ON THE NEXT 25 YEARS
Terry Piper, Ph.D.
I am pleased to have been asked to speculate on the future of
the Faculty of Education. One of the things I like best about my
job is the opportunity, indeed the responsibility, to think and speculate
about the future of education. The future is partly shaped by the
past, of course, and for Memorial University's Faculty of Education, there
are certain events in our past that have influenced the course we are setting
ourselves for the future. In the next few pages, I would like to
reflect on some of those events and to describe the direction I think the
Faculty will take in the next quarter century.
January 1987: Submission of the report of the Small Schools Study Project
The Provincial Department of Education commissioned a study into
small schools directed by Dr. Frank Riggs, now retired from the Faculty
of Education. The primary purpose of the project was "to investigate
problems peculiar to small schools with an aim toward developing proposals
to enhance educational opportunities for students in these schools."
The Department and the report affirmed that teaching and learning in small
schools has special characteristics. The report recommended the greater
use of technology for program delivery in small schools, especially in
high schools. In making this recommendation, the authors of the report
obviously responded to certain educational realities: not every school
can afford the teachers and the materials to mount all the courses that
students and their parents have a right to expect; not every school can
afford a full time music teacher, and the distance between schools is often
too great for an itinerant teacher to work effectively. As the range
of program and course options narrows, the viability of the school is threatened,
and the viability of these schools is essential to the viability of their
communities. The importance of, and the need to support, small schools
was thus affirmed.
November 1988: The release of Focusing our Future
In August of 1987, Memorial President Dr. Leslie Harris established a committee to review all aspects of teacher education in the province. Chaired by Madeline Hardy from London, Ontario, the committee was given very broad terms of reference to conduct a complete and unbiased study of the state of teacher education. In November of 1988, the committee's report was released, and it was to have a profound impact on the direction and the structure of the Faculty of Education. It is impossible here either to summarize the report or to capture the full extent of the Faculty's response to it. Nevertheless, certain of the recommendations and the way the Faculty has responded to them seem to point us in a particular direction.
There were a number of recommendations in the report dealing with the internship, but two deserve special mention not only because they have been demanding a great deal of Faculty time during recent years but because they signify a different kind of relationship with the schools. In brief, the report recommended that a model for internship be developed that provided for closer involvement of teachers in the supervision of interns and a clarification of the roles of all participants. Under the leadership of Dr. Dennis Treslan and Dr. Alice Collins and with the assistance of many members of the faculty, including Drs. Andrea Rose, Barrie Barrell, Amarjit Singh, Bill Kennedy and Elizabeth Yeoman, a new model for the internship has been implemented in the province and in Harlow. We are excited about this model because it changes the University's role in the supervision of interns and gives greater professional responsibility to teachers, principals and other school district personnel. To venture just for a moment into the future, I see the Faculty in the next decade working with the profession to create a development plan for master teachers and supervisors and to refine the selection criteria and role of all participants in the enterprise of student internships. What is especially exciting about the new model is the opportunity it affords for the University to work in true partnership with professional teachers.
Focussing our Future recommended that the Faculty extend
its distance offerings, and that is a recommendation that we have been
very active in following. We have added substantially to our list
of distance offerings, especially at the graduate level, and have diversified
the delivery modes as well. This is a theme to which I will return
March 1992: The release of the report of the Royal Commission of Inquiry entitled Our Children, Our Future
The Royal Commission was established to inquire into the delivery of programs and services in the schools. While the committee was not charged with assessing programs in the Faculty of Education, we are in the business of educating teachers, and so much of the report had implications for the Faculty. During the last few years, we have turned our attention to a number of matters that were identified by the Royal Commission as needing attention although, in fairness to the Faculty, it must be said that many of these issues were already on the agenda. In this latter category, for instance, was the recommendation that the Faculty, undertake research into the school contexts in which first year teachers are placed with a view to gathering realistic information to help shape preparation programs" (p. 31 of summary report).
The Royal Commission recommended the establishment of School Councils to ensure that parents and communities had a voice in the education of their children. The Faculty of Education, largely through the work of Dr. Alice Collins, has played a significant role in establishing and monitoring the work of these Councils. The Royal Commission also recommended "that the Faculty of Education establish a Centre for Small Schools which would address problems of particular concern to small schools and approaches to teaching in multi-grade classrooms." In a slight variation on this theme and with the help of a substantial grant from Industry Canada, we opened in 1997 the Center for TeleLearning. What began as a Center for TeleLearning became effectively a home for both Telelearning and rural education since the context for TeleLearning in this province is chiefly rural or small schools.
Recommendation #86 of the Royal Commission report was that the
Faculty of Education, in conjunction with school boards, designate selected
schools as University Schools which would assume a cooperative role with
the Faculty of Education in order to prepare teachers adequately for the
realistic demands of teaching and to enable the Faculty to experiment with
innovative teaching ideas and practices." We have begun to meet the
spirit of this recommendation through projects initiated by individual
faculty members. In particular, Jean Brown and Bruce Sheppard were
instrumental in formalizing a partnership arrangement with the Western
Integrated School District (as it was then known), and Ken Stevens and
I were instrumental in fostering a similar relationship with Clarenville
High School. This latter project is part of the school's renewal
plan and will see different faculty members involved at different times
as the school turns its attention to changing various aspects of its curriculum
and administration. Other faculty members are working closely with
schools in ways that may be formalized later. Even if they are not,
the spirit of such cooperative arrangements is to create environments that
truly facilitate learning, both for the pupils in the schools and the teachers
and potential teachers who teach there. There were a great many other
recommendations made by the Royal Commission that have influenced the Faculty's
direction since the report was released and will continue to do so in the
coming decades. I have mentioned only a few. The point is that
the Faculty has responded to the call for change and has done so quickly
January 1994: Publication of Launch Forth, a Strategic Plan for Memorial University of Newfoundland
In this document, the University affirmed its commitment to education
for students whose needs might differ from those of traditional students.
It also acknowledged the University's obligation to the community of the
province and the region. With regard to the Faculty of Education,
many interpretations are possible, but two things seem abundantly clear.
One is that we must take a hard look at exactly who our non-traditional
students are in the Faculty. Are they part time students? Are
they rural? Or are they defined as having particular needs as teachers
that we are not meeting? Another perspective on this issue has to
do with demographics. As out-migration continues to result in a declining
population, a fact that is felt in school and university registrations,
the Faculty may well find itself looking beyond the shores of the island
and the boundaries of Labrador for students in our courses. Second,
we must never forget that however far off shore we may look for our students,
our primary responsibility is to students and teachers in Newfoundland
and Labrador, and that responsibility extends to all schools and teachers
in the province, not just those conveniently located in St. John's.
February 25, 1997: Memorial President Arthur May announces the appointment of the Industry Canada Chair in TeleLearning in the Faculty of Education
With this appointment, the Faculty signaled its participation
in the information age. Dr. Stevens' mandate is to facilitate research
on teaching and learning in the TeleLearning environment. His background
and interests in rural schools situate him well to realize that goal within
the context of small and rural schools in Newfoundland and Labrador.
In my view, that is entirely appropriate. It is consistent with the
broader goal of the University as articulated in Launch Forth, it is consistent
with many of the recommendations made in the other reports mentioned above,
and significantly, it is symbolic of one of the directions the faculty
is taking as it prepares to educate teachers for the 21st century.
There is much about which I could write, many strengths of this faculty that I see developing over the next few decades. The events from the past I have highlighted above, however, point to two particular areas of growth, one related to distance delivery of our existing programs and the other related to the possibility of creating new programs to focus on the needs of small schools.
We are in the early days of a communications revolution that will have a profound impact on teaching. Evidence that this is true comes from the number of courses we now offer via the internet, by the number of courses faculty members are developing for delivery using cd-rom, the world wide web and a number of other delivery options that were not available when the Morning Watch made its debut. (I invite you to visit the Faculty's home page and explore some of the options available.) We will continue to move in this direction although there are a great many obstacles to overcome. One is attitudinal.
I often wonder what kinds of discussions occurred at Oxford and Cambridge and at continental universities when the printing press was an emergent technology. Did our academic predecessors engage in speculation about the future of education? Did they worry about the cost of producing books? Did they worry that the publication of books, especially in the vernacular, would change the very elite character of university? In other words, would demands on the universities change as more people had access to books? What would happen to quality? And what about tradition? I don't know whether such discussions took place, but they very well could have, and if they did, our predecessors faced the same questions that we face today. There is not the space here for a full discussion of these issues, but let's take a brief look at a few of those most often heard in connection with computers and on-line teaching.
The most common argument against major expansion into hi-tech delivery is the cost. Certainly this is a serious objection when every public educational jurisdiction in North America is fighting to maintain any kind of capital budget. The fear that computers will wipe out the entire resource budget is a real one. Do we want more modems at the expense of books in the library? The solution to the problem of cost is by no means simple, but we can take some comfort in Moore's Law. This precept holds that the same amount of money spent on a computer today will buy twice the power in 18 months' time. Twenty years ago pocket calculators represented a much larger "hit" to the budget than they do today. In ten years' time, we will be able to buy more powerful computers for much less money. What we are spending now is, in Kilian's words "tuition expenses: some of us have to learn when it's costly to do so, so that we can transmit our hard-earned knowledge to the next generation. Pioneers always have to pay a higher price" (1997, p. 33).
Critics also make the point that not everyone is comfortable using computers and, more specifically, that however effectively they may be used for instruction, on-line instruction is not better than face to face. As to the comfort factor, as computer applications become more diverse and easier to use, more people are finding some use of the computer with which they are very comfortable. Many people are expanding their computer use to new applications, whether to word-processing, e-mail, or web browsing. In classrooms, teachers are using computers in art and music class as much as in science and English, and they are increasingly using them with students who are themselves familiar with some applications before they come to school. There is little doubt that comfort levels are improving.
I doubt that many educators would claim that computers will replace teachers or argue that there are many instructional applications that can take the place of personal contact. What the computer can do, of course, is provide an amazing array of resources to teachers, and for students who are isolated or home-bound, education delivered over the internet or by cd-rom may be the only alternative to none at all. What is important to remember is that computers, smarter than they once were, are still essentially only dumb machines. Humans still provide the structure and content for teaching. The computer is just a very efficient tool.
Still, there are important pedagogical questions that must be asked, and they are properly asked within faculties of education. This one will be no exception. At the same time that we are looking at the use of technologies to equalize opportunities in small schools, we will be looking at more fundamental issues. We will be asking questions such as what kinds of teaching are most effectively done on line. What happens to the student-teacher relationship and how does it influence learning? What is the effect of putting children in front of computer monitors for extended periods of time? What are the psychological and sociological consequences of our increased reliance on computers? Some would argue that we need the answers to these questions before we commit more of our scarce resources to technology. But of course we can't do that. We cannot sit back and wait for someone else to answer the questions. We have to find out for ourselves what the best uses of the various technologies will be, and we can only do that through active experimentation with those technologies.
I was asked by the editors of The Morning Watch to speculate. The most interesting question to speculate about is not what technologies of the future will be or even what they can do but rather what we can do with and because of them. If I thought the answer had to do only with increasing resources and access, I'd still be interested, but I'd also be a lot less excited. I think that the potential of technology lies in the possibility of radically reconceptualizing what it means to learn and to teach. We have an opportunity, an exciting one, I think, to revitalize or even recreate the roles of teachers and learners. What is truly exciting is that this broader perspective crosses discipline boundaries. I am not so worried about creating techno-junkies or about focusing our attention too exclusively in the sciences rather than the arts. Here in Newfoundland, I see the potential of technology to enrich and protect rather than to replace the strong traditions in music and the arts. If it were otherwise, I would not be interested. The work I see faculty members doing nearly every day in drama and music, to name only two areas, convinces me that that is the power of technology and that its potential is being realized in exciting ways.
In short, I believe that technology may well provide us with the
opportunity to reclaim education. In ruminating about the future
of on-line teaching, Kilian puts it very well:
"Somewhere in the fairly recent past, education fell into the hands of the bean counters. Nowhere in Plato do we learn how many evening symposiums were required for a Socratic certificate. Alexander the Great never had to send back to Aristole for a transcript of his grades. When Paul had his revelation on the road to Damascus, he didn't hand in a term paper on what he'd learned (nor did he cite God's question as a "personal communication in the footnotes), and his epistles did not appear in refereed journals. Custer went to West Point; Crazy Horse didn't.
J. Alfred Prufrock measured out his life with coffee spoons. We measure out our own in credit-hours and essays submitted and MLA-approved citation format. This bureaucratization generates a lot of clerical work and committee meetings, but I really doubt that it advances genuine self-propelled learning.
"After all, what we learn ought to surprise us, open up unexpected opportunities, create whole new industries and cultures....
I would like to thank the editors of the Morning Watch for the work they have done during the last quarter century. They have provided us a forum for thinking and talking about a great many educational issues over the years, a platform to debate and, as for me in this issue, an opportunity to dream.
Government of Newfoundland and Labrador (1992). Our children our future, the Royal Commission of inquiry into the delivery of programs and services in primary, elementary, secondary education. Summary report.
Hardy, M., Mackey, E., Martin, W., Pope, T., Russell, W., Scarlett, M. & Vardy, D. (1988). Focussing our future, the report of the presidential committee to review teacher education in Newfoundland and Labrador. Memorial University.
Kilian, Crawford (1997). Why teach online? Educom Review, July/August, 31-34.
Riggs, F., Anderson, S., Cutler, N., Fagan, L., Hatcher, G., Press, H. & Young, D. (1987). Report of the small schools study project. Government of Newfoundland and Labrador.