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From the CUE-Tips Desk

Telling the Hyped from the Helpful
An interview with Gary Stager
May/June 1999

By Stephen Marcus
Editor of the
CUE Newsletter
(California Computer-Using Educators)

GARY STAGER, Pepperdine University faculty member, software design consultant, technology planner, and conference impressario, has a well-deserved reputation as a sometime (and self-described) "educational terrorist." When the mood strikes him he can, he agrees, be a "master of negative space," able to see the pattern, significance, and utility of what isn’t right in front of your eyes. These are no trivial gifts. There’s enormous value in being able to distinguish the continually hyped from the truly helpful and to notice how what you really need is not what you’re currently being sold–or selling yourself. Gary is also Editor of Logo Exchange and a Senior Editor for Curriculum Administrator . He can be reached at Here are some of Gary’s suggestions.

Whatever you do...

DON'T BE FOOLED BY... products claiming to be educational. They too often are unimaginative, and they trivialize learning. They’re designed to teach isolated facts or skills to disinterested children and don't seize the power and flexibility of the computer to increase learning opportunities. I agree with Seymour Papert: "Most educational software powerfully reinforces the poorest sides of pre-computer education while losing the opportunity to powerfully strengthen the best sides."

DON'T BE BOTHERED BY... less imaginative colleagues. They will distract you from spending your energy in positive ways in the service of your students.

TRY TO AVOID... the exhibit hall. Educational computing will fail to be little more than a fledgling market until we get over the notion that our time, resources, and intellectual capital are best spent finding new things to buy. Conferences should challenge us to think in radically different ways, even if we reject these notions when we return home. We should spend our time at conferences sharing ideas, challenging each other, debating policy and exploring our own learning as a way to rethink the nature of learning and teaching in the digital age. There are not enough serious debates, extended discussions or collaborative workshops in which educators can learn in the fashion we value for our students.

CONFERENCE ORGANIZERS SHOULD... endeavor to create an environment in which practitioners of all levels, experts, and theoreticians can debate, share and create powerful ideas.

MAKE THINGS EASIER BY... using one piece of software for productivity and one for exploration, experimentation and self-expression. Software should not be expected to teach anything. Less is more. Software du jour is the last refuge of scoundrels. Teachers can always hide behind the excuse that their computer is not new enough or that they are waiting for Print Shop 2003. (I eagerly anticipate Impeachment Blaster '99.) Learners need an integrated software

package for getting work done and an open-ended constructionist learning environment like MicroWorlds in which they can mess about with powerful ideas and express themselves in new and multitudinous ways. Of course, special purpose software for things like MIDI composition, physics experiments, or data collection may be added to the arsenal as necessary. Communication software and Web browsers are free. In fact, most Web authoring and media creation can be accomplished with shareware and freeware.

THE COMPUTER IS... a constructive medium with unprecedented opportunities for kids to learn in new ways, learn new subjects, and contribute to the exploding universe of knowledge in personally meaningful ways.

And while you’re at it...

FIND A WAY TO... seize the teachable moment.

FIND A WAY NOT TO... teach to the test.

KEEP LAUGHING AT... yourself.

QUESTION... the need for standards, more testing, and technology certification.

REMIND YOURSELF... that teachers are employed to benefit children...and that technology coordinators and network managers are there to support teachers in realizing the dreams they have for their students.

DON'T BE AFRAID... to trust the kids and to take risks.

DON'T FORGET... that computers have had an enormous impact on most aspects of society. Schools are not immune.

KEEP... your eye on "someday" in order to inform what you will do on Monday (Thanks again, to Seymour Papert.)

DON'T BE SURPRISED WHEN... kids surprise you with their intelligence, ingenuity, and creativity.

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