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  • Interview w/ Michael Blois, Culver City High School Teacher and Union Activist

Editor's Note:  This interview was conducted nearly 20 years ago as part of a project I completed for the UCLA Educational Leadership program. The goal was to understand how educational leaders use computers in their daily lives and how they manage technology's many challenges in their workplace.  I am amazed at how well the issues raised by the twelve K-12 leaders and higher education professionals I interviewed have stood the test of time.  The hardware and software has changed, to be sure, but the challenge of using technology as a leadership tool still remains.  Enjoy!  *extra credit if you answer the questions at the end of each interview! 

 

When you think about technology, what are your feelings about it in general, does it have a role in education? Is it valuable?

Technology is a valuable tool, no question about it. In my history class, its useful for accessing information about different cultures or historical periods. On the Internet I can find information about authentic Mayan artifacts or the political climate of pre-World War I Europe. Having access to a world of information has been very beneficial not only for the students but for me as an instructor as well.

My personal feeling is that sometimes computers are a little challenging to use, but once you do figure them out, they are very powerful. I think that if you have at least one computer in every class for creating web pages, accessing the Internet, and accessing CD-ROM’s like multimedia encyclopedias, it can be a great compliment to what you are doing in the class. When I teach my English classes, I really need one computer for every student, like a writing lab. It just simply doesn’t work to have 20 computers and 30 kids when you are trying to have everyone do a writing assignment on the word processor. I’ve noticed that both the academic and the social skills of the students increase when they have access to the computer equipment. Its motivational, for sure, but I also think its helping to build some skills they need for the future.

 

Are there things about technology you would like to be able to do on a daily basis but aren’t currently because the school district doesn’t provide them?

I would like to have more computers and local access so I could send messages to other teachers. Although we have classroom access to the Internet, I feel cut-off from a lot of the district’s technology stuff because I don’t have the right access privileges and because I don’t really have any say in the type of software programs that are purchased for my classroom. I would like additional writing labs so I could take my whole class and just let them type for a whole period. I think access is a big issue for the kids, especially the students who don’t have computers at home.

 

What about the negative aspects of technology?

The worst part about technology is when it breaks down and stops working. When a battery goes out, or something happens that you don’t take into account, and then you have to deal with it. The students have a habit of cracking into the computers and messing them up. They mess stuff up on purpose. They actually download a program off of the Internet called Winhacker that permits them to access the school network or defeat the protection software we’ve installed. It can really mess up the machines by deleting files, messing up file directories, that sort of thing. I understand that kids can be destructive sometimes and its really frustrating, because it limits access to the machines and usually requires a tech person to fix it. I think it would be better if all of the computers on a site were the same, you know, IBM or Macintosh. That might reduce the incompatibility issues we have or the need to train people on both platforms.

Another problem is when the equipment doesn’t get serviced. For a year and half a teacher at my school had a computer that didn’t work. I mean, a year and half! What’s the point? In our district, there are only two guys that service all of the machines. And for a district with 5,600 kids and 300 teachers, and probably about 1100 computers, having only two maintenance guys is a problem. And they don’t give out access codes yet blame the teachers when something malfunctions. Nobody blames the drivers when the bus breaks down, yet somehow its our fault that the computers malfunction. And when the bus breaks down, they come out and fix it, or supply a replacement bus. When our computers break down, if you can’t fix it yourself, sometimes you are out of luck. Also, the maintenance personnel don’t have a real good sense of kids and what kids can do with computers. I think the bad thing is that you can let the computers get too centralized and limit the teacher knowledge for operation and maintenance. Its gotten to the point where the maintenance personnel, not the instructors, are responsible for purchasing instructional software and making decisions about who uses what and when. That’s just wrong.

I don’t think technology is a magic bullet, but for history courses, the idea of being able to hook up with information, and authentic sources, from around the world, is phenomenal. I am a little discouraged by the types of program that the district buys that limit access to the Internet because I think that teachers should be able to monitor what is going on. Kids are going to be kids. They are going to try and find adult or explicit content, but I don’t think that teachers should impose restrictions on the searching capabilities of computers. My students can’t do research on “breast cancer” because the software program restricts the use of that keyword. So it is sort of ironic that the school pays so much money for the machines and the Internet access, and the kids have less of a resource than they would have with books in a library.

Districts need to pay attention to maintenance issues in particular. I would like to see an annual report that details how many computers we have, where they are located, who is using them and how. That would enable us to make some real decisions about how best to use them in the classroom.

Reflective Questions:

  1. Who should make curricular decisions regarding the purchase of instructional software? Teachers? Parents? Administrators? Students?
  2. What options are available to the faculty to limit student and/or faculty access to inappropriate content on the Internet? Will it ever be possible to completely “safety-protect” the Internet in schools?
  3. What are the possible consequences of students and staff accessing illegal or sexually explicit materials via the school’s Internet?
  4. What are the average annual technology maintenance requirements and costs for a school like Culver City High School with a wealth of equipment? How would you staff that school to ensure proper and timely maintenance? Would you use district personnel or contract with a private company?
  5. Mr. Blois discusses using technology both in his class and in a lab setting. Is one setting more or less appropriate than the other? Or are both equally valid uses of technology in schools?
  6. How might you respond to student vandalism of computer or technological equipment or files? How do schools currently protect their investments in technology?
  7. How does the introduction of two different hardware platforms (MAC and PC) affect the ability of teachers and students to use the equipment effectively? Which, in your opinion, is the superior platform and why? What is the total cost of ownership for both platforms?
  8. How might the introduction of newer technologies (swipe cards for student attendance, less intrusive bell sounds, etc.) change the learning/teaching environment? The management environment?

 

Districts in California that use a Library/Textbook system:*

DistrictLibrary/Textbook
Acalanes Union HighFollett Destiny
Ackerman Charter School DistrictFollett Destiny
Albany City UnifiedFollett Destiny
Anaheim CityTIPWeb-IM
Anderson Union HighFollett Destiny
Antioch UnifiedFollett Destiny
Apple Valley UnifiedAlexandria Library Management
Atascadero UnifiedAlexandria Library Management
Bakersfield CityFollett Destiny
Bassett UnifiedFollett Destiny
Bear Valley UnifiedAlexandria Library Management
Berkeley UnifiedFollett Destiny
Berryessa Union ElementaryInsignia
Beverly Hills UnifiedFollett Destiny
Big Valley Joint Unified School DistrictFollett Destiny
Brentwood Union ElementaryFollett Destiny
Buena Park ElementaryFollett Destiny
Cabrillo UnifiedFollett Destiny
Cajon Valley UnionFollett Destiny
Calexico UnifiedInnovative Interfaces
California Montessori ProjectAlexandria Library Management
Camino Nuevo Charter AcademyFollett Destiny
Campbell Union HighFollett Destiny
Capistrano UnifiedFollett Destiny
Carlsbad UnifiedFollett Destiny
Centinela Valley Union HighFollett Destiny
Central UnifiedFollett Destiny
Ceres UnifiedFollett Destiny
Chula Vista ElementaryFollett Library
Colton Joint UnifiedFollett Destiny
Corcoran Joint UnifiedFollett Destiny
Corning Union HighFollett Destiny
Cucamonga ElementaryFollett Destiny
Cupertino UnionAlexandria Library Management
Downey UnifiedAlexandria Library Management
Dry Creek Joint ElementaryFollett Destiny
Dublin UnifiedFollett Destiny
Durham UnifiedFollett Destiny
East Side Union HighFollett Destiny
East Whittier City ElementaryFollett Destiny
El Centro ElementaryFollett Destiny
El Monte City ElementaryFollett Destiny
El Monte Union HighFollett Destiny
Escondido Union HighFollett Destiny
Fallbrook Union ElementaryFollett Destiny
Fremont Union HighFollett Destiny
Fresno UnifiedFollett Destiny
Glendora UnifiedInsignia
Golden Plains UnifiedFollett Destiny
Grossmont Union HighFollett Destiny
Hacienda la Puente UnifiedFollett Destiny
Hanford ElementaryFollett Destiny
Hanford Joint Union HighAlexandria Library Management
Hayward UnifiedFollett Destiny
Hermosa Beach City ElementaryFollett Destiny
Huntington Beach City ElementaryFollett Destiny
Irvine UnifiedFollett Destiny
Island Union Elementary School DistrictFollett Destiny
Jefferson ElementaryFollet Destiny
Kelseyville UnifiedFollett Destiny
Kern Union HighInsignia
Kings River-Hardwick Union ElementaryFollett Destiny
Laguna Beach UnifiedFollett Destiny
Lake Elsinore UnifiedFollett Destiny
Lancaster ElementaryFollett Destiny
Lassen Union HighFollett Destiny
Lawndale ElementaryFollett Destiny
Linden UnifiedFollett Destiny
Lindsay UnifiedFollett Destiny
Lodi UnifiedFollett Destiny
Long Beach UnifiedFollett Destiny
Los Alamitos UnifiedFollett Destiny
Los Gatos Union ElementaryAlexandria
Madera UnifiedInsignia
Manhattan Beach UnifiedFollett Destiny
Manteca UnifiedFollett Destiny
Martinez UnifiedFollett Destiny
McFarland UnifiedFollett Destiny
Merced City ElementaryFollett Destiny
Middletown UnifiedFollett Destiny
Mother Lode Union ElementaryFollett Destiny
Natomas UnifiedFollett Destiny
Nevada City ElementaryFollett Destiny
Nevada Joint Union HighFollett Destiny
New Haven UnifiedFollett Destiny
Oakland Military InstituteL4U
Oakland UnifiedFollett Destiny
Orland Joint UnifiedFollett Destiny
Pajaro Valley UnifiedFollett Destiny
Palmdale ElementaryFollett Destiny
Palo Alto UnifiedOpals
Palo Verde UnifiedFollett Destiny
Patterson Joint UnifiedFollett Destiny
Piedmont City UnifiedFollett Destiny
Pioneer Union ElementaryFollett Destiny
Pittsburg UnifiedFollett Destiny
Placer Hills Union ElementaryFollett Destiny
Placer Union HighFollett Destiny
Pleasant Ridge Union ElementaryAlexandria Library Management
Pleasanton UnifiedFollett Destiny
Plumas Unified School DistrictFollett Destiny
Pomona UnifiedFollett Destiny
Redwood City ElementaryAlexandria Library Management
Rescue Union ElementaryFollett Destiny
Rincon Valley Union ElementaryL4U
Rosedale Union ElementaryFollett Destiny
San Francisco UnifiedFollett Destiny
San Lorenzo Valley UnifiedFollett Destiny
San Marino UnifiedFollett Destiny
San Mateo Union HighFollett Destiny
San Mateo-Foster City????
Sanger UnifiedInsignia
Santa Barbara UnifiedFollett Destiny
Santa Paula USDFollett Destiny
Scotts Valley UnifiedFollett Destiny
Silver Valley UnifiedCompanion Corp
South Monterey County Joint Union HighFollett Destiny
South Pasadena UnifiedFollett Destiny
Southern Kern UnifiedFollett Destiny
Standard ElementaryAlexandria Library Management
Templeton UnifiedL4U
Tulare Joint Union HighFollett Destiny
Turlock UnifiedFollett Destiny
Twin Rivers UnifiedFollett Destiny
Val Verde UnifiedFollett Destiny
Ventura County Office of EducationAlexandria Library Management
Victor Valley Union HighFollett Destiny
Visalia UnifiedInsignia
Vista UnifiedFollett Destiny
Walnut Creek ElementaryFollett Destiny
Washington UnifiedFollett Destiny
Waterford UnifiedFollett Destiny
Wheatland Union HighFollett Destiny
Whittier Union HighFollett Destiny
William S. Hart Union HighFollett Destiny
Woodland Joint UnifiedFollett Destiny
Pleasant View ElementaryFollett Destiny
St. Ignatius College PrepFollett Destiny

* This is a partial list generated through our annual technology systems survey, internet searches, and other methods.

Also, districts constantly change enterprise systems in an never ending quest to find the 'best' of the best. So expect these results to change over time.