of IT in the near future—both the power and low cost of technology—and they encouraged representatives of the other sectors not to be constrained by current realities. For example, storage media are becoming so compact that in five years a student will be able to carry all of his or her schoolwork on something as small as a diskette or smart card for a computer station. That means that the participants' focus on the Web may be too specific. Soon it may be possible to carry around enough data in one's pocket to make Web access much less important that it is now.
Although they were often visionary themselves, the educators in the group frequently reminded everyone of the realities they face in their classrooms. For example, teachers spend a great deal of time worrying about meeting the criteria, standards, and assessment systems imposed on them.
The facilitator commented that the learning sciences researchers, who had a foot in both worlds and were really cautious in some respects, constantly took a scientific perspective as they considered how to incorporate the sciences of learning into the practice of teaching.
At the end of this session, each person made a statement about the breakout activity. The facilitator believed that everyone thought that if the group had really wanted to move to the specific design process as an exercise, it would have been helpful to have a more detailed problem. Yet this lack of a specified problem did not prevent them from discussing many issues, and she commented that she suspected anyone considering a design problem would do a lot of that work up front, talking about the con-
straints, assumptions, and design issues in order to understand the problem, just as this group did.
Finally, group members were unanimous in agreeing that they did not want technology to be the center of everything. They wanted technology to aid in the teaching and learning of science, but not to be either the primary objective or the primary focus.