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1 Managing new relationships: design sensibilities, the new information and communication technologies and schools 1. Chris Bigum Central Queensland University On- Line Paper & Copyright This draft paper may be cited or quoted in line with the usual academic conventions. You may also download it for your own personal use. The paper may not be published anywhere without the authors permission. You should be aware that this version of the paper was the version that was submitted for publication or the version given at a conference. The final, published version may differ considerably. If you copy this paper you must: include this copyright note not use the paper for commercial purposes or gain in any way Citation: Bigum, C. (2000). Managing new relationships: design sensibilities, the new information and communication technologies and schools. Local School Management: A Vision for the New Millennium of the Australian Principals Associations Professional Development Council (APAPDC) National Online Conference Retrieved 10th January, 2000, from The link is no longer alive. New link is: 1 Paper submitted to theme 4, Local School Management: A Vision for the New Millennium of the Australian Principals

2 The world beyond schooling has been characterised by significant and profound change largely supported by the deployment and utilisation of computing and communication technologies. Schools have been responding to these developments for over twenty years by purchasing large quantities of hardware and software, developing curriculum specialisations concerned with the new information and communication technologies and by making broad use of these technologies across the curriculum. Generally speaking, schools have positioned themselves in the so- called information revolution as consumers, in keeping with their historical role of engaging students in those aspects of the culture which are deemed worthwhile 2. In recent years, with the growing availability of Web- based publishing, some schools have become modest producers of information largely through publishing information about themselves and their work. But to think solely in terms of information is to misunderstand the nature of the changes that are taking place. I want to illustrate this point with an example. I attended a meeting of my local school s information technology committee meeting last year at which one of the items for discussion was the establishment of the school s Web pages. Initial discussion focussed on promoting the school and having a presence on the World Wide Web. When I asked about other purposes there was a suggestion that teachers might put homework assignments on the Web so parents could check what their children were required to do. As the conversation continued it became apparent that apart from having some promotional material about the school available for parents (what parents go online to look up potential schools for their children?) and news for parents (what parents go online to read school newsletters?) there was little else that appeared worth putting into Web pages. After the meeting I thought about how much of the history of computing in schools has been characterised by finding something useful or educationally sensible for computing and related technologies to do in classrooms. Indeed, an enormous amount of teacher time and effort has gone into this enterprise under difficult and largely unsupportive conditions. Underpinning this expensive activity is a set of beliefs that variously associate good educational outcomes with spending on the new information and communication technologies, that is, it is only a matter of spending more on hardware, software and teacher professional development to achieve better educational outcomes. A similar view was once held in business and industry, that is that investment in IT would inevitably lead to improved profitability and productivity. Analyses that have closely examined IT investment and business outcomes have shown that there is little or no association with increased profits or productivity and spending on IT (Strassmann 1997). These results have lead Michael Schrage to argue that in terms of obtaining improved performances and outcomes from IT that what matters is design sensibility 2 Schools, of course, do a lot more than just teach content but for the purpose of this paper, it is this aspect of schooling on which I have focussed. 2

3 (Educom Review Staff 1998). Instead of assuming that IT will in and of itself provide good educational outcomes and improvements in schools or trying to make IT fit the existing mould of educational practices which make up the school, IT needs to be seen as a still relatively poorly understood new medium, requiring careful and critical experimentation. It is fair to suggest that this cautious uncertainty about the role of IT has not characterised the acquisition and deployment of these technologies in most schools and school systems. Let's return to the school pondering what to do with their Web pages. The design sensibility, the bias if you prefer was one based on information and its delivery. It's a sensibility or mindset that is commonplace in schools and among users of the Web. There is a large industry that has grown around the design and development of Web pages as sites for information delivery and retrieval. For schools, a design sensibility based upon information delivery is limited from the outset. What information can a school produce, recycle or repackage that will attract the attention and patronage of the local community and beyond? Schools are limited because traditionally they are, in the jargon of the so- called information age, information consumers, that is they purchase resources judged to contain information appropriate to their curriculum. The little information that schools do produce is reflected in the limited set of suggestions made at that meeting I described at the beginning of this paper. It would be possible at this point to make a case for schools re- appraising their role and considering what information they might produce, for what purpose and for what audience. But to locate this kind of enquiry in an information sensibility would, I believe, keep schools locked into their current patterns of consumption of both hardware and information. We need to shift the design sensibility from information. As Michael Schrage puts it (2000): To say that the Internet is about "information' is a bit like saying that "cooking" is about oven temperatures; it's technically accurate but fundamentally untrue. As he goes on to argue, the biggest impact that digital technologies are having and will continue to have are on the relationships between people and between people and organisations. This argument has been made by, among others, Sproull and Kiesler (1991) who argue that in the process of adoption of any new communication technology that interesting and unanticipated things happen that bear little relationship to what was originally imagined or claimed for the new technologies. They call them second level effects,..people pay attention to different things, have contact with different people, and depend on one another differently (Sproull and Kiesler 1991, 4). This is not a new idea that communication and information technologies or indeed any technology can be seen in terms of the relationships they affect or mediate, the new relationships they support and the relationships they terminate. What is important here is the emphasis or design sensibility that is placed on relationships rather than on information. Thinking about the new information and communication technologies in schools in terms of relationships shifts the focus from the technology per se and problems of how best to integrate IT into the curriculum and towards schools as social organisations, their internal relationships and those with the local community, 3

4 government, and other schools. In effect, the focus shifts from the question what on earth do we do with this new technology? to what kinds of relationships do we want to have with our local community? In other words, the key questions to be considered are to do with new articulations beyond school, that is what role ought, should a school have in its local community? That is not to suggest that the existing roles that most schools currently have in their local communities are not significant nor that they need to be re- appraised. What I am suggesting is that it is both possible and valuable to think about new purposes for schools. To do that I want to develop another point around rethinking information, and in particular its so- called abundance. I want to suggest that what will matter more and more in an era characterised by lots and lots of information will be point of view, expertise, a place to stand from which to make sense of information (Saffo 1994). From the point of view of a community what might this mean? In what might a community have expertise? The one thing that a community can and increasingly will need to have expertise in is knowledge about itself. In a world which appears destined to be increasingly shaped by financial and information forces which operate globally, having a rich source of knowledge about itself will provide a local community with a good basis with which to read and act on the global influences that it encounters. In other words, the production, accumulation and dissemination of local knowledge will become increasingly valuable to communities. Schools, I want to suggest, have a unique opportunity to play an important and central role in this work. For the remainder of the paper I want to briefly outline some of the possible kinds of relationships that schools might explore and the role that the new information and communication technologies may play in supporting these new associations. New relationships with community: schools as knowledge providers What follows is necessarily speculative and is intended to provoke thinking about new kinds of relationships with local communities. It is premised on thinking about schools and the students in them as a source of research 3. This is not a new idea. A number of agencies have from time to time made use of the labour of school students to support national and international research projects of one kind or other. Other agencies have made use of the labour of school children to do things like count vehicles using particular roads, and conduct surveys of community attitudes around environmental issues. What I am proposing here is to move from a bits and pieces involvement with doing research to one in which schools see research as one of the things they are good at and can contribute to their local community. Coupled with this changed view, I want to argue that schools could see themselves as a logical location for the production, accumulation and dissemination of information about the local community. It would mean moving some student work from what I call the fridge door mindset, to one in which their work is valued by 3 Potentially, it is a very large source given the population of many schools. 4

5 and is valuable to the local community. Many teachers already do all kinds of interesting and potentially useful data collection with their students but in a fridge door context the data is rarely kept, the analyses are rarely shared beyond the classroom (except on a family s fridge door) and it is very rare that data is stored and added to over time. With not a lot more effort and judicious use of computer support, that could be changed. But importantly, simply doing research, collecting data and doing analyses will matter little if the local community does not value the work. And this is the hard part. Schools would have to be partly remade in the minds of the local community. It would not require a wholesale change, but project by project it would be possible to build up a repertoire of research skills, projects and products in consultation with local needs and interests. There are many possible examples of the kind of work I am referring to, from the simple but potentially very useful recording of car movements to tracking the employment patterns in local businesses and industries, to building a comprehensive collection of local histories, to determining the needs of particular sections of the community. What could be done would clearly be a matter of negotiation, of thinking about how a school could help a community group solve a problem or inform its local political agenda or respond to external pressures. The shift is one of mindset, of thinking about making use of what is a potentially valuable community asset. Having students participate in such work would be much more than simply employing them as inexpensive labour. The rigorous and systematic study of the local community is of itself a worthwhile educational outcome. All I am advocating here is that such work can be done, and, what s more, done well, and if taken seriously can be the basis of new kinds of relationships with the local community. In this context, the new information and communication technologies have a role in supporting and sustaining these new relationships. The collection, analysis and dissemination of information is work that computers can support well 4. In this way, schools don t do computers for computers sake, the technology is used to support what schools see as a new and important role they can play in sustaining their local community. 4 I am leaving aside here all of the important issues that pertain to building and maintaining data sets of various kinds. 5

6 About the author Dr. Chris Bigum is an Associate Professor in the Faculty of Education and Creative Arts in Central Queensland University. He has worked and researched with teachers interested in using the new information and communication technologies in their teaching for over twenty years. His current research interests include actor- network theory as a means of studying educational innovation, scenario planning in a range of educational practices and digital epistemologies, the new ways of knowing and knowledge production to be found in the infosphere. His mass vanity publishing address is: 5 References Educom Review Staff (1998), 'Technology, Silver Bullets and Big Lies: Musings on the Information Age with author Michael Schrage', Educom Review Volume 33, Number 1. Retrieved 26th January 2000 from the World Wide Web: Saffo, Paul (1994), 'It's the Context, Stupid', Wired, Vol. 2, No. 3, pp Schrage, Michael (2000), 'The Relationship Revolution', Merrill Lynch Forum. Retrieved 26th January 2000 from the World Wide Web: Sproull, Lee and Sarah Kiesler (1991), Connections: New Ways of Working in the Networked Organization, Cambridge, Ma., The MIT Press. Strassmann, Paul A. (1997), The Squandered Computer : Evaluating the Business Alignment of Information Technologies, Information Economics Press. 5 Mass vanity publishing has moved to: 6

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