Don Leu


Good. I’m Don Leu. Last name’s spelled L-E-U. And, um, let’s see, I’m the, uh, the John and Maria Diag (sp) endowed chair in literacy and technology at the University of Connecticut. Um, so what else do you need?

OK. Well, literacy has always been closely related with technology, um, whether you start at the beginning with the, uh, Kinnia (sp) form tablets in Mesopotamia--um, the technology of imprinting in clay, uh, was just a very simple technology, but reading and writing were derived from that--to whether you go to the technologies of, uh, the 1500s and the printing press; or earlier than that, the papyrus technologies; and, uh, newspaper technologies here in the United States, developing an informed citizenry in the Jeffersonian notion of what a, uh, uh, democracy was all about; uh, to, uh, literacy of today which is, um, from my point of view, is largely and increasingly being derived from, um, information and communication technologies, uh, of a wide range of, uh, sorts. But largely around the notion that we have large networks of information, and it’s important to be able to know how to navigate those; know how to use them, evaluate them and then also communicate within them to other people and so forth. So--so literacy has always been defined by the technologies of the, uh, historical and the cultural context. It’s also been defined by the social purposes that civilizations put those technologies to use for in the assumptions that they made about who should have access to them. Uh, many of the earlier civilizations, uh, didn’t feel the need for most people, and in fact, actually, um, confined the access to literacies to a small select population that had certain roles to play and so forth. And whereas today in, uh, at least in, uh, North America we’re concerned about universal access, so, um, cultures define literacy as much as technologies do.

Well, um, it--it’s probably most important to understand why these technologies have come along, and what role they play, and why it’s so critically important to prepare children for their use when they leave school. Here’s--from--from my point of view, here’s what’s happening: It’s, um, largely global economic competition that’s, uh, driving the use of these information technologies and, um--see it--it used to be in a--in an industrial age we--um, a unit, whether it was an economic unit or social unit or whatever, usually it was hierarchy organized, and so the person at the very top would give directions to the person below, person below, person below, person below and everyone just implemented the directions that you received, and you didn’t have to think very much about things. Your contribution to those directions were not very important. And you certainly didn’t have a role to play in defining important problems. With the lowering of trade barriers, um, economic competition has gotten much more intense, and as a result, companies have had to figure out new ways of structuring themselves. And that’s when you hear the word ‘restructuring’ that’s what takes place. Here--here’s the best way I can think of it: You--it used to be that a company in, um, San Francisco, for example, would manufacture wire, copper wire, and, uh, it would compete with two or three other companies here in the United States. Well, as the trade barriers lower, all of the sudden the competition is not those two or three companies, which you can handle, but all the sudden it’s hundreds, and your markets have increased, uh, so they’re worldwide markets, and you have to compete with all hundred of these companies for getting the best product out in the shortest time with the best service. And, um, you can’t operate efficiently with that hierarchical model and so that has caused companies all over the world to restructure themselves and to flatten the hierarchy of decision making. What happens is that each person in each unit is empowered increasingly to identify important problems for their unit; to gather the information to solve those problems; to analyze the information; solve the problem to make their unit work more effectively; and then to share that information throughout the organization so everybody knows what else everyone else is doing. And that’s where these network information technologies come in. All the sudden they really permit this, uh, flattening of the hierarchical structure, the empowering of units, uh, to take place in a very efficient fashion, and so, it’s that type of world that our youngsters are going to, um, inhabit, and they’re going to be--need to be prepared for those types of opportunities and those types of challenges. And so one of the things to suggest is that we have to prepare children for, um, critically evaluating information ‘cause not all information is equal; um, for learning how to find the best information rapidly because speed counts in these roles; and also, for defining what an important problem is. And this is something we really don’t do in schools very much. Um, we don’t--we have children solve problems that we give them; we don’t ask them, ‘What is a really important problem?’ And ‘How might we go about gathering the information to solve that?’ And ‘How can we evaluate that information?’ And then, ‘How can we communicate the answer that we find to other people?’ Those are the real, um, uh, concerns that I have in terms of schools and literacy and these new technologies. Those are the things that we need to prepare children for because it’s those precise tasks that they’re going to need to be successful at.

Well, teacher education, of course, has to, um, prepare, um, teachers for these new literacies of the Internet and other network information resources, um, and, quite frankly, we’re not doing a very good job at it. Um, it’s the--the most pressing challenge that as a nation we face, and it’s not just our nation, all of the developed nations are facing this challenge. But it’s really teacher education and staff development because increasingly we have theses technologies in schools. In the fall of 1999 the, uh, National Center for Educational Statistics, uh, at the US Department of Education does an annual survey of, uh, many things, but one of them is Internet connectivity in classrooms. And in 1999, the fall of ‘99, 63 percent of K-12 classrooms had an Internet connection and a computer to run it, um, and so--and that percentage is twice what it was two years before. So, the rate of increase of Internet connectivity is happening at a very rapid rate and unfortunately, we’re not preparing teachers, uh, to take advantage of these technologies. And it stems from many challenges that we face. I--it’s--it’s--it’s a daunting task to figure out how to better prepare staff development educators and teacher educators to prepare teachers for these new technologies ‘cause basically it’s a different--it’s a new form of literacy. And most people aren’t, quite frankly, in university context, are not very literate in these new literacies, and they aren’t provided the time and the opportunities to become literate, and so the only ones that really do pick up the ball are the ones that spend a lot of time at it and not everyone has that time, quite frankly. It’s-it’s a tremendous challenge. Actually, um, what we’re doing right now, we have a--a large National Science Foundation grant trying to, um, break through this issue a bit, and, uh, what we’re doing is, uh, developing multimedia cases of exceptional K-3 literacy classroom teachers who use technology in their classroom effectively, and then putting these cases--the videotapes of the lessons, interviews with the kids, the interviews with the teachers, the student work, the student test scores, interviews with the parents and the principals--and putting these cases, um, making them available on the Internet so that at least we will have some, um, highly effective models that people can then go in and look and see and integrate within their, um, teacher education programs, at least in the early literacy area.

Right. Well, first of all we have--everyone would have all of the technology that they needed, and everyone would be prepared to use all of the technologies that they wanted to use and that would be important in the classroom. Um, and that’s not always easy when schools of education are often towards the bottom of the ladder in a university setting in terms of resource allocation. But if we had the technology and we had teacher educators who were trained and prepared in these areas, and, um, we also had, uh--this is what’s going to happen, and it’s not going to happen right way, but it--it’s going to be great when it happens--the--the--the band, ??? whether the speed at which information travels in increasing; it’s not just that we’re getting faster computers, but the pipes, the cables, the fiberoptic cables that connect are, um, ah, more widely integrated into systems, and we’re not dependent upon telephone technologies and so forth. So, one of the new technologies that’s coming along, of course, is the videocam technologies and we will have, I’m sure of this, in five or 10 years, we will have, um, classrooms that we know are exceptional teachers. They will have videocams in their classrooms; we will know their schedule well enough to be able to assign our students to watch this class for this example of, a morning message that we want to see; to watch this class so, um, students can see the best example we know of the Internet workshop; or this class to see an example of, uh, search engine use and a little lesson in search engine use. So, as teacher educators we will develop, uh, a set of features around--and it’s not just in our state or in our cities, it’s going to be around the world--um, where we know they do exceptional things and have videocams in their classes and they will be expecting not just me, but other, um, teacher educators around the world to come visit and to come see. And on their classroom home page they’ll have a little schedule of what they’re doing and you then seen--I mean, that will be very, very nice because we will be able to send our students out to the very best educators that we know, um, in a wide ??? of context and have our students talk with the youngsters, talk with the teacher, interview the teacher. It’s really going to be very nice as we get these connections going. It’ll be very, very helpful. So, I guess in my ideal world that’s, uh, sort of what’s going to come along, I think.

Well, I don’t know. No, I--I think it--I think it redefines all of our careers. And you know, the people who really succeed in these worlds--and this is another thing that we have to work a lot with in our youngsters--with our youngsters in terms of these new literacies--the people who succeed are the ones who can adapt to change and find new opportunities in the changes that they see because there are lots of new opportunities. And the people who don’t are going to be the people who resist change. And this is something that’s actually at the heart of these new literacies. See, that--these technologies change so rapidly that it’s no longer the case--this is my point of view now, I understand I haven’t convinced the literacy education community yet of this, but it’s coming and I--I know it’s here, other people just have to wake up and understand, from my point of view--but the--the thing is is that the technologies of literacy had been static for about 500 years since the invention of the printing press, and basically, reading was reading was reading and writing was writing was writing, and there were little changes. Sure we had a little finer quality paper that we could print things on, and yes, we had a new type of color, we could add color and that was a big new technology and that spiced things up. Uh, if you know anything about Newbury (sp) and the Newbury award winners in children’s literature. I mean, he was one of the children’s publishers to use color, and it was just unheralded at the time in the early 1800s and people, ‘Oh, what wonderful stuff. How great.’ But that’s just a little tweak of the system. Basically, those technologies haven’t changed in 500 years. Now, these technologies change every day, and as a result, literacy, what it means to become literate, changes right along with them. So, it’s not just learning your word processing software, for example, but in six months to a year that--that’s going to be upgraded, and you will have to learn new literacies, new ways of using that technology in communicating your ideas in writing. It’s the same thing with, uh, browsing information on the Internet. New browsers come along and on the Internet itself, new types of technologies come along. Shock Wave is coming along right now. It’s a very powerful technology. We had PDF in terms of downloading PDF files and all of these. But all of these technologies change so rapidly that literacy is really defined by change now so that it’s not so much that we want to teach children to master certain skills in reading, which is certainly important, and I understand the importance of all of that, but more important than that, we want to prepare children for learning how to learn new technologies--actually, learning how to learn new literacies as they come along because there are efficient ways of doing that, and there are very inefficient ways of doing that. And the kids that succeed will be the kids that figure out how to be very efficient at continually updating their literacies with understanding new technologies and using those technologies for gathering information and communicating with other people. Uh, it’s--it’s--it’s a very different world from the traditional notion we have of reading and writing as reading and writing a book. It’s--and the book hasn’t changed in 500 years. Now, it’s changing almost every day.

You know, it’s--it--first of all, you have to understand you don’t throw out the baby with the bath water here. You have traditional reading and writing skills that are important; that’s a foundation that you build upon. But they get changed in important ways. So, for example, in--on the Internet, for example, uh, strategic knowledge becomes critically important. It’s not just decoding and vocabulary and comprehension skills, all the sudden, knowing how to find the best information in the shortest time becomes important, and this is where their strategic knowledge is essential because there’re better strategies for doing that, and there are slower strategies for doing that, and it’s always good to get the information fast in this world in which everything changes so quickly. Um, there’s also a whole set of critical literacies. Um, when you visit a Web page, for example, um, thinking initially, um, who created this information and what stance they take, and why they created the information because that interprets all of the information of that page. And so there are all these strategies that can assist that critical evaluation of the information from looking just very simply for and about this page link and then exploring that before you go any farther, if you’re really serious about this information, wanting to know who created this, and why they created it. And if they didn’t provide that, then initially being a little suspicious. Uh, ‘Who are these people?’ and ‘Can I read the address and tell something from the address?’ ‘Is it a dot com?’ ‘Is it a dot org?’ ‘Is it a dot edu?’ Uh, and ‘Who is this, uh, person?’ ‘Can I make any inferences about this person? Where they come from, what kind of lease they might have, what kind of slant they might have on this information; what they’re trying to do.’ So, those critical literacies become really important in this, uh--in this world, and the strategic literacies become important. Then that’s just in the reading side. And then in the informa--the communication side, you’ve got all kinds of new communication strategies, um, uh, that become important, from using e-mail to the, uh, instant messengers, if you do that sort of stuff, to traditional, uh, word processing kinds of things. Um, there’re a whole host of new things, largely almost all of these revolve around speed and interpretation, those are the two critical things because you want to be able to navigate a complex information environment quickly and efficiently, and you want to be able to critically evaluate the information as you encounter it. So, those are the two kinds of things that really make the difference. And then the third thing that I said before that it’s going to change, this change is essential element too and so you want to develop strategies for learning how to learn, at the same time you’re developing strategies that help you with the current structure, the current technology and the current information.

Well, uh, uh, things are different at the elementary level and at the middle school and high school level. That’s one of the things that you notice right away. Um, at the high school level, especially, a little less so at the middle school level. Um, you see things that don’t look a lot different from traditional notions of classroom teaching. You see assignments; you see evaluations; you see grades; um, you don’t see enough of teachers really taking advantage of the Internet, you sort of see them taking the traditional model and applying it onto the Internet. So, for example, you don’t see at the high school level nearly as many Internet projects, collaborative projects between classrooms, that you see at the elementary level. Um, and as I said before, that collaboration and the sharing and the exchange of information’s going to be critically important for children when they leave school and enter the world of work ‘cause they’re going to be working collaboratively within a team to solve a problem, identify, gather information and communicate it to others, so that collaborative nature of learning is really important. And you don’t see it as often at the high school sites as you do at the elementary sites. Um, you don’t see nearly as much student work either at the high school sites. The--these sites tend to be, um, sort of like the teacher putting his or her curriculum up and that’s the syllabus, that’s the work you have to do. Whereas at the elementary levels you see teachers publishing student work; the students do a lot of publishing of their work at the--at the lower levels. Now, quite frankly, I don’t know the reason for that. Um, I do know it’s more challenging for high school teachers because they’re working within a 40-minute block or an 80-minute block of time, whereas elementary teachers often have control of the entire day and so they can change their schedules around to do things like project-based learning and stuff, but, um, I--quite frankly I don’t know the reason for it, but I do know that, um, I--what I worry about, and that is that the elementary, and to some extent the middle school teachers are getting youngsters prepared for these new worlds, and then suddenly they encounter a high school curriculum that takes them back a bit in terms of this collaborative use of information and sharing and exchanging and taking real advantage of the, uh--of the new technologies to, um, uh, construct the worlds in which they’re going to be inhabiting.

Well, here--here’s--here’s an interesting take on public policy. And that is most of us think that the United States, um, is ahead in the use of the Internet in schools, and point in fact, we’re not. Um, there are other countries that are farther ahead than we are. Finland, for example, um, has, uh, its schools almost completely connected and their classrooms almost complete connected. But more importantly, they provide for each of their teachers six weeks paid staff development and--release time, staff development in the use of what they call IT, or information technologies in the curriculum. Um, there are also a whole host of--of nations that already have identified a separate curriculum strand. They’ve moved other things out of the way to make room for either IT or ICT, information communication technologies or information technologies, as a separate curriculum strand. And that, for a national educational system, that is quite a challenge ‘cause you’ve got to make room for it; you’ve got to provide staff development, teacher education; you’ve got to develop curriculum; you’ve got to develop assessment measures. And nations like the UK, Ireland, Finland, Norway, Sweden, Australia, New Zealand, all of these nations have developed a new curriculum strand around information technologies. At the same time, all those nations, as ours, have, uh, raised standards in terms of reading, and they’re--they do annual national testing on either standards or what they call benchmarks in Australia, to be certain that their youngsters are progressing and prepared for an age of information. So, we often think here in the United States that we’re ahead of everybody else, but point in fact, we’re--we’re not. Other nations started the testing movement and reading before we did, um, and a number of nations have better IT or ICT policies in their curriculum because they’ve developed this curriculum strand. It’s--if you look around at the national educational sites, Australia has a wonderful called--one called EDNA. Or Ireland has one called Scoilnet. I--I may be mispronouncing it, but S-C-O-I-L-N-E-T. Wonderful curriculum resources where teachers, parents, children, teacher educators--and here in this nation we don’t have a national Internet site for curriculum. It’s too contentious a political issue and so from a pub--policy standpoint, we can’t develop a national Internet site for reading and literacy, for example, because in Washington there’d be claims of a national curriculum, and we can’t spend money on a national curriculum. We want local school control. Well, that’s all well and good, but the problem is is that all of our schools districts now have to figure out this problem individually. And it’s going to take us a lot longer to do that than, um, if you have a national ministry of education that can say, ‘Oh, it’s clear. Here’s where we need to go. These are the things we need to do, and everyone will do them.’ So it’ll be quite interesting to see over the years which types of educational systems are going to be advantaged and which kinds of educational systems are going to be disadvantaged in this world in which everything changes so rapidly.

No. And it’s, you know, even one credit a year--this is something that in terms of teacher education and staff development we’re going to have to think continuous because, as I said, the technologies of literacy are not going to stay the same; they’re going to keep changing faster and faster than they’ve been changing so far. And, uh, to have our, uh, teachers be prep--literate in these technologies and prepared to work with students in these technologies is going to require continuous upgrading of our schools. It’s, uh--I mean it’s a daunting task if you really think about it, and somehow our structures have to change to provide teachers in the schools that time in the way that Finland is doing it, and to provide teacher education programs, opportunities, resources, trained educators, and time to do it. (coughs) So, it’s really going to be quite a challenge for us. I, uh--but, you know, I--it’s exciting at the same time. This--the opportunities in these new worlds for new learning and new insights and thinking about new ways of helping youngsters is, uh--it’s incredible. Let me just give you one example. I--I manage the, uh, um, started and manage the--the reading teacher lisser (sp). It’s called R Teacher, ‘R’ Teacher. (coughs) And you can find it at the, um, International Reading Association Web site. I think it’s and then you have to go to journals and, you have to go to the reading teacher location, and then you’ll find the information about, uh, R Teacher. Now this is a lisser; the lisser is a mailing list where if you post--if you subscribe to it and you post a message, everybody who subscribes gets the message and so you can have conversations with colleagues around the world. And, this is a tremendous forum for teachers trying to learn new things about reading instruction because you have 800 incredibly talented educators from around the world, each one of whom knows something very deeply. Now, they don’t all know everything, but when you put everyone together, if you’ve got a question, boy, they’ll be 20 or 30 people with great answers for you. And, uh, those kinds of opportunities are exciting because if you’re in a classroom and you’ve got a youngster, and you’re really concerned about the youngster, it used to be that you just worry at night and maybe talk to a colleague down the hall, but now, you can post up your concerns, here’s the information I have, does anyone have any suggestions about what I should be doing or how I should be working with this youngster who’s really struggling with learning to read. Eh, people on this list are so supportive; they’re so nice. Oh, I’ve got a child just like that in my classroom. Here’s what I did. Here’s what worked. Why don’t you try this? Here’s a book you might want to try. And, Oh, be certain to read this book. This has some really good ideas in it. And by the way, if you get stuck and you still feel frustrated, let us know ‘cause we’re here to help. I mean, it’s--we haven’t had resources like that available to a teacher in northern Wyoming, you know, ever before. It’s something very special.

Yes, that’s--that’s what it is. The Internet lets us all get connected, and, um, and that’s why it becomes important and that’s why children will succeed when they learn how to take advantage of the information resources that are out there and teachers, as well. Some teachers haven’t figured this out; that there are these resources available for them, and--but those that have, uh, really use it a lot and to their benefit. I mean, it’s--the conversations we have on that list are just--I mean, they’re--I had never seen anything like that before. It’s something very new and very powerful as the world gets, uh, more connected. There’s some other advantages, too, I mean with this connectivity that takes place. One of them really is that we have really special opportunities, new opportunities we’ve never had for multicultural education in--and thinking about multicultural education in new ways, not just limited to whatever cultural populations exist in our community, but thinking about multicultural differences on a global scale that anyone, anywhere is going to have a different cultural experience from you, and, um, it’s important when you first make contact with that person, not to assume that they share the same cultural perspective that you do. And, in figuring out new ways to take advantage of these different cultural perspectives when you have a common problem, if you can bring six, eight, ten different cultural perspectives to look at that problem, you get much better answers; much, much better answers and much better solutions to problems that you might face, whether in the work place or, um, with the, uh, uh, an issue that you’re facing in your own life or a challenge that you’re face--how to repair something in the home, something as simple as that. You get different people who have looked at that in different ways, and you’ve really got a very powerful set of information.

Well, I think the most important thing here is to think about, um, our work in terms of our children’s future; that’s really what most of us get into the work of education for. And to think about their future, not in terms of our past, but rather in terms of their future, and their future’s going to be very different from our past in terms of reading and writing and use of information. Um, and I think if we keep that in mind; if we keep in mind that we’re working to prepare our students for their futures, and if we think a little bit about what that future might be, then I think we’ll be more likely to bring in (clears throat) and spend the time to use some of these new technologies for information communication because that’s really what it’s all about; that’s what all of us have gone into education for; that’s what all of us are working to try and achieve. Um, it’s just that sometimes we forget that their futures are not going to be the same as our past in terms of reading and writing and the types of information resources that are available to them.

Well, nobody really knows what it’s going to be, but if you do any thinking at all, you can see that it’s going to revolve around information; it’s going to revolve around networks of getting in touch with different people for different types of information; and using those new information resources wisely and efficiently to make our world a better place.