George Lucas Educational Foundation
Professional Learning

Dennis Harper: An Expert View on Teacher Preparation

September 1, 2001

Dennis Harper, founder of Generation www.Y, explains how students can help teachers integrate technology into the curriculum.

1. What is the "big idea" behind Generation www.Y?

The premise of Generation www.Y is that teachers don't need to know technology skills; that as long as they provide the content, the student can provide the technology, and they can work together. I think one thing that we find is that teachers go into teaching because they like to work with kids, and that's what makes this model successful.

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2. Why are students such a good resource for teachers?

I think one fact that you can't bypass is there's not a teacher in the United States who actually went to K-12 schools when the World Wide Web was in existence. So teachers don't realize, you know, the resources, the 2 billion Web sites, the 1 billion people on the Web. They don't realize how sharp these kids are. They don't realize the fact that for the first time in history now we have students knowing more than their teachers about something that's really central and important to society. So the only way to really realize this is to actually work with students.

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3. Why is it important to get students involved in technology instruction now?

We still have students with very little say in their own education -- 225 years after the formation of the country. They don't know what standards are, and now they have this technology prowess that adults don't have. So it's the perfect time to get students involved in their education.

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4. Doesn't this program contradict the idea that teachers need to know more than the students?

The whole idea about facilitation and coaching can now come to fruition. All these ideas that Dewey and Piaget and Papert -- some of these people have had in the past -- now we have a generation of kids, with expertise and proclivity towards technology that can finally make some of these theories actually work.

If you're a basketball coach, you don't have to necessarily be able to dunk in order to be a good coach. And if you're a track coach, you don't have to high-jump six feet to teach a kid to high-jump six feet. And the same thing with technology. You don't have to be able to make a Web page in order to actually use Web pages effectively. So just like the track coach teaches the kid to high-jump six feet, it should be the kid that's making the Web page -- the kids that are doing the technology. And we've wasted so much time and resources training teachers to do these technology skills that they never have the time to keep up with anyway. Why not bring students into education? It's sort of sad to actually have to say that.

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5. School reform includes making sure that teachers are knowledgeable about technology. Shouldn't that be enough?

After looking at the ways that reform has happened in schools in the past, it's not a very good track record in American education. That's from trying to go to the metric system to teaching media literacy. Computers have been around for twenty-five years -- schools haven't changed that much. So the question is maybe we're doing something wrong. Rather than training teachers with technology skills and hoping for improved student learning, let's look at it a different way: Let's train the kids with technology skills -- because they learn them so fast -- with the hopes of improved teachers' teaching.

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