Distance Education Network
by the SSTA Research Centre

SSTA Research Centre Report #95-10: 14 pages, $11.

Assumptions Educational technologies hold great promise for transforming education. The Saskatchewan Distance Education Network was established to provide leadership in exploring enhanced program delivery through distance education and technology.
Clarify Purposes
Why Use Technology?
How Will Educational Technologies Be Used?
Technology is a Tool
Leadership and Coordination
Development Partnerships
Planned Implementation
Directions and Promising Practice

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The SSTA Research Centre grants permission to reproduce up to three copies of each report for personal use. Each copy must acknowledge the author and the SSTA Research Centre as the source. A complete and authorized copy of each report is available from the SSTA Research Centre.
The opinions and recommendations expressed in this report are those of the author and may not be in agreement with SSTA officers or trustees, but are offered as being worthy of consideration by those responsible for making decisions.


Views on technology and its impact on society range from positively enthusiastic to deeply critical. However, there is no disagreement on the fundamental message that changes in society brought on by emerging technologies are both wide ranging and irreversible. The following perspectives on technology and social change represent the wide range of opinions to consider in planning for the implementation of technology in education (from Intersections on the Information Highway):

Using CD-ROM technology and modems, 'hypermedia webs' would be virtual schoolhouses, allowing self-directed learning by computer and encouraging students to make their own personal and idiosyncratic connections between data. The upshot would be less emphasis on memorizing information and more on fostering the ability to think relationally, to discern logical patterns in masses of data. If we don't teach our kids to think like that, it would be like nobody having bothered to teach a kid to read once Guterberg printed books.

Chidley, J. (1994) Technology: A Brave New World. Maclean's. (January 8). Page 25.

The authors argue that today's users of new technology are caught between two very different ways of perceiving the world. On the one hand, there is "visual space" - the linear, quantitative mode of perceptions that is characteristic of the Western world; on the other hand, many of the latest technologies are pushing towards "acoustic space" - the holistic, qualitative reasoning of the East. With the advent of the global village - the result of worldwide communications - these two world views are slamming into each other at the speed of light. Western society, previously tied to the printed page, will be plunged into a new form of knowing - habitually relating to simultaneous, discontinuous and dynamic information structures. Emphasis on left-brain standards and skills in our education system will give way, for the first time in 2500 years, to right-hemisphere conditions which nurture the skills of the acoustic world. Back to the basics is the last bugle call of the diehards.

McLuhan, Marshall and Bruce R. Powers. The Global Village: Transformations in World Life and Media in the 21st Century (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1989).

Computing is not about computers any more. It is about living. Computers will evolve from the confines of keyboards and screens to objects we talk to, drive with, touch and even wear. These liberating developments in information technology will fundamentally change how we learn, work and entertain ourselves.

Negroponte, Nicholas. Being Digital (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, Inc. 1995).

Technophiles see only what new technologies can do and are incapable of imagining what they will undo .... a dissenting voice is sometimes needed to moderate the din made by the enthusiastic multitudes. Postman stresses the need to become more critical of the relationship between technology and culture, to understand and control technologies and view them in the context of human goals and social values.

Postman, Neil. Technopoly: The Surrender of Culture to Technology (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1992).

Peter Drucker predicts greater social changes as a result of current information technologies. He describes a society, fashioned in large part by exploding technological change, which will be characterized by an economic order in which knowledge will replace the traditional sources of labour, raw materials and capital, as the engine of the economy. With the manufacturing and service sectors rapidly shrinking, and the knowledge sector expected to comprise a relatively small percentage of the future workforce, major social challenges lay ahead. Some of the effects of such changes, massive layoffs, chronic unemployment and a rise in non-standard employment, are already visible. Current income disparities in society between the haves and have nots are likely to be exacerbated by those who have access to information and those who do not. Drucker predicts a social restructuring which will result in major shifts in power from the government to the social sector. Thinking through the purpose, value and content of education is identified by Drucker as one of the priority tasks of society during this transition period.

Drucker, Peter F. "the Age of Social Transformation", The Atlantic Monthly, 274.5 (November 1994).

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Network participants stressed the necessity of beginning with a clear understanding of the goal in mind. The implementation of educational technology should begin by clearly identifying the 'desired future state', assessing the gap between the present and future state, and then crating a realistic transition plan for action to close or bridge the gap. Questions to consider include: 'How should schooling be organized?' 'What sort of infrastructure (hardware, software, expertise) will you need to achieve your vision?'

Leadership begins with a sense of vision. Without a vision there can be no leadership.

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Why Use Technology?

Students learn and develop at different rates - technology can individualize instruction.

Our graduates must be globally aware and able to use resources that exist outside the school.

Our graduates must be proficient at accessing, evaluating, and communicating information using the tools of the information age.

Our students must be engaged in problem solving that is realistic and meaningful - technology is an effective tool for engaging students in solving complex problems.

Technology can foster an increase in the quantity and quality of students' thinking and writing.

Technology can nurture artistic expression.

All students need access to information and a broad range of courses.

Schools must increase their effectiveness and efficiency.

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How will educational technologies be used in school in the future? What are the expectations of the technology in the school?

Student Learning: Improving student learning should be the primary objective of investing time and money in educational technologies. Programs should be designed to ensure that students achieve the desired learning outcomes for content but also how to use technology to process information. For example, one school board's priority is to improve student writing. How might technology be used to support this goal?

School Administration: Technology has a proven record of improving effectiveness and efficiency in certain administrative tasks. For example, if the school board wishes to better connect the schools in the system - technology is one tool that can assist in achieving that objective.

If computers are changing the world and the way we live, we should ask, "What should our children be doing with computers?"

Edutainment, a new word combining education and entertainment, suggesting games are educational.

The information highway is a work in progress. Computers in the nineties is like being in the second wave of pioneers; a good deal of work has already been done, but there is even more yet to be done.

The real cost of buying a computer: Businesses have found that the cost of buying a computer and software make up only 17% of the real cost to the company. The largest cost factor is not in the purchase price but in training and support, and the amount of downtime for employees to acquire a whole new set of job skills. (from Edwards and Carpenter (1995) Kids, Computers and You. p.110)

According to one study done by the Centre for the Study of Computers in Education at York University in Toronto, students using computers in writing were far outstripping students in traditional schools by grade five in the sophistication of their compositions, as well as their mastery of spelling, grammar and syntax. (Globe and Mail (1995) "The Future Is Now At This Model School". Friday, March 31. page A24.)

"I don't think the technology is as big an issue in education as people's attitudes and values. Putting computers into schools is like if for some reason we thought kids wouldn't succeed if they didn't become musicians so governments decided to put pianos in every classroom. Its not going to help. Any musician will tell you that music is not in a piano." (Kay, A. BYTE (1990) "On Computers In Education. September. Page 232.)

A technology implementation plan should clearly identify the "desired future state", assess the gap between the present and future state, and then creating a realistic transition plan for action to close or bridge the gap. What sort of infra-structure will you need to achieve your objective? (Hardware, software, expertise) How might you capitalize this investment to ensure sustainability? If expenditures are added, what will be reduced? will technology replace the human element?) Technology systems must be reliable to be successful.

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Technology is a Tool

New technologies have the potential to form the basis of programs just as glossy textbooks once did. Learning outcomes should guide the use of technology, not vise versa.

Technology milestones:

1962 - ballpoint pen introduced (rejected by some because desks already had inkwells)

School system Plan:

How are computers being used now? How would you like computers to be used? (gap analysis between actual and desired)

Key questions:

What kind of technology belongs in a classroom?

Why rush; why not wait 10 years?

Will computers prepare students for employment?

Do boys use computers more than girls?

*What should our children be doing with computers?

Does edutainment software belong in school?

How accessible should computers be?

What is the Internet? Is the Internet the information highway?

What can students do on the Internet?

Why are teachers reluctant to use computers?

What can teachers do with computers?

Will computers ever replace teachers?

Do teachers need their own computers?

What kind of support do teachers need?

Where does computer money come from?

Should computers be put in classrooms or labs?

What role can parents play?

Distance education is a mode of instruction in which the student and teacher are separated in time and/or space and where two way communication takes place through nontraditional means.

More than just using computers - designed to prepare students for life in the 21st century by directing them towards a new way of processing information. This includes an integrated approach to learning rather than compartmentalized one hour blocks of of isolated subjects, Student learn the content of courses but also how to use available technology.

Students must feel comfortable with the tools of the Information Age.

Schools must increase their productivity and efficiency.

Futurists predict that there will be dramatic changes in education fueled by a technological revolution. "The days of students gathering in buildings for lectures will be dead. There will be far fewer traditional schools and more data-based schools accessible to virtually everyone." Tom Keenan, dean of continuing education at the University of Calgary as reported in The Future Appears - Now page D3 The Leader Post Saturday, April 15, 1995.

Peck, K. And Dorricott, D. (1994) Why Use Technology? Educational Leadership. April.

Computers are predicted to become more sophisticated, more common and far cheaper. "Consider that since 1980, computers have improved 150-fold. If you applied a similar improvement to a Boeing 747 it would carry 500,000 people at 20 million miles per hour and an around-the-world ticket would cost one cent." Frank Feather author of The Future Consumer as reported in The Future Appears - Now page D3 The Leader Post Saturday, April 15, 1995.

A 1995 survey indicates that many Saskatchewan school boards do not have a plan for implementing educational technology. The primary purposes for investing in educational technology are:

* See Educational Technology and Distance Education Survey in Appendix B.

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School divisions find it difficult to decide what direction to take in distance education given the current pilots in Saskatchewan and a lack of overall provincial direction. A provincial distance education strategy is necessary to develop clear understanding of the direction for Saskatchewan that will enable school boards to make informed decisions to meet local needs.

Leadership begins with a vision and without a vision there can be no leadership. Provincial implementation of distance education in Saskatchewan has been plagued by the following concerns:

School boards are reluctant to invest in educational technologies and distance education without an understanding of the directions in which the Province is headed. In what directions is Saskatchewan moving?

There are many questions, including:

How will the correspondence school and distance education programs be integrated?

Will school board pilots be supported?

What will Saskatchewan Education, Training and Employment do?

How are decisions being made? What is the appropriate voice and role for school boards, SCN, SaskTel

Tour of Viscount 'School of the Future' (Principal Brian Dyer)

What are the plans for implementation of network opportunities (i.e.: Internet) at what cost and with what service in mind?

-Prov timetabling ,regional cooperation

-legislation and relations to govern

Legislative and legal issues must be changed to enable schools to offer the best program for students (a 'certified' teacher with every group of students')

Coordinate, cooperate and collaborate to utilize available resources (SCN, SaskTel)

Focus of bulletin boards and should be for students

Arcola SD survey to identify what schools are doing in technology and develop an implementation plan for school division.

Myths about Technology:

-Technology will be more efficient (technology is an expensive tool that may make certain process easier but has a high depreciation value)

-Distance education is the solution to the problems of rural education:


Consultant: Resource person(s) to act as consultants for Boards for planning for the adoption and evaluation of technology. (Knowledgeable and credible) To include planning, guidelines for hardware and software purchases, and implementation and maintenance. Awareness and support for school board decisions making. A user pay model coordinated through SSTA.

Seminar: What are the appropriate roles of school boards and their administration regarding technology decisions?

Report: Resource outlining information regarding technology in education (learning with rather than learning about technology) -like Sask 2000

Software Development: Curriculum, correspondence courses on CD-ROM.

BBS: Advance

How can regional alliances be coordinated?

bulletin board system to extend MIG, include local e-mail, month and school reporting etc.

Information clearing house: What is available now, who to contact for more information. coordinate information through BBS, encourage partners to use. List resource people available.

What are the positive learning outcomes when utilizing distance education?

We need time and effort spent on specific issues.

Investigate the integration of distance education initiatives: using video-based conferencing along with correspondence school-like resources within a school division

Expectations: What are the expectations of future teaching and learning for technology in the school and their future impacts on education and budget?

How does educational technologies affect teaching and learning?

Implementation: How do you encourage staff to accept and utilize new technologies?

The complexity of the change within a context of many unanswered questions frustrates local leadership with not knowing where to begin.

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Who are the possible partners for using educational technologies in your community?

Successful development of educational technologies and distance education in Saskatchewan requires a comprehensive and integrated approach including K-12 and adult education. Such a comprehensive approach will enhance program feasibility and support common goals. School boards, the Provincial library system, and Community College must work together to offer services to their communities.(see Tisdale and Radville regarding school based regional library)

Effort is necessary to form partnerships with SaskTel - transmission costs must be addressed to ensure affordable access, for education

Lobby: SaskTel and Fed Gov, R and D regarding equity and local funding, network.

Coalitions of School Boards: For some rural school divisions, successful implementation may require larger scope to develop the necessary infrastructures (i.e.: shared services, consortiums)

Shared services approaches should be developed to reduce costs

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Need to encourage Sask Ed to shift Correspondence school mode from print to computer

Issues of 'control' and centralized delivery are counterproductive

Strive for a rationale change process:

Should distance education be delivered from several locations or a centralized correspondence school?

Staffing: Knowledagble personnel are required.

Funding: Some school boards want Saskatchewan Education, Training and Employment to fund technological implementation. Is conditional funding for education acceptable to boards of education?

Training and Development: Awareness of what is out there is necessary - bring ideas from other jurisdictions, we don't need to reinvent the wheel, awareness and skill development seminars are required for trustees and educators (i.e.: Internet, E-mail, CD-ROM, etc,)

Extensive professional development and networking is required


What are the minimum standards /expectations? (What is required financially?)

Equity Issues: Should extra funding be made available to rural schools to ensure equity with urban boards? How? In what way?

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Interactive Televised Instruction: Courses are being delivered by the Saskatchewan Communication Network (SCN) on satellite TV with interaction through telephone and facsimile. Students can see, hear and interact with their teacher

Utilizing Distance Education: potential for SSTA activities (N-S, Branch meetings, etc)

School Division Support: software appraisal ( a copy of Only The Best (1993) the ASCD annual guide to educational software is available from the SSTA - an updated versions can be purchased if desired)

'Imagine a brand new car is dropped into a third world village that has no knowledge of modern technology. The keys are in the ignition. Climbing inside, the natives discover that the seats are comfortable for sitting or sleeping. The trunk provides excellent storage for your belongings. The car offers protection from the rain, and can keep you warm when it is cold or cool when it is hot. The instrument panel can bring you music or fire with the push of a button. It provides light at night and a horn to scare away animals. - All of these practical functions would attract allot of excitement but you would never know its real power or function until someone put it on a highway. (from Edwards and Carpenter (1995) Kids, Computers and You)

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-What are the effects of technology?

Research is necessary to monitor the impact of technology on teaching and learning. Following implantation, has student learning improved? What are students learning?

Success Stories: a description of like technologies available, the advantages, the limitations the costs and where they are currently being used in other provinces and states. What forms of educational technologies are being used effectively? What is being used now? Is there a model delivery system?

(Call cores school for top 5 core courses taken)

SchoolNet: certain 'trigger' words will automatically shut the system down. Schools are encouraged to follow up on who was using SchoolNet and monitor future use.

A study commissioned by the Canadian Teachers' Federation (1995) entitled What Services Do Canada's Teachers Want? attempted to answer the question for SchoolNet. The report identified three broad categories of services that teachers would like to have from the Internet:

Resources: lesson plans, free access to SchoolNet, news services, library access, software on-line, databases.

Connections: discussion groups, class twinning, experts on-line.

Learning: on-line lessons, credit courses.

Teachers expressed the opinion that the continuing reduction in resources in their school made it hard for them to believe that a national telecommunication network like SchoolNet would ever be available to them in any meaningful way.

SchoolNet is Canada's national electronic educational resource network being implemented by Industry Canada along with provincial and territorial ministries of education, other educational stakeholders and industry. SchoolNet's aim is to connect all of Canada's 16,500 schools and 3,500 public libraries to the Internet by 1998. SchoolNet can be experienced at schoolnet.carleton.ca

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