Computers in our Schools:
Why the Right Buttons are So Difficult to Push

AISNE Conference on Tuesday 10/31/2000
morning talk by
Steve Bergen, co-director of The "Summercore" Teaching Company
web site:

* 1984: Who is Pushing the Buttons
* 1986: Who is NOT Pushing the Buttons
* 2001: Why the Right Buttons are so Difficult to Push

(copies of all three of these talks, along with links to Dave Moursund's articles about the 15% solution can be found at

Good morning and thank you for this opportunity to share some thoughts about the present and future directions of computers in our schools.

In 1984, I delivered a talk to NAIS Administrators at Rensellaersville NY titled Who' s Pushing the Buttons. In this talk I wanted to excite heads of school about the potential of computers. The tone of the talk was optimistic and I truly believed that a revolution in education lay ahead of us.

A few sobering years later, as it became clearer that this revolution would be instead an evolution, I published an article in Classroom Computer Learning titled Who's Not Pushing the Buttons. The tone of the article was skeptical.

I would like to revisit these global issues this morning with you, so I have chosen the catch phrase "Why the Right buttons are so Difficult to Push" to encapsulate my thoughts this morning. If I had to pick a word to describe my reflections in this post Y2K computer world, it would be realistic.

First of all, I would like to review the postulates and theorems that I have been sharing with groups since the days when the Boston Celtics were worth watching.


(every school needs a philosophy regarding technology)

pos•tu•late (n. pos´ch lit)
1. something taken as self evident or assumed without proof as a basis for reasoning 2. a proposition that requires no proof, being self-evident 3. a fundamental principle

the•o•rem (n. the´ rm) 1. a theoretical proposition, statement or formula embodying something to be proved from other propositions or formulas 2. a rule or law, especially one expressed by an equation or formula 3. a proposition deduced from other premises or assumptions

P1: The computer represents a qualitatively new learning medium, akin to the printing press and the widespread use of paper and pencil.

P2: Independent Schools have the professionalism, intellectual commitment as well as the financial and administrative flexibility to do it right and deal with the challenges of computer education.

P3: Computer usage is much more important than programming.

P4: Teachers are professionals; teaching is a wonderful, invaluable position.

P5: Alienation from technology is a handicap similar to other forms of alienation.

P6: In person teaching is still the most powerful mode of education. (Neil Rudenstein from Harvard University)

T1: Computers are forever getting more sophisticated and cheaper in dramatic ways.

T2: Tuition is forever increasing.

T3: There is enough high quality software in almost all areas of the K-12 curriculum to begin putting pieces of the puzzle into place.

T4: The humanware factor is the most important component.

T5: Almost every aspect of learning about and working with computers— hardware, software, reading — consumes time.

T6: Formalism, structure, curriculum is the best way to reach everyone.

(reprinted with permission from The Summercore Primer ("Don't Think Y2K" Edition) on Hardware, Software and Humanware by Steve Bergen and Lynne Schalman, page 29
••• full text of this morning's talk can be found at •••

Secondly, with deference to Mark Twain, I would like to reflect on changes in technology in the past 20 years, an opportunity to reflect on important philosophical themes.

A presentation for the Nobles Trustee Retreat 1/28/94 and the St. Sebastian’s Trustees 2/98

First, Some Essential Vocabulary to “let your feet reach the ground” as Mark Twain once responded when asked what is the proper height for a person

•byte, kilobyte, megabyte, gigabyte, floppy, hard drive, CD ROM, Laser Disc, analog vs digital, bit, modem, baud rate

Second, A Fill-in-the-Blank Worksheet on Recent Technology Changes

(H )= heard about that tool that year (F) = first used that tool that year
(O) = occasional user of that tool that year (R) = regular user of that tool that year
(S)= skeptical (E) = enthusiastic (D) = dependent on that tool’s importance that year

Tool or Topic     pre80 8082848688909294969800
Answering Machine - - F R - - - - - - - -
ATM Bank Cards - - - H - D - - - - - -
Calculator R - - - - - - - - - - -
CD ROM - - - - - H - R - - - -
Cellular Phone - - - - - - - H - F O D
Celtics Win #17 - - - - E - S - - - E S
Desktop Publishing - - - H R D - - - - - -
Dishwasher S O D - - - - - - - - -
Distance Learning - - - - - - - - H O - E
E-Mail - - - - H - O - D - - -
Fax Machine - - - - HS O R - - - -
Hard Disk Drive - H O - - R D - - - - -
Internet - - - - - - H O R D - -
Laser Printer - - - - H D - - - - - -
Laptop Computer - - - - - H - O - - - -
Microwave H S - - - R D - - - - -
MODEM H O - - - - R - - - - -
Mouse - - - - HS R - - - - - -
Music CD Player - - - - H - O R - - - -
Networking H - - O - - S - R - -
Personal Computer H R D - - - - - - - - -
Scanner - - - - H - - - R - - -
Spell-checker - H R D - - - - - - - -
Spreadsheets H R D - - - - - - - - -
VCR H - O R - - - - - - - -
Video Conferencing - - - - - - - - H - O -
Voice Mail - H R - - - - - - - - -
Word Processing H R D - - - - - - - - -

Third, Let’s Analyze & Seek Some Meaningful Generalizations
#1 For how many items did your skepticism turn into enthusiasm within a few years?
#2 How often did you go from first hearing about (H) to regular usage (R) within a few years?
#3 In what year did you experience the most skepticism?
#4 For each tool that you have reached level D or level R, what is the personal or intellectual “downside” in terms of what you have given up? has this translated into an actual savings of time or an improvement of quality?
#5 Which one technology tool thus far has had the biggest impact on education? Stuart Chase from Eaglebrook School gets credit for pointing out the amazing irony of the answer!
#6 Which tool(s) present the most significant ethical and moral challenges?

(reprinted with permission from The Summercore Primer ("Don't Think Y2K" Edition) on Hardware, Software and Humanware by Steve Bergen and Lynne Schalman, page 298)

••• full text of this morning's talk can be found at •••
And now I would like to be specific about why the right buttons are so difficult to push.

First difficult button to push: for money

First of all, money. We are not spending the kind of dollars on hardware, software and humanware that would allow us to see significant changes. I have offered this statement for years and years. Back in 1989, a head of school, former computer and math teacher, came to Summercore, was stunned by the radical changes in technology. He raised the philosophical question, "Are we totally underestimating the potential and breadth of technology in our schools?"

The best discussions of school budgeting comes from Dave Moursund, (Professor, College of Education, University of Oregon, Executive Officer for Research and Development, ISTE, International Society for Technology in Education or Moursund has published a book called The Future of Information Technology and several articles on budgeting. One of the most respected writers and leaders in computer education over the past decade, Moursund has given me permission to quote his words in this morning's talk:

In his articles and books, Moursund advocates the 15% solution in terms of annual budgeting for technology. Moursund lists the expectations that a school should have:
1. Providing every student and teacher with a powerful portable computer and a full range of computer productivity tools.
2. Providing every classroom with technology infrastructure that includes scanners, printers, camcorders, desktop presentation, and network connections.
3. Providing every student and teacher Internet and email access, as well as access to the full range of distance learning and computer-assisted learning facilities both in and outside of school.
4. Providing adequate maintenance and repair staff, as well as other technical support.
5. Providing continuing inservice education and support for teachers.
6. Providing ongoing curriculum revision and curriculum development to keep pace with the continued change in the technology.

Moursund predicts "fifteen years from now there will be a significant number of schools that have implemented the 15-percent solution. To a great extent, the needed resources will come from restructuring of staffing. Schools that have the most flexibility in staffing (such as Charter Schools, magnet schools, and private schools) are likely to take the lead in these types of educational change."

One of the reasons that the money button is difficult to push involves the fact that we still do not have agreement on the value of computers in education. Consider these divergent opinions on the recent heated discussions on the ISED listserv.

"For the past four years, I've been harboring a nagging feeling thatour default position of "needing" computers within the learning environment may have been reached a bit too hastily. I've decided to draft a letter to our headmaster trying to make the case for the removal or limitation of computers in our school. I am trying to do this with as open a mind as I can muster, with the idea that if we should indeed continue to invest in technology, then the rightness of that decision will stand up to the best argument against it."

"As a school where each student has a laptop and we attempt to integrate technology as much as possible into all of our classroom curriculum, I can see absolutely no arguments for not having technology in the school."

"The argument that you need computers at school so that students will learn how to use computers is flawed. Learning does happen elsewhere, and at other times."

"Technology if used appropriately in the middle and upper school, in addition to being taught as a "subject", can augment almost everything you do. It is an incredible information tool, can supplant much of what is found in the up-to-date library, can teach students to be truly discerning about the information they choose to accept and use, and if used PURPOSEFULLY can only enhance their education."

I find the diversity of these opinions fascinating. To some extent, the money button is difficult to push because it competes with many other priorities in schools. But the fact that we as educators are not convinced of the value of computers in our schools underscores another reason for the difficulty of the money button. In other words, our lack of philosophy in terms of technology affects the money button.

The postulates I shared with you previously lead me to a personal position that computers -- like virtually every other aspect of education -- are neither good nor bad for children but that they are critically important and good for teachers. Computers provide teachers with connectivity, with tools, and with the stimulus to rethink and reshape their curriculum. We must push in Moursund's direction because computers are good for teachers and for the teaching profession. I offer you a thought from an art teacher colleague shared via e-mail a few days ago: "Thanks for all of your help. The digital work I have been doing has been educational and fun but more importantly it has helped me to conquer some personal issues about being a part of a changing world."

Furthermore, we must push in Moursund's direction to address the issues of the digital divide -- the inequities in access for students in our schools and in our country is horrendous. Additionally, inequities based on experience, family usage, previous schooling or gender need to be addressed. When I started the Teaching Company back in 1982, I stated that "it must be the mission of schools to implement computers in the broadest context of civilization and its intellectual growth, to inculcate positive attitudes in all students, tackling the issues of sexism, elitism and classism that might well plague the computer curriculum."

I believe that this perspective is just as important in 2001 as it was 1982 and can be addressed only by pushing the M button in the Moursund direction.

Second difficult button to push: for humanware

The vast majority of money spent is for hardware and labs and computers. But if you believe in my postulates, the key is the faculty and the need to provide them with appropriate environments. At Nobles, we own 10 LCD projectors and they are hot items.The teachers who use them love them and there are a number of teachers who exhibit projector envy. But there are also teachers who have no interest in using this tool. How do we move our faculty along? That needs to be the central focus question in all schools. Spending money on labs is relatively easy. Trustees become obsessed with building beautiful computer labs. As one Summercore participant said, "it is easy to fund a memorial room, but no one wants to fund a memorial broom." To some extent, a quality computer per teacher and a projector in the classroom is a memorial broom, important but less sexy and less of a showpiece in the school. And if that is not a broom, then more often than not, the humanware efforts of training and exciting the faculty are often considered secondary, the proverbial broom.

The need to provide quality faculty training in both group and individual format for teacher cannot be overestimated. Even Joseph Weizenbaum himself -- the computer scrooge of 70s and 80s -- proclaimed, "if introducing computers to children is important (and if it is not, we should quit talking about it and get on with whatever is important), then it must be important that teachers and administrators know what they're doing with respect to computers. Unfortunately -- writes Weizenbaum -- the body of teachers who have adequate training in this area is very small."

This is a big item. It cannot be wrapped up in one professional growth day or even one 5 day workshop. It must be ongoing and it must be a priority. All of this training of course adds up to significant money. When I started at Nobles in 1994, I was, for the most part, the one computer person (one FTE) and about 1/3 of my job was faculty training. Now 7 years later, we have about 5-6 computer people and perhaps about the equivalent of 1 FTE is focused just on faculty training. It still is not enough.

This year, we initiated at Nobles a personal trainer program so that 30 designated faculty members receive one on one computer instruction once a week. But if you believe in the analogies between computer usage and musical instruments, then even this program is not sufficient. I would like to see our school or any school institute a policy that requires weekly one-on-one computer training for each faculty and staff member. Estimated cost might be 2-3 FTEs. Estimated value to parody American Express: significant.

To emphasize the need to push this button, I would like to share an example from Nobles in terms of our DLC (digital language center). We built this facility at Nobles about four years ago as a computerized language lab . It cost us about $80,000 but only recently have we instituted the necessary staffing (i.e. humanware). The head of the Modern Language Dept recently shared his thoughts with me:

A dedicated tech person working the DLC gives the foreign language teachers peace of mind. Our classes are much smoother because we know that if plan A fails, we can go to plan B while the tech person works on plan A. It is like having a point guard who not only oversees the team, but who is also there in case we start to lose control of the activity due to screen freezes, files not opening, plug-ins needed. It has made our year so much easier and anybody who thinks that non-tech trained educators can also run a digital lab are in for a big surprise. We tried and it did not work.

Third difficult buttons to push: for skills and for time

Becoming skillful with computers is much harder than anyone ever imagined!

I have been conducting workshops for teachers for about 20 years. Lynne Schalman and I have conducted Summercore on site for about 35 different schools and almost 2000 individual teachers. As computer coordinator for two different schools over the last 20 years, I have worked first hand with dozens of teachers. The statements I am about to make are not theoretical but based on interacting with a vast array of people.

Becoming skillful with computers is far more difficult than anyone ever imagined back in the 1980s. Everyone learns a few skills, and is happy with those tricks and techniques, but the number of gaps in people's knowledge is incredible. Most tech people just do not realize the extent of the learning curve. The vast majority of teachers -- whoops, I mean the vast majority of people --operate computers at a very basic level. And furthermore, the vast majority of people think that everyone else is far more advanced. The reality is that "becoming skillful with computers is much harder than anyone ever imagined."

The web is such a vast collection of resources for teachers that the issues of time have been ever more stressful for teachers. I sometimes wish that we would choose periods of the day and days of the week to turn off e-mail and turn off the web on an institutional or national level. The guilt that most of us would feel 20 years ago by not reading one more article about today's lesson has now been compounded by a factor of a googol for the important web references and web sites related to today's lesson that we have not had time to access. Our new buzz word for the 21st century is perhaps e-guilt. And yes, this does affect skills, because lack of time makes people less willing to learn skills than they were twenty years ago!

Next difficult button to push: for leadership

Fourth RIGHT button involves human development, analysis, contemplation of what it really means and takes to be a computer teacher, something I will lump together as our IP problem, IP for inter-personal skills.

Computer skills are not easy. Computer teachers for the most part do not get it. The arrogance displayed on Saturday Night Live during those funny tech skits unfortunately reflects the attitudes of many computer people in our schools and in our world. Lynne Schalman and I constantly hear stories at our Summercore workshops about the computer folks at their schools and the attitudes displayed towards the rest of the faculty. Too often, there is the "territorial problem" where the computer folks have carved out a tech center and act as if it is their living room. Then there is the "gender problem" where often the males running the computer center act as if it is a locker room making others feel like outsiders.

A few years ago, one computer teacher who happened to be female shared several of these complaints with us at Summercore
1) buying or installing any software at her school was incredibly complicated
2) the computer tech people at her school made it so difficult to do anything on the computers, running the place as if it were a bank network
3) the attitudes of the 3 men who ran the computer show at her school made her as a computer teacher feel like a total outsider in her own department, and they intimidated most of the faculty
She ended her mini-talk by referring to them as 3 despicable men. I won't destroy your enjoyment of music by singing it now, but I went home that night and wrote a song called 3DM. This is on the web ( if you really want to hear it:

Three D M, Three D M, see how they run the school
They tell you installing other software is way too much work
And if you ask questions you feel like a jerk
They make the whole place feel like a bank network, Three D M

and I do believe that that this is a button that we in our schools are not pushing very well. Let me give you an example.

Just last week, two administrators from a California school toured Nobles and asked the usual 33 questions about what we were doing with computers, faculty training and curriculum at our school. Afterwards, they shared with me that they have a computer person who is good technically but has no interest in working with the faculty. I smiled and said goodbye but did not say what I thought.

Like most things, "the fish rots from the head" to paraphrase Michael Dukakis. It must be the responsibility of the head of school to hire technology people whose focus is on helping teachers by creating a healthy open environment for teachers, not an environment where teachers feel intimidated. Every computer person in a school must see himself/herself as part time nurse, part time police officer, part time maintenance person, part time counselor, part time psychologist and full time teacher. Although this is not an easy button to push, studies suggest that the progress of schools with technology is frequently directly correlated with the personnel.

next difficult buttons to push:

Time continues to drive people crazy people. Remember theorem 5 which stated that "Almost every aspect of learning about and working with computers— hardware, software, reading — consumes time." People who don't teach just don't understand. Forget about the triple threat philosophy in boarding schools of teaching, coaching and dorm duty. Teaching itself is a triple threat: preparing for classes, grading, and providing individual help. Every dedicated teacher feels guilty about all three of those aspects of his/her profession. We all begin the fall year with great expectations and by October or November reality sets in. The rest of the year is spent in reaction mode which is so unhealthy.

Throw computers in the mix and they just add to stress.

Some of you know about the book Seven Habits by Stephen Covey. In this book, the author constructs an organizational chart of four quadrants and divides life's tasks into these four categories.And though this organizational scheme was not created with computers in mind, I I would like to share some observations and point out that there is a message for all of who deal with computer issues.

Well, this organizational chart has significant impact on the computer progress at your school. If your computer tech people are always in reactive mode regarding time, i.e. quadrant I, then they do not have enough time to help your school learn and explore new growth areas with technology, i.e. quadrant II

Because change in technology is so much more rapid than any other field, I would argue that emphasis on quadrant II is an important priority for our schools. This is a very difficult button to push. I feel blessed that I have been for the past six years in an environment where the academic director values my quadrant II activities. Let me give you examples

Example 1: Video Conferencing is for real. Last year I spoke at NAIS Baltimore and shared all of the experiences we have had at Nobles with video conferencing. It is not that expensive, the technology is quite reliable and there are literally thousands of places around the country wanting to video conference with others. Two years ago, we ran a course in C++ programming that was taught by a teacher from another school. The technology works and the enhancement to our classrooms and schools is obvious. We have had many successful video conferences now with other schools. So what's holding this back in our schools? Time, personnel and to some extent money.

Example 2: Laptop and wireless technology is for real. This year, we are experimenting at Nobles with a ninth grade English and History classes that uses wireless IBooks every day as part of their normal classroom. Reaction from most of the teachers, students and parents is positive. Will we build on this in the next few years? Is this a model for the future for all classes? Perhaps. Will it demand we move towards the 15% Moursund strategy? Absolutely. About 1/5 of my job this fall has been spent supporting and dealing with this English/History program. A second person meets regularly with the two teachers to provide them with ideas and curriculum plans. Do computers save time? How could we have been so naive as to ever think that?

Example 3: Distance Learning is THE quadrant II activity that we all need to be thinking about. There are some people out there (e.g. Nobles recently retired head of school Dick Baker) who believe that distance learning will have an unbelievable effect on most of our schools in the next 20 years. Look back at the Mark Twain page before you laugh. Yes, most of us will agree with the Neil Rudenstein quote that "in person teaching is still the most powerful mode of education" but that does not take into account the big picture. As a quadrant II exercise and as one of his last administrative decisions, Dick charged me with creating and teaching an online course in C++ this year. The course begins tomorrow, November 1st and I have 9 people signed up from 5 schools across the country -- Colorado Academy , Shorecrest Preparatory School in Florida, University High School in San Francisco, Convent of the Sacred Heart in Connecticut and Bryn Mawr School in Baltimore. With minimal promotion, we had more signups than we could handle and ended up turning down some people. Some of the participants are teachers and some are high school students. All of them probably believe the Neil Rudenstein quote, but nonetheless are choosing to take a C++ course online. Is Dick Baker correct in predicting the demise of schools like Nobles in 20 years? I don't share Dick's sense of pessimism and gloom but firmly believe in the Rudenstein quote. My goal in teaching this course is to prove that students can learn effectively and thoroughly via distance learning and that I can establish relationships via e-mail, web and phone interaction that are not that dissimilar from the relationships of face to face teaching that have been the life blood of my career over the past 28 years.

Another way to gain this same perspective comes from my brother in law Donald Fischer who runs an insurance company. He has passed on to me the aphorism that in order to IOE, you need to D. When I asked him what I,O,E and D stood for, he was stunned. I am sure you all know. I is for innovate, O is for organize, E is for expedite and D is for delegate. Because computers are such a rapidly changing environment, there is a tremendous need for I, O and E: innovate, organize and expedite. Once again, it is the focus of the leadership at the school and a function of Moursund's money allocations that allows I, O and E to occur. In my own situation at Nobles, I have had tremendous administrative support in allowing me to add several people to the computer department over my six years tenure. Without having people to D (D for delegate), there is no way that I could be doing the I, O and E.

As you listen to the other speakers this morning, I urge you to keep in mind the concepts of the four quadrants in terms of technology and the IOE aphorism.

Tom Smith, Director of information Technology from Park School in Brookline and a person who posts the most thoughtful "larry-bird-esque" answers on ISED and Wizards listservs, will be talking about what schools are doing in the area of school web sites -- legal issues, costs, benefits to the school, realistic expectations of what it takes to create and manage a web site, expectations of under-resourced school webmasters.

Shelley Glantz , Coordinator of Libraries and Information Technologies from Lexington Public Schools, will be talking about the vision for school libraries in the next 2 years: what technology we should be planning for and what we should expect to see, along with its impact on student learning and teacher efficiency and effectiveness.

Dutch Dresser, Associate Headmaster and CIO of Gould Academy in Bethel, Maine, Chairman of the Board of Bethel Data Corp, a non profit internet access provider and director of an ISP New England Internet Services, will be talking about
staffing thoughts (and, perhaps, cost accounting thoughts), legal and financial issues surrounding distance learning (which is within two years of impacting us!) and the fiscal potential of ASPs

I urge you to hold onto these BUTTON suggestions as you listen to their ideas and as we move to the panel discussions)
a)provide every faculty member with a computer so that he/she can have a reliable productive tool (the H button)
b) provide every faculty member with an ongoing once a week trainer (the S button)
c) move towards Dave Moursund's 15 per cent solution in terms of technology budgeting (the M button)
d) administrative leadership at the school must see to it in terms of hiring and overseeing that quality faculty training, IOE and quadrant II endeavors are a priority for the technology department at the school (the L button)

from with permission from Clifford Stoll (author of High Tech Heretic)

I will conclude with the image of the Klein bottle, a wonderfully symbolic mathematical object that has one side. Like our buttons of today, it is a difficult object to create and even in mathematical terms, a dfficult object to think about. And yet, despite its difficult qualities and appearance of inside and outside, there is just one side to this object!

Tom Smith whom you will meet soon, once said to me "we are all sailors on the same ship." I have held onto that quote for a long time. We are all in education to help students and to catch the kids falling off the cliffs. Technology is here, for better and for worse, and we must help to push our schools forward to do it right and to do it well. We need to be together in this, since we can accomplish more via teamwork. There are NOT two sides to this discussion. We should not be arguing whether to have computers or not. We should be focusing on how to use technology well. There is just one side. We are indeed sailors on the same ship. Our mission is to improve the role of technology in education -- for teachers and for those students who would otherwise be on the other side. There is no other side. We are all on the same one sided surface. Our mission -- sad but true -- is still underway. Mission not impossible but mission difficult.

Thank you for your time this morning and I hope you enjoy the rest of the day.

Computers in our Schools: Why the Right Buttons are So Difficult to Push
Steve Bergen • •