Willinsky, J. & Forssman, V. (In press). A tale of two cultures and a technology: A/musical politics of curriculum in four acts. In C. Cornbleth (Ed.), Curriculum, politics, policy: Cases in context. Albany, NY: State University of New York Press. 

A Tale of Two Cultures and a Technology:
A/musical Politics of Curriculum in Four Acts

John Willinsky and Vivian Forssman


"A plague on both our houses?" We may seem to invite the question, as we describe in what follows a partnership of business and education, both alike in dignity (as the prologue for Romeo and Juliet almost puts it). But this story of cultural collaboration is still in progress. We came together, as business and education, to build an Information Technology Management (ITM) program that enables students to support their school and community’s technology needs in a service learning project consistent with the new world of work. Of the two of us, Forssman is business. She is an information technology professional with a career background in systems integration consulting. Her educational connection is nourished through three daughters making their way through the schools. Willinsky is education. He is professor, parent, and school teacher in language and literature, having once created a primitive computing device for a science fair as a child. Our chapter in the politics of curricular change touches on three critical aspects of the new educational context: education and business partnerships, educational philosophies of "Learning by Deweying," and computers in education. It is only fitting that this tale be told in two alternating voices. The meeting of business and education is first of all about learning from each other’s cultures, while building a community for distinct perspectives.


In which the two principals begin to approach the domain of the other out of a sense that something is terribly amiss in a most unproductive level of name-calling between them.

Scene I, What Lies in the (Network) Cards?

Willinsky: In the late 1980s, years before this partnership took shape. I set out to make something of business’ constant complaints that educators failed to educate and that students were not adequately prepared for the demands of the workplace. In the simplest terms, I wanted business to put its money where its mouth was. This may well have been a bad attitude to bring to the table in hoping to form a partnership, I realize now, but it speaks well to the isolation and antagonism that had grown up between the two cultures.

More than that, I had the hubris to imagine that we might have an idea or two about reading and writing that might help business improve the literacy of its always inadequate workforce. In turn, I allowed that educators could stand to learn a thing or two about the literacy demands of the workplace so that we could better prepare students. I was proposing an exchange of lessons, with the deal sweetened, I naively assumed, by business’ technological largesse that would result in computers for students.

After unsuccessfully trying to convince various businesses that education had something to offer, Lorri Neilsen with whom I was working at the time on what we called the Learning Connections project, secured an arrangement with the computer services company, Systemhouse. Both researchers and high school students were soon learning a good deal about writing in the workplace. We gained a strong sense of the competitive excitement and collaborative devotion of the high-tech workplace, bidding on and delivering projects. We observed how much writing in the workplace is a form of clip-text, as we ended up naming it, and we came to realize how readily e-mail created immediate and intimate forms of communication.

More discouragingly, we learned how ill-prepared the schools were to take advantage of new technologies to extend connections and community, because of the lack of technical support. We used to joke about purchasing a permanent parking space at Doppler Computers, given how often we had to return networking cards, trying to find, in both a symbolic and literal sense, the right combination to bring everyone into the loop. The whole program became dependent on the services of a helpful student and a teacher who turned their talents to solving the challenges of making new connections which called for new protocols.

After two year’s work with the school and Systemhouse, the project came to an end, in the typical fashion of research-project funding. With the computers finally configured properly, the teachers returned to their regular programs, and the researcher and graduate students went off to produce papers and new grant applications. As it happened, the lasting effect of this initial foray in business-education partnerships, came out of my meeting with Vivian Forssman who wanted to explore how these connections between business and education could change both for the better.

Vivian and I decided that the best hope we had of forging a lasting connection between these two worlds — which students were expected to cross without much help — was to bring business and education people together around a table to solve a real educational problem: the need for an Information Technology curriculum in tune with the modern workplace. We envisioned a program where students would have an authentic learning experience providing the technical support that was sorely missing in the schools, and where they would learn essential survival skills for high technology and knowledge work. The gods fill the heads of those they are about to bring low with terrible ambition.

The first thing to fall, or at least wane, was my apprehension about the corrupting influences of business on anything educational. I had taught literature in a belief, so well characterized by George Sampson, that we were preparing students against their vocation, with literature their very best protection. But the truth of it was, or so I imagine apostate that I now am, that we were already in business, protecting our cultural capital so heavily invested in certain artful texts. As such, we may have been doing the students who were not going to join us in this trade a disservice for which we could only hope they would one day forgive us for.

The cultural and educational politics of developing this new technology program was about negotiating a different stance towards students and for the world after school. It was a school-to-work transition that many of us had to make as teachers, realizing along the way that the counter-cultures of business and education share equal, but different proficiencies and prejudices, all of which could be better understood by more frequent and better organized border crossings.

Scene II, Programming is No Education

Forssman: With all the gee-whiz high-tech hype and the hero-worship of Bill Gates, it seems paradoxical that there is now a national shortage in the U.S. and Canada of kids opting for education in computer science, an educational choice that presumably leads to productive careers in this hotbed of opportunity. As an information technology professional involved in the hiring of new university grads, I was curious about the options students have for preparing to enter hi-tech workplaces. As a concerned parent, I found myself inquiring into the school on behalf of my own children. I observed that the use of information technologies in schools was immature and the only choice for aspiring nerds, techno-engineers and the computer-curious was learning to program with the arcane language of COBOL, nearly as dead as Latin. It was no wonder that not many students were signing up.

When John Willinsky and I met and began our curriculum project in 1993, I was a harried career mother with a more-than-full-time job managing big network and software development projects for post office and telephone company clients at Systemhouse. I knew that the high-tech industry needed talents, people talents, project management talents. These were talents that no end of writing "go-to" code routines together in a computer class was ever going to develop. My own experience in the high technology sector spanned more than a decade and had evolved through the matching of business desires of my clients to custom-made technological solutions, a ‘90’s career focused around project and product management coupled with technology marketing functions. I had undertaken this high-tech, high-intensity work without COBOL.

The real skills to learn, as my own high technology career had taught me, were in recognizing the patterns of business and technical processes and then translating them into database or human-computer interface schema that would eventually result in some computer application that kept airplanes up or business losses down. This was accomplished by effectively interacting with technical gurus, contract managers and the much-respected "end-user", always using a lingua techne to communicate system architectures, organizational axioms and the so-called lifecycle methods of project management. Perhaps surprisingly to those that believe that technology is about machines, in fact, communications and interpersonal skills are critical to high technology work. Certainly software languages are a part of this discipline, but they should not be presumed to be the only entrance qualification for high technology work. And as one of the few "skirts" in the boardroom and the mother of three daughters, I also knew of the never-ending need to develop skills that could make small contributions to a shift in the power and dominance of this still-male world of technology, as women and girls learned leadership in a new technological order.

Something seemed terribly out of synch. The new wave of computer technology that was being implemented in the lab in my neighbourhood school seemed very vulnerable, lacking any systems architecture or apparent support mechanisms or training for the teachers, let alone imaginative, collaborative, knowledge-building applications. An active dialogue about skills development needed to be undertaken, because even as the schools upgraded their technology, the question of what and how they were teaching seemed to beg for participation from those of us that lived and worked in the business world.

Why, in 1993, when the Internet was settling into the office and women into the boardroom, were the computer science classes primarily boys-only, while the "data processing" classes were filled with girls seeking secretarial success in a ‘60’s-style typing class, learning keyboarding skills of Microsoft Word, but risking the same pink-collared demise as Smith-Corona? Meanwhile, the telecommunications networks that we were implementing for corporate clients at Systemhouse had great potential as collaborative learning environments. At this stage, neither the school community nor business interests had even begun to quantify how we might multiplex more than just the computers, bringing together the social value of connecting corporate return-on-investment with educational return-on-literacy through learning networks. All of these educational gaps were juxtaposed by an equal blindspot on the part of my high technology industry. This engine of economic growth with its growing labor shortages, had yet to articulate what it wanted from the schools, and what it could offer back to public education in terms of both technology and curriculum.

Although I had very limited knowledge of the purses, politics and pedagogies that govern education, Willinsky soon had me thinking about the potential of introducing computer and network technologies along with related skills and methods into school settings, of helping kids prepare for the grind of my kind of "new economy" service and knowledge work. So I set up some meetings with senior education bureaucrats to get a sense of the opportunity and then proposed a market development plan to Systemhouse. The company figured that my proposal to enter the education market with network solutions and school-to-work skills consulting was "premature."

You have to understand that business eyes public education with great suspicion. Except for the textbook publishers and school bus companies who have created a dedicated line-item stability in their relationship to the school, most businesses are wary of working with the educational market, not only because schools expect handouts, but because there is a perception that education lacks both capital and business acumen when it comes to planning and managing such things as technology. An example of this is how schools deal with the costing of computers. Business knows that the hardware and software amount to only 25-30 percent of the cost of introducing this technology into the workplace, while technical services and training cover the rest. Meanwhile, schools budget 100 percent for hardware and software and leave support to either the grace of God or over-worked teachers. It almost guarantees frustrations and business is reluctant to get involved.

Systemhouse’s well-founded apprehension with my business proposal didn’t dampen my enthusiasm for moving into the educational field, it directed my focus. We approached the Superintendent as an independent consultant with a modest proposal, to develop and implement a secondary school program that would deliver high technology skills to the students, provide critically important technology services to the school district, and involve leading-edge curriculum concepts contributed by my new friends from the university. The Superintendent agreed to our proposal. I bid farewell to Systemhouse and the big company benefit plan, for we were officially in business as curriculum entrepreneurs! Our celebration should have been tempered with the realization that curriculum and entrepreneurialism exist in very different and often conflicting worlds of public policy and bottom-line ventures. These differences were, although we didn’t realize it at the time, the subject of our own studies.

I initially behaved like an overzealous business consultant in that cautious, ordered world of the School District Office. First things first. We would need a project plan with a detailed schedule for implementing change that would have to be completed in a few months to assure prompt payment and customer satisfaction. No need to worry about minor issues. If no one in the school district had ever heard of quality assurance metrics or a Gantt chart, well, we would introduce the idea. I had no concern that my only experience with teachers was drawn from the report card review sessions on behalf of my own kids. I failed to notice the shudder of apprehension in Willinsky and others who wondered at a curriculum development process that was to be led by, of all people, a business manager.

Our onsite curriculum development process would be a real-time example of curriculum policy and practice, grounded in classrooms where teachers would become executive project managers, transforming kids into junior network managers and computer consultants. As a businessperson, I knew about networks and database environments, but not about the school reform visions of Howard Gardner (1991), the constructivist learning environments of Seymour Papert (1993), the authentic learning assessment theories of Grant Wiggins (1989), the learner-centered practices of Robert Marzano (1992), or the emergence of project-based learning as a discipline. It just seemed obvious. These kids would learn plenty through authenticity, applying their late twentieth century "wired" acumen to providing essential services in the school. They would keep the computers and printers up and running while they learned about hardware, software, networks and the behavioral aspects of delivering services to irritable clients whose desktops were suffering from digital dysfunction. While inspired by the demands of the new economy, our program forms a particular mode of service learning that we hope to see spread to other subject areas.

The school district would save money that they didn’t have by not having to hire in-demand network engineers. We would have an equal enrollment of girls and boys, contributing to the new order of gender equality. Teachers would have a built-in support system for performing all those technology-enabled paradigm shifts that the media and parents said they ought to try. We would create a stable technological environment as a framework for introducing collaborative, constructivist learning. Among the "Learning by Doing" theorists, we turned to Roger Schank, who claims that the number one problem with education today is that "schools act as if learning can be dissociated from doing. There really is no learning without doing…..the solution to the crisis of ineffective learning is to switch from reviewing to doing" (1997). Playing on the Information Technology theme, we worked at living up to slogans of "Kids Do IT," "Learning by Doing," "Learn IT, Teach IT, Do IT." The students would earn course credit, motivated by the responsibility of real work. Even the parents would be supportive of this tech-know utopia, knowing that Junior could buy her own snowboard with the promise of a part-time job these skills would guarantee.

Programming is not an education, but technology services delivered in the school by students for course credit is. Willinsky and I were about to embark upon an educational experiment where project and service learning would be the subject of our research, the object of our product development, and the predicate (predicament?) of our business-education collaboration. Without fully anticipating the conundrums and complexities of innovation, we would test several axioms of socio-technical projects, such as those developed by Bruno Latour with his "actor-network theory." We would discover our own de-programming in the process, the deconstruction of prior assumptions shared equally across the solitudes of the education and business communities. We would expose, critique and embrace the values of our differences, the differences of our values, while we tested a range of altered opinions, developing new and shared perspectives for educational innovation that involves technology and promotes "new economy" skill development.


In which the two principals take the first steps to forging a working-at-the-table- together partnership to build a new program for the schools.

Scene I, Writing the Unread: A Curriculum Guide

Willinsky: Our idea was to build an Information Technology Management (ITM) program in grades 10-12 that would enable students to provide technical support for their school and community and learn skills that would serve them in this new economy. I had been in education long enough to know that a program was not real until it had a curriculum guide with at least three components. There were goals or "learning outcomes" as we currently call them, with its slight ambiguity around whether they are the outcomes of learning or learning as outcome. We also had a sequence of content and assessment activities. Vivian, for her part, was taken with the idea that we would set out a master plan of the program, structured by grade level, from 10 to 12. After all, documentation formed a critical phase of project management, establishing a record of accountability that could be traced and held to. But there are documents and documents, with each genre serving its own purposes rather narrowly.

For the team of teachers and industry people that we gathered to write the curriculum guide in the first year of the ITM program, we posed several challenges. The curriculum should be driven by the particular needs for service expressed by the school and community; it should be built on what students already knew instead of what they did not know; and it should be directed by the just-in-time learning demands of new projects. Curriculum guides are most often written with at least the idea that they will guide practice. We were writing one that would describe the program as it was already underway and happening. Still we used the writing of the guide to establish the importance of process over specific technical content. Although we covered examples of what would be needed, we knew that the real issue was managing projects through service-oriented teamwork, independent learning, and business communication skills.

The real need here was to meld cultures through documentary genres, that is, to create a cross of a project management execution plan and a curriculum guide. Instead, we created a document which looks a lot like a curriculum guide and which has served well in getting the course approved at the Canadian provincial level. So it happened that, to the degree that it serves as an effective curriculum guideline, it misrepresents the program and how teachers and students dive into the process of providing services in ways that seem far removed from previous patterns of education. For here they are instructing teachers about how to use the web to gather materials or make presentations to other classes. If ever there was a need for a narrative- or case study-based curriculum guide, this would be it. New programs need all of the support they can garner in helping people to imagine the benefits of change, which in this case is extended school and community wide. Proving the program accountable by the conventional measures of learning outcomes, resources, and assessment activities, we missed the opportunity, at least in our first pass, of bringing change to the forms underwriting programs themselves. But then perhaps we needed to know better what shape the program would take, creating more of an operators’ manual, and we have just about arrived at this point, with this a chapter in that story.

Scene II, Feeding the Grant and RFP Addiction

Forssman: In presenting our product offering to Ministries of Education or school district superintendents, we were continually faced with their seeming inability to take action. While we were always given a polite audience, these agencies and individuals had neither established evaluative criteria nor funding for products or programs such as ours, and therefore were apt to reject them on that basis, while warmly pumping our hand as they bid us out the door. It appeared that the only way to gain support for our product and program was through the process of competing for politically-motivated "innovation funds" posted by the provinces, through complicated Requests for Proposal (RFP’s) with their do-or-die requirements, partners, and deadlines. If there was ever more tangible evidence of a business-education partnership, it was in the shared pizza receipts, delivered long past dinner time, to a university professor and a technology industry proposal writer who would argue long into the night about the appropriate formatting of footnotes for responding to a Request For Proposal.

In British Columbia, innovation funds took the form of the 1994-96 Skills Now! Program; in Ontario, we surfaced through the 1996-97 Technology Incentives Program (TIPP); nationally, we became the flagship youth program for the Software Human Resource Council (SHRC), a federal skills development initiative funded by Human Resource Development Canada. This last contract placed us, like sacrificial lambs on the alter of skills development reform, where we found ourselves wrestling with educational, jurisdictional, and constitutional issues, a heady mix indeed, and one destined to seriously threaten the viability of our start-up educational technology company aspirations. We were challenged by SHRC to introduce our program in both official languages, to Ministers of Education in at least seven provinces, while orchestrating a national trade show circuit, developing an Internet-based version of our program, designing a university-accredited teacher training program, and providing regional classroom implementation activities, all on a minimal budget with a short timeline. The contract was canceled by SHRC halfway through its term, a government agency reaction to bail out rather than report back to the funding masters the unforeseen complexity of systemic change, reinforcing the conclusion that political will often lacks forbearance.

All of these innovation funding mechanisms seemed like a good idea at the time. Our enthusiasm for them was driven by the need to secure revenue sources to keep our vision of technology-enabled project- and service-learning alive. But in retrospect, there were serious flaws in relying on this source of revenue, not the least of which was the puppet-on-a-string politics of paradigm shift parsimony. These contracts pushed us to deliver societal change in twelve months or less, and were tempered with sizable budget holdbacks and excruciatingly slow 120-day payment schedules. We conducted project evaluations as we went along which proved of little interest to the sponsoring innovation fund agency. And when the grants expired, the projects ended where they started, with the hopes, expectations and disappointments that have a habit of turning enthusiasts into cynics. In a recent survey of teachers’ attitudes towards new technology, approximately 75% of teachers indicated that they wish to use technologies only when they have been shown to improve educational practice (Ungerleider, 1997). For all involved, how much more satisfying these projects might have been if the research and status reports, undertaken as part of the project deliverables, had been evaluated and published by the sponsoring agencies, integrated where appropriate into the agenda for curriculum reform and communicated back to the "early adopter" teachers as an affirmation of their significant efforts and contribution.

Governments may pride themselves on creating a culture of educational innovation, exemplified by the grant programs we participated in. But a good part of the innovations’ value, we now can see, is lost as insufficient attention is paid to sustaining what has proven to be most valuable about the idea. Participants begin to suspect that innovation is an end in itself, to demonstrate nothing more that an innovative culture. Don’t worry about sustaining the value of this one as another one will come along. In addition to this end-in-itself approach, we also ran into the survival-of-the-fittest approach to innovation funding, in which one program among the many invested in, proves the political favorite for sustaining funding into the future. The point, though is not about our set-backs, but how business, when it is drawn into working with education in development partnerships (as opposed to vendor-customer relationships), needs to understand that differences in culture are underwritten by differences in economy, in principles and practices.


In which, having launched the ITM program within the schools, the principal parties sought to expand the partnership and community into new realms that would sustain its hold on the imagination of educators if not the reality of education.

Scene I, The Gartner Group Has Us for Lunch

Forssman: We went into this partnership believing that we could deliver on the promise of bringing together our respective business and education communities. If we could build an educational program that merged knowledge economies, then leaders in both sectors would want to join in the development of this larger sense of community. We knew, however, that we needed to find a compelling basis for coming together, and who better to turn to than those who made it their business to know this new business. The Information Technology sector relies on a cabal of Massachusetts-based research companies to keep up-to-date on analysis of emerging technology trends, what works and what doesn’t, the benchmarking and measurement of IT performance, the sorting out of fact and fiction, the hypes and hopes of technology. So if flagship Gartner Group’s research was good enough for Systemhouse, it would be great for kids who needed to learn, not just about IT, but about how IT is analyzed, as preparation for "being digital." We imagined teenagers providing more than just a quick Windows fix for their school clients; we envisioned them participating in the ongoing debate of the pros and cons of object database strategies and virtual reality mark-up language while becoming junior pundits on converging technologies.

We proposed participation in our curriculum development initiative to a local Gartner Group research analyst, as a way of building industry validation of the technical topics that we wished to include in our syllabus. She was delighted to join in our workshops where we were conceptualizing the curriculum with teachers.

The next step was to further validate our program with a more significant, perhaps strategic relationship with this industry giant. Of course, such a vision was dangerous, for we risked losing the support of some teachers, educators who have adopted a deep suspicion of the corporate agenda as anti-intellectual and too narrow in its pursuit of education as "skills development". In Canada, Maude Barlow, Heather-Jane Robertson (1994) and Heather Menzies (1996) have been provocative in their challenge of so-called myths of skills shortages and failing international competitiveness as the basis for education reform led by corporate interests. David Solway mordantly alludes to so-called systems of corporatism that are responsible for the intellectual ills of society: "The well-rounded educated person has yielded to the geek and the hacker, the long distance thinker to the nimble telecommuter, the prophet to the futurologist, and the old ideal of the autonomous individual to the new ideal of the corporate specialist" (1997, p. 93).

Gartner Group today has a significant presence in the corporate learning business. But even if the company had been ready for a learning division back in 1995 when we initially approached them with our vision, we came to the negotiating table ill-prepared for the reception we received. We proposed that Knowledge Architecture would become education sector "subscribers" to the Gartner research. With appropriate intellectual property recognition and licensing agreements, we would then repackage and distribute this material, altered and simplified for our K-12 market, with the educational context appropriate to the spunky tastes of Negropointe’s digital kids. We had hoped to become a "value-added reseller" of IT research for use as educational content. We started our proposal with an invitation to Gartner to provide sample material that we could distribute, free-of-charge, in professional development workshops to teachers.

Gartner Group threatened to sue us if we should ever distribute their material into schools. We quickly backed off, bruised by what we thought was a gross misunderstanding of purpose. Perhaps it was just the individuals we were dealing with at the time, or perhaps we had been poor communicators of our needs and intentions, or perhaps we underestimated the potency of turning commercial research material into learning resources. But what this incident served to demonstrate was a communications breakdown that all the fibre optics and digital switches would never address, that is the often conflicting and confusing agendas, interests and messages that go back and forth between corporations and public education initiatives, perhaps exacerbated by our "middleman position" of trying to broker relationships on behalf of a larger community of interest.

We were reminded time and again that that the pitch we were missing was a straightforward "what’s in it for me" quantification, critical to winning the support and buy-in of corporate interests. We were advised that imagining a better trained high technology workforce whose literacy began far before students graduated with a university degree, was beyond the short-term vision of most managers slogging their way through a business plan or a distribution channel strategy. If only I had met Ken Kay a few years earlier. Ken is a high-tech strategist and lobbyist based in Washington, DC who has organized a group of technology CEO’s into an initiative called CEO Forum. Both Ken’s efforts and Gartner Group’s evolution indicates there is a growing awareness that the high technology sector has a major contribution to make in supporting both the adoption of technology and the development of "new economy" skills. The test will be whether this senior executive-level corporate commitment will be able to move hand-in-hand with both state curriculum machines and classroom teachers, to deliver the tools, technologies and professional development necessary for program integration for the classroom and skills development for the kids.

Scene II, You Have to Have Conflict of Interest

Willinsky: With the development of ITM, I had entered into a business arrangement with Vivian to make the program into a product. We had a contract with school boards to deliver and support the ITM program. I quickly realized that ITM had to work well enough, that it had to speak directly to teachers and students so that schools would subscribe to it, now and in the future. It was inspiring. We could not just watch it flop, knowing that flopping could also be written up and published. This was work rife with conflicts of interest over my role as researcher, partner, and university teacher. It was work that was based on a different sort of commitment. Here we were committed to getting the program right, to making it work for those it was supposed to serve, making it grow so that it created a community of users. This was not the way I had worked on other research projects, and it posed a conflict of interest in my role as researcher. I had a vested interest in getting it right this time, and it has made all of the difference.

This conflict was further complicated however, as the success of the ITM project attracted more federal grant money. The dynamics of projects operating with multiple economies is becoming increasingly common, as each funding participant looks for other stakeholders to join in the venture. In this case, ITM brought its achievements to be part of a successful bid with Canada’s National Centres of Excellence funding program that was devoted to supporting "technology transfer" between the research community and industry. This was a very different arrangement, a different form of research funding that did speak to the government’s expectations of seeing a more immediate return on its investment that is typically the case with research grants. It meant that the aim of my research, under the auspices of this new national research project was now to speed ITM’s progress as commercial product, as well as learn as much as we could about the role of new technologies in educational settings. In the sciences, of course, this theme of technology transfer was common enough, with the university securing patents for gene splicing or engineering processes. In education, it was unheard of, thus creating the uncomfortable dilemma. The university and I now faced a situation without a procedure, and only loosely associated precedents. It seemed to me, however, that this was the sort of thing that was bound to happen, given the pressure we are under to form partnerships and compete for research grants.

The first step the university took was to notify me in bold-face type that, in light of my involvement in Knowledge Architecture and my research grant to facilitate the technology transfer, I was "in conflict of interest." I couldn’t have agreed more. Knowledge Architecture’s product development was clearly benefiting from the research, with minor financial support and major understanding of teacher and learner expectations. Still, my work with the company had not involved university resources, with even my time falling under what was allowed for faculty "consulting" practices of one day a week. The connection with Knowledge Architecture had helped in some small way in securing the grant for the team of researchers. Meanwhile the company was matching the research funds for the development of new components to the program, extending the university’s limited research and applying these dollars towards developing a website to support students managing the technology. The university first looked into whether it could share in the (non-existent) profits of the company. This, too, proved a lesson.

After an extensive interview with the university’s industry liaison office about ITM’s educational qualities, I was told that I had no "intellectual property," and that the university was not interested in staking a claim on the program. I made them promise not to tell my dean about this lack of intellectual property, as I worried what it would mean for my standing as an academic. We agreed to put a senior administrator in charge of the research account to measure the impact of the program and to give a more formal third-party review of budgetary allocations than is customary with research expenditures.

Is all of this really so new? Educators have long worked with businesses, such as publishers, to promote products intended to bring about curriculum change. And just as obviously, it does conflict what we tend to think of as research standards of objectivity. One solution is to work at keeping the two activities separate. But I’ve begun to think about it more in terms of how to make a difference in education, how to best affect improvements, to make students and teachers feel better about the accomplishment of their daily trade. There is that strategic sense of taking advantage of the change underway, in a merging of interests between university and business, in greater business involvement in education, that needs to be carefully directed by educators who have a vision of school reform that extends beyond improving test scores, without failing to attend to that politic measure. My university ultimately informed me that such conflicts are not resolved; they are to be managed. How we manage to make sense of these conflicts seems part of redefining our positions as educators who would use all at our disposal, including research, teaching, and business partnerships, and the conflicts of interest among them, to shamelessly promote initiatives that we have become convinced could make a positive difference for the schools.


In which the ITM program struggles to achieve continuing adoption in the schools when provincial seed funding is exhausted and efforts at professional development fail to fit in with the teachers’ schedules and habits.

Scene I, Professional Development

Forssman and Willinsky, in chorus: For all of the technology involved in bringing Studio A to the students’ desktop and for all of the enthusiasm and pride students felt in supporting school and community, the critical success factors of this program, as one of us liked to say, were the teachers. And critical they have been, in just that double sense. While much is made in the implementation literature on involving teachers in the process, cooperation into co-optation, their buy-in was on another level in this meeting of cultures both through service learning and the school-to-work themes (Fullan, 1991). As has been our theme throughout this case, what was at stake was the meeting of cultures. The challenge was to create professional development experiences for teachers who may not recognize this work as falling within the profession of teaching. We not only held workshops on project management, but set up job-shadowing experiences that sent teachers into high-tech workplaces for a couple of days, to give them a feel for how the world of work was changing, and the role that information technology was playing in that change. The teachers were keen to understand the demands of the new workplace, they and we were less certain about who to support the coming together of the two ways of working.

In the first two years of the program, we sent out mentors to work with the teachers participating in the ITM program. We had mentors that we hired from the Information Technology industry that had worked directly in the area of providing consulting and support services, and had an interest in education. We also had mentors who were teachers, enrolled in an education graduate program, who was interested in school change. The teacher-mentor took on specific responsibilities for the cultural challenges of implementation, working with the students and teachers in ensuring the ways in which the ITM program ran against the norms of the school did not lead to too many problems with the school principal and other teachers. The mentors were to work for one-to-two years with the classes, visiting each for roughly 20 hours a month.

The mentors built a wonderful rapport with the teachers and the students, helping the students provide a wide range of service projects, from setting up networks to establishing small businesses, projects so numerous that we only learned about some of them when the program was written up in the national newspaper. But the mentors spent a lot of time scheduling visits, and often ended up working directly with the students in the role of the teacher, rather than mentoring the teachers. And then from a business perspective, having mentors drive out to the schools in two provinces was expensive and inefficient, especially in an age that was moving the delivery of services, from bookstores to insurance appraisals, online. Didn’t it make sense for us to explore this new technology for providing teachers with anywhere, anytime support? Could we augment this online approach through a system of telementors to provide assistance?

We then set out to build a Website that would help students and teachers manage an ITM program. The resulting Studio A uses the metaphor of the studio and its neighborhood to create desktop space on the Web for each student and teacher to come to work with tools designed to help them manage and track their ITM projects undertaken within the school and community. We knew that almost all of the students’ shortfalls in providing service over the last three years have been about the management and accountability they failed to maintain. Studio A tried to guide them through the processes, following a simplified industry model. Yet if we were able to create an innovative educational website for working and managing projects, rather than click-surfin’, we faced new challenges in reaching teachers and students who had only begun to find their footing on the Web. We were a long way from imagining it might replace their binder as a way of doing school, or the workshop for doing professional development.

Here, we naively said, come teach in a brand new way, with a different sort of culture, one you have been rightly suspicious of, using an unfamiliar medium. We succeeded in only pushing ourselves further into relying on teachers known as "early adopters" to take up the program. At this point, we have a mix of initial and new participants who are using ITM and Studio A in their schools. We realize better now that while there is plenty of momentum for getting schools wired, we are still a few years away from that much-anticipated environment where students have anytime, anywhere access to networked computers for effective participation in collaborative online workgroups. We are keen to shape the education which this technology will come to support, an education based on a blended or hybrid culture of learning and doing, of education and work, of independence and service. In the meantime, we are working with educators to refine Studio A’s ability to provide a place where students can find support for project-based learning directed at service to their school and community, not just in Information Technology but across the curriculum. It calls for a Website that begins with the students and their learning needs, rather with the course and its materials.

Our scaled-back expectation is that by encouraging a wider community of both teachers and learners, we can engage in new models of teacher development support that have the qualities of learning networks. Teacher development can then become what it must be – ongoing, peer-supported, just-in-time, asynchronous learning that fits within a framework of theory, practice and participation. Yet the professional development is called for as much on our side as developers of the program. We need to consolidate the lessons we have acquired up to this point. We need to understand that the real challenge of the new technologies is understand the range of educational opportunities which they make possible, so that they enable teachers to realize more of what they have always wanted to realize with their students. To make our contribution to that process, we now understand that the promise of our program initiative lies in its extension of the educational culture of the school to encompass aspects of the new world of work, where people think, support, propose, reflect, build, create, teach, and perform.


This play of struggle and hope is intended to expand the politics of the curriculum to encompass the challenging meeting of cultures necessary to building community across traditional boundaries. The politics can seem to be about catching and riding waves, to take the Web-surfing metaphor, looking to maximize the educational advantage of new technologies and alliances by finding ways of making the value of the program to teachers and students our business. The old divisions between school and business are changing, just as notions of student and teacher, work and career are changing. If we are going to use the same tools, and tools that so readily expand the circles of communication, then the opportunities for a convergence and connection of practices is within reach. The new cultural form of this expanding learning community is bound to have its awkward, stumbling moments, given how selective we intend to be in finding the educational excitement and advantages of each new aspect. At best, although the technology continues to grab hold of people’s attention, much as it often does in theater and films today, we are really keenly working at creating and telling of a new sense of community, although we are still a long way from coming forward to take a bow. As the prince instructed Romeo and Juilet’s distressed families at play’s end, "Go hence, to have more talk of these… things."


Barlow, M. & Robertson, H.-J. (1994). Class warfare: The assault on Canada’s schools. Toronto, ON: Key Porter Books.

Drepres, D. (1996). "Moving to Another Level of Working and Learning": Evaluation of Year Two Information Technology Management (ITM) Vancouver: Knowledge Architecture. http://www.knowarch.com/index/front_office/evaluation/year2.htm

Franklin, U. (1990). The real world of technology. Toronto, ON: CBC Massey Lectures.

Fullan, M. (1991). The new meaning of educational change. New York: Teachers College Press.

Giles, D. E. Jr. & Eyler, J. (1997). The theoretical roots of service-learning in John

Dewey: Toward a theory of service-learning. http://www.umich.edu/~ocsl/Proj_Community/coord/giles.txt

Haraway, D. (1991). Situated knowledges: The science question in feminism and the privilege of partial perspective. New York: Routledge.

Latour, B. (1996). Aramis or the love of technology. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.

Marzano, R. J.(1992).A Different kind of classroom: Teaching with dimensions of Learning. Washington, DC: ASCD.

Menzies, H. (1996). Whose brave new world: The information highway and the new economy. Toronto, ON: Between the Lines.

Negropointe, N. (1995). Being digital. New York: Vintage Books.

Papert, S. (1993). The children's machine: Rethinking school in the age of the computer. New York: Basic Books.

Rifkin, J. (1997). Preparing students for "the end of work." Educational Leadership, 54(5), 30-33.

Solway, D. (1997). Lying about the wolf: Essays in culture and education. Montreal, QE: McGill-Queen’s University Press,

Turkle, Sherry (1995). Life on the screen, New York: Simon & Schuster.

Ungerleider, C. (1997). West Vancouver Teachers’ Association teacher computer technology use survey. Unpublished paper, University of British Columbia, Vancouver, BC.

Wiggins, Grant (1989). Teaching to the authentic test. Educational Leadership, 46(7),41-47