Tag Archives: ISTE

Computing in Schools: For Good or Evil??

At the ISTE Conference last week, Audrey Watters and David Thornburg were on a panel debating whether computers are helping or hurting in schools. Audrey blogged about this saying,

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From @AudreyWatters, “In the early days of educational computing, it was often up to innovative, progressive teachers to put a personal computer in their classroom, even paying for the computer out of their own pocket.”

Well, Audrey, yes and no. What we need to give up is human passivity, not the tool/computer. Any tool — a hand, a stick, a motor, a computer — can be used by one human to dominate others. They can be used for war or peace, control or compassion. Computers are no exception. The non-liberation phenomena (the use of computing in schools to control and indoctrinate students) that you observe is not the ‘message in the medium’ of computing. It’s our human tendency to give away our power to others who claim to know more or better. Blaming this on the machine is an additional example of giving up power and agency. The computer remains unbiased and neutral. What it does do is extend the reach of the tyrant by orders of magnitude. We do need to fight back, but smashing the machine will not be effective. Giving as much attention to ‘social technologies’ as we have to electronics will be a more fruitful strategy. IM-not-so-H opinion, computing actually is liberating us from a powerful agent of domination itself — the school. By storing and forwarding learning objects (open educational resources from single pictures to MOOCs) and instrumenting a planet-wide communication system computers are breaking down the walls of the classroom and the authority of the formal school. So, yes, we need to give up computers in schools. Classrooms are special (and costly) meeting places for people and should not be wasted on activities that can be engaged in anywhere else. And, no, we should not try to eliminate computing as a tool for learning, any where, any time, by any person.


David Brittain’s Story

(cross-posted from our wiki, aka the digital loading dock for our virtual museum)


David Brittain is recognized as an edtech pioneer for various reasons: he was the Director of Educational Technology for Florida’s Department of Education, continued similar work as a consultant for MGT of America, and may be best known for having the primary responsibility for creating FETC (FETC, Florida Educational Technology Conference) and participating in the creation of ISTE (ISTE, International Society for Technology in Education).

Dave’s Story

Dave graduated from Florida State University in 1964 with a degree in history and then got a job with the Florida Department of Education (FL DOE). The department needed someone willing to work in computer science. Mainframes were the only devices to work with in those days, and the first applications were for education administration, not classroom instruction. As computers advanced and became more accepted, the legislature began receiving numerous requests from small school districts asking for substantial funding for computers, in some cases as much as $1 million.

Rather than provide funding to purchase large computers for every district, the Legislature chose to promote the sharing of computers among districts.

They established the Florida Educational Computing Project (FECP) and appropriated $5 million or so for each of the next four years to enable the FECP to assist districts in purchasing the computing equipment they needed to accommodate the administrative needs. Given the amount of funding allocated, in addition to addressing administrative needs, FECP was able to direct 15-20 percent of those funds to promote instructional uses of computers.

After four years of observing the FECP, the Legislature concluded that this function should become a permanent part of the DOE and so in 1982 created the Office of Educational Technology (OET). Brittain was appointed the Director of OET and served in that capacity until his retirement from DOE in 1994. Using funds allocated by the Legislature, this Office was responsible for a number of instructional technology initiatives. Some of those are described below.

1) The Florida Instructional Computing Conference (which later was renamed FETC) was first conducted in 1981 as a forum for teachers and administrators to gather and learn together. The conference proved to be an idea whose time had come. DOE’s Ed Tech Office planned for 500 attendees in that first conference, but 900 showed up. Three years later attendance reached 2,500. In January of 2015 the 35th edition of FETC was held and it attracted around 20,000 attendees and vendor representatives.

2) The Florida Information Resource Network (FIRN) was established which provided economical access to the Internet for all of Florida’s 67 school districts, 28 community colleges and nine state universities. OET included a technical support unit that provided technical assistance in the implementation and maintenance of the statewide network. Many fascinating examples of communications experiences could be cited but one of the most interesting was an early example of cross-cultural communications. The FIRN staff established communications between middle school students in Tallahassee and London, England in 1991. One sobering lesson learned through that effort was that the American students had not yet learned the meaning of the word “terrorism,” a term with which English students were most familiar.

3) Five Model Technology Schools were created through legislative funding administered by OET that enabled teachers and administrators from around the state to visit the school nearest them to see some of the best practices in use there and participate in professional development offered by these schools.

4) OET initiated an effort called co-development in which the DOE joined with private corporations to develop educational materials (primarily video discs at that time) for use in schools. The idea was that products coming out of these development efforts would be sold at a discount to Florida schools and Florida would receive royalties from sales outside the state. In these partnerships, the DOE invested money to help cover development costs as well as use state curriculum and subject area experts to assist in the actual design of the products. Among the partners that worked with OET were ABC News, National Geographic, and Davidson Software. The most memorable of these co-development efforts was a joint effort with other states. OET was able to convince representatives of the Texas Education Agency and California Department of Education to join with Florida and Davidson Software to create a middle school social studies product that addressed the history of U.S. interactions with Mexico and Cuba. In addition to each state’s investment of $400,000, each state also supplied social studies experts from its Mexican-American and Cuban-American populations to work on the design of the product. Davidson Software was exceedingly cooperative in this endeavor.

5) Again using funds allocated by the Legislature, OET established three Instructional Technology Centers in the state to assist educators with professional development and to serve as a resource for technology related learning materials. These centers were established at the University of South Florida in Tampa, the University of Central Florida in Orlando and Broward County Schools in Ft. Lauderdale.

Professional Employment History

  • Worked for Florida’s Department of Education from 1964 to 1994, with the last 16 years as Director of Educational Technology.
  • Headed the Educational Technology Practice Area and the Learning Technology Evaluation Center for MGT of America (a management consulting firm) from 1994 until 2006.
  • President of ISTE (International Society for Technology in Education) in the late 90s. Chair of ISTE’s conference committee. Member of ISTE’s Finance Committee.
  • President of NECA (National Educational Computing Association) in the mid 90s
  • Helped design and implement FIRN (Florida Information Resource Network)
  • Established the Florida Educational Technology Conference.