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Knowledge workers for the future

Gerry Smith
River Oaks Public School, Canada

This multimedia presentation will discuss an innovative approach to education at River Oaks Public School in Oakville, Ontario, Canada. The restructured curriculum emphasises three strands for learning including: Human Relationships, Science/ Technology and Global Awareness. The curriculum is organised into four areas: Literacy, Life Skills, Arts and Creative Applications. There are approximately 240 Macintosh computers in River Oaks' classrooms to help students access, process, manage and communicate information. Students view the world as the classroom for their learning. Access to such databases as Internet gives students some of the most current and relevant information available. Several classes at River Oaks are involved in collaborative projects with classrooms around the world. Such work includes schools as far away as Japan and New Zealand. Some of the latest research findings conducted by York University and the University of Toronto will be shared in this session.

River Oaks Public School is a Kindergarten to Grade 8 elementary school with over 670 students located in Oakville, Ontario, Canada. The school opened in September 1990 and is currently in its fourth year of operation. The vision for the school centres around the restructuring of curriculum focused at preparing students for the workplace of the 21st Century. The restructured curriculum has as a major part of its focus. the concept of information with particular reference to students acquiring knowledge, skills and behaviours related to accessing, managing, processing and communicating information. Within this context, the technology has become a natural, almost transparent tool in the student's day to help students be more productive, efficient and creative in their work. Students in the school are referred to as "knowledge workers", young people who are learning the knowledge and skills to access and use appropriate information whether it be text, graphics, video or other media, for a given task or challenge.

To help facilitate the preparation of students for the global workplace of tomorrow, partnerships were created with several mayor corporations. The three major partnerships around River Oaks Public School include the Halton Board of Education, Apple Canada Inc. and the Ontario Ministry of Education. Apple Canada, as a major partner, agreed to help provide technology to support the vision. River Oaks Public School has approximately 240 Macintosh computer systems providing a ratio of one computer to almost every three students. All staff have a computer on their desk as part of this compliment. The school is totally networked and email is the medium for staff communication. In addition, the school has a complete voice mail system which has been extended into the community as an integral communication link between the classroom and home. There is also a variety of related technology such as scanners, CD ROM players, video disk players, electronic keyboards, robotics equipment, desktop video publishing equipment, computerised sewing machines and other specialised tools. This was made possible by further partnerships with Northern Telecom, Bell Canada, Sony of Canada, The River Oaks Group, Husqvarna, Roland Music Canada, Claris, Microsoft and Perceptix. Over 4000 visitors from around the globe have toured River Oaks to see the curriculum, students, staff end resources at work.

The Ontario Ministry of Education's involvement at River Oaks is to support on-going research conducted by the University of Toronto and York University. This research should provide helpful data and further understanding of changes that may be used by other educational jurisdictions as they undertake restructuring initiatives.

The rationale for the restructuring initiative, as well as a description of the restructured curriculum undertaken at River Oaks Public School, was discussed at great length in my paper contained in the conference proceedings of last years "Model Schools for the 21st Century Conference" held in Raleigh, North Carolina. The following is a brief description of the restructured curriculum. The curriculum at River Oaks has four key areas: Literacy. Life Skills. Arts and Creative Applications. This constitutes a shift to an integrated approach to learning that reflects work in the real world. The four areas are taught to all students through three major strands of content. The three strands are Human Relationships, Science/Technology and Global Awareness. Each strand has a series of themes which have been developed from Kindergarten to Grade 8.

A copy of these themes has been included with this paper as Appendix A. The Global Awareness strand has been completely revised over the past year and is substantially different from the outline contained in my paper from last years conference. Each theme has an associated set of math and language skills. The integrated thematic approach allows students to learn within real life context. In the Literacy component of the curriculum, students acquire basic skills in math and language, and other areas such as media, technical, scientific, environmental, political, economic literacy. Within the language component of literacy, formal grammar, spelling, phonics, reading and writing for personal response, information and critical analysis are some of the areas of focus. Math literacy emphasises skills in such areas as basic operations, logic and probability, measurement, data management, numerical analysis, geometry and algebra. The Life Skills component of the curriculum presents students with the opportunity to acquire skills and knowledge related to conflict resolution, collaborative work teams, time management, project management, cooperative groups, goal setting, leadership and other areas.

The Arts component of the curriculum focuses on the development of different vehicles for communication such as music, visual arts, drama. physical education, family studies, design and technology and multimedia applications. The most unique component of the River Oaks curriculum is Creative Applications. This part of the curriculum attempts to foster creativity, innovation, collaborative work groups and other skills by encouraging students to apply basic skills and knowledge acquired through Literacy, Life Skills and the Arts. to a self directed inquiry by the student or a group of students. This approach is intended to promote a practical application of [earnings to real life situations and helps develop the student as a life long learner. The self directed inquiry (creative application) of the student or group is analogous to working on a project in the real world of work. Students learn such skills as time management, resource allocation, development of project evaluation checkpoints (quality control), working cooperatively and collaboratively in a group, task completion and other personal management and teamwork skills. Throughout the learning process, technology is used as a tool to help access, manage, process and communicate information and, to enable, engage and empower students in their learning.

Curriculum, information and learning

The curriculum framework developed at River Oaks emphasises knowledge, skills and behaviours.

The knowledge component of the curriculum is reflected in the three strands of learning previously outlined. The skills component of the curriculum is very much contained within the Literacy, Life Skills and Arts components of the curriculum. It should be stressed that the acquisition of knowledge implies the learning of particular skills and behaviours. Appendix B is an attempt to represent in a very simplistic form, the framework for learning at River Oaks.

[Appendix B]
The following ideas as expressed by a staff member (Brian Alger) best describe some of our thoughts on learning for students, staff and the community of River Oaks Public School:

For each of the integrated units outlined in Appendix A, there exists a set of learning outcomes. The learning outcomes for the units are knowledge based but imply the learnings of particular skills whether they be measurement, information management, communication, media or otherwise. The information below outlines the draft learning outcomes for a Grade 3 for the six integrated units as outlined in Appendix A. In addition, some sample language, math and information skills outcomes have been included.

[Appendix A]

(a) INTEGRATED UNITS. GRADE 3 - River Oaks Public School

The Time of My Life (Human Relationships): All for One, One for All (Human Relationships): Growth and Change in Animals (Science/ Technology): Simple Robotics (Science/ Technology): Oceans, Deserts and Mountains (Global Awareness) Culture, People and History of North America (Global Awareness)


Writing: Punctuation:


Basic Operations: Data Management:


The information skills are embedded within the integrated curriculum units. This was evident in the sample learning outcomes for both language and mathematics where word processing skills and spreadsheet skills were part of the program. Teachers developed learning activities for students to accomplish the outcomes for the integrated unit, mathematics and language components of the curriculum. The following is a general outline of the skills for accessing information for students at River Oaks Public School. At present, most Grade 3 students would be competent with the passive media skills and most of the dynamic media skills with the exception of full scaled use of Internet.

Accessing Information Skills:

(i) Passive Media:

(ii) Dynamic Media: Having access to current and relevant information is a must in today's society. The same must be true in the classroom. Students at River Oaks have begun to realise that the real classroom for learning is the "world". This has constituted a shift in the minds of students, staff and community. Not all learning takes place within the four walls of the classroom or the four walls of the school. Similarly, all information is not contained within the walls of the classroom or the school. Even though there is an abundance of CD ROM, video disk, print materials etc. in the school, students need to have access to information anytime. anywhere.

At River Oaks, Internet has become a very valuable resource in this area. Internet has become fully functional within the school since September 1993 and allows students access to online information from their desktop. All 240 computers can have access to Internet at the same time through a high speed data line. Students are able to dial into such databases as NASA and download text, pictures and even video from some data bases. Teachers have Internet Mail IDs and are establishing learning links with other parts of the globe. At present, a Grade 8 class is working collaboratively with a class in Tokyo, Japan on a "Biological Scientist" focus. Grade 8 students at River Oaks pressed their own CD ROM and sent it to their counterparts in Japan. A Grade 6 class is similarly working with a class in New Zealand as part of their Global Awareness unit "Down Under - The Uniqueness of Australia". In addition, students at River Oaks are now able to link with other classrooms in the local area through an email system.

The breaking down of walls to information resources results in students needing to learn new basics such as accessing, processing, managing and communicating information. They are truly becoming "knowledge workers" who know how access information, where to access information and what information to access for a given purpose. More importantly, they are learning how to make sense of large amounts of information through synthesis, analysis and evaluation of material so that it may be communicated precisely and clearly to the intended audience.

Assessing and evaluating student achievement is an essential part of any successful program. We must be accountable for our work with students and demonstrate the strengths and areas for growth for each student. Staff at River Oaks are able to maintain portfolios on students with a cumulative record of achievement in such areas as writing, reading, mathematics, problem solving and inquiry based learning. There is still some room for the typical tests as one measure of student intake of knowledge and skills. An essential part of student evaluation is the Creative Applications component of the curriculum. It is in this area that students are able to demonstrate first hand that they can apply what they have learned to a real life challenge.

In teaching students, the teacher will deliver a specific set of information or skills and provide opportunities for the learner to develop particular habits of thought or action. It is important for the learner to have these "information in" experiences in order to expand their awareness of both themselves and the world in which they live. But students are not simply vessels to be filled with information at certain times during the day in a place called a classroom. They are not robots and their intelligence is not artificial. Once the information has been delivered to the learner there must be opportunities to apply the knowledge in a meaningful context. Without application, the information delivered cannot be reconstructed by the learner (student) and integrated into their own system of knowledge. In providing opportunities for both structured and creative applications of information the learner can develop the habits of the reflective, self directed knowledge builder. Creative Applications is "the proof is in the pudding" philosophy for learning at River Oaks.

It is most gratifying to see the many parents come into classrooms at the end of an integrated unit for a celebration of learning to observe first hand their child applying what they have learned to a real life challenge. Appendix C is a copy of the Junior (Grade 4, 5 & 6) Report Card used at River Oaks as one tool for reporting student progress to parents. Voice Mail at River Oaks has provided a valuable informal means of communication with parents about student activities, curriculum and other matters. At present, parents are able to phone their child's teacher after hours (4:30 pm - 8:00 am) to leave a message for the teacher or to pick up homework assignments, curriculum activities and other information for their child's classroom. It is my feeling that we work in conflict with our parents. When we want to talk to them, they are at work, and when they want to talk to us, we are at home. Voice Mail has certainly helped alleviate this problem at River Oaks. It is our hope in the near future to make it possible for parents to connect from their home via a modem to the school to access selected information from classrooms (eg. homework assignments) and other parts of the school.

We live in an information rich world and we must make every effort to ensure that the learning environment is rich in information resources. A richness of current and relevant information will help engage, enable and empower the student to achieve to his/her potential. Information is doubling at a rapid pace and it is predicted that by the year 2000, information will double approximately every eight months. In their roles as knowledge workers, students also need to become information architects, able to conceptualise, sort through their data, plan and craft their information into a presentation that when shared is engaging and appealing to the audience. The teacher in turn must become a role model for the student and demonstrate their own architecture for information and learning that results in the growth and success of their students.

How are we making a difference?

Several research projects have been carried on at River Oaks Public School since its opening in September 1990. The following gives a brief summary of some of these research investigations. I have included a research study on writing, interactive media and vision. There are other studies that have been conducted at River Oaks which focus on mathematics, an additional study on creative applications for multi sensory interactive media, a longitudinal writing study where students writing was tracked for three years, and, the development of expert systems.

(i) On and off computer writing of eighth grade students experienced in word processing, by Dr. Ron Owston et al. (York University), May 1990.

METHOD: During 1989, approximately 100 Grade 8 students who were experienced in word processing wrote a yarn, both with the computer and without the computer. In all cases students wrote a draft first before producing a final copy. All student writing, both on and off computer as well as draft and final copies were entered into a computer by York University to disguise hand written and computer generated writing. Evaluators therefore were unable to detect the mode of writing. Four educators were trained to rate the students writing with a holistic / analytic assessment instrument that uses a six point scale for measuring four characteristics of writing - overall competence, focus/ organisation, support of ideas, and mechanics.

RESULTS: In all cases, computer writing was found to score significantly higher than off computer writing (F=3.73, p<.01). Computer scores for competence and mechanics were significantly higher (p<.05) than off computer scores. A significant interaction was found between competence and gender, with girls scoring higher on computer than boys (p<.05). Stories written on computer were found to be significantly longer than those written off computer (p<.02). The mean length of computer written stories was 273 words compared to 242 when stones were handwritten. Also students exhibited significantly more positive attitudes toward writing on the computer than toward writing off computer (p<.05) on an attitude scale that was administered during the study.

It is interesting to note that this study was replicated in 1990 with another 100 Grade 8 students who wrote two expository position papers, one on the environmental effects of "tire fires", and the other on the environmental effects of "oil spills". The same procedure was used throughout the study and results were very similar to the original study. The title of this second study is "Effects of Word Processing on Student Writing in a High Computer Access Environment" This study was also completed by Dr. Ron Owston of York University and published in November 1991.

(ii) The use of interactive media in a creative applications program: A pilot study, by Dr. Jerome Durlak et al. (York University), February 1992.

METHOD: This study focused on the use of Creative Applications by students. Classes of students were observed on a regular basis as to their interactions with each other and their use of resources. It should be noted that this study was completed prior to the decentralisation of Creative Applications resources to the regular classrooms. A trained observer recorded where the students were in the room, what resources they were doing, the sex of the student as well as their interactions with other students and the teacher.

RESULTS: In total there were 507 observations of students using the resources in media authoring, graphics and design and music applications. Of the 507 observations, 66.6% were boys and 33.5% were girls. The imbalance was due to the fact that several of the classes had more boys than girls, but more importantly, more of the girls decided to use desktop publishing facilities in the adjacent section of the Creative Applications environment which was not registered in the observation schedule. Students were found to work together in pairs, triads and even larger groups depending on the task. Almost all students were engrossed in their work. 84% of the students who were working in diads were on task, 6.5% were socialising and working on task while 6.5% were strictly socialising. In the 11 groups that had three or four students working together, 10 groups were on task while one group was both socialising and working. Having a teacher present did not determine whether or not children stayed on task. In fact during 28% of the observations, there was no teacher present. 56% of the time there was one teacher present and 16% of the time there were two teachers present. When one teacher was present, it was found that 72% of his or her time was working one to one with a student and 28% of the time with two or more students. The findings suggest that students working on interactive media tasks stay highly focused on their work whether or not a teacher is present. Teachers in turn spend most of their time in the Creative Applications component of the program with one or two students rather than instructing the entire class.

(iii) Discovering quality learning with technology in a restructured school: Evolution of the vision, by Dr. Michael Fullan et al. (University of Toronto), September 1992.

METHOD: Data collection for the study included gathering implementation documents, regular interviews with the principal, informal school (eg. staff meetings, in service etc.) and classroom observation, and focused interviews with twelve teachers. The findings were drawn from the case study interviews conducted in May of the planning year for the school and in December and May of the first year of implementation. Interviews were taped, transcribed, validated by the participating teachers, and coded by two researchers using a standardised coding system keyed to the main variables of interest.

RESULTS: The teachers vision for the school evolved in two directions. One direction encompasses a progression from thinking about technology resources, to thinking about technology literacy, the use of technology as a tool for student learning, technology applications in the curriculum and learning process, and the nature and quality of student learning associated with technology use. The second direction involves trends in the teachers vision within each dimension (see Figure 1 below). This is marked by increasing clarity and certainty, specificity, and complexity in the portrayal of technology resources, uses and outcomes. Through the first year, teachers were at different points in the evolution of their personal visions of technology implementation. Differences associated with variation in past technology experience, teaching position, implementation role (eg. technology user, technology coach), and differential access to technology resources within the school.

Figure 1: Technology Vision Trends: Implementation Year 1

Technology Resources
  • general to specific
  • more variety to more knowledge
  • initial to changing environment
Technology Literacy
  • uncertainty to confidence in learners
  • basic skills to wide range of skills
  • teacher directed to student assisted
Technology Tools
  • writing process and math drill to other supplement to replace traditional tools for expression and learning
Technology Applications
  • regular classroom and technology centres
  • structured to unstructured applications
Quality of Learning
  • technology literacy development
  • motivation and self confidence
  • learning skills

It is clear that the teachers' vision of technology at River Oaks was not a natural consequence of technology resource availability. A key factor contributing to the emerging focus on the quality of learning was the fact that technology was introduced in tandem with a major curriculum restructuring initiative. This initiative significantly altered traditional patterns of school program organisation, timetabling, student learning, student evaluation, and reporting to parents. It led teachers to examine the impact of technology integration and applications in relation to the vision for curriculum restructuring, and to reaffirm the importance of effective teaching to achieving quality learning in technology enriched classrooms and schools.

Concluding remarks

We have just scratched the surface of what we can do for students and learning at River Oaks. We have a very long ways to go. The vision for our school does not remain static - it is dynamic and changing on an on-going basis. We must remain strong on open to the challenge of preparing our students to be knowledge workers for the futures - citizens who will be competitive in a global economy, feel good about themselves and what they have to offer to others.

Author: Gerry Smith, Principal, River Oaks Public School, Oakville, Ontario, Canada

Please cite as: Smith, G. (1994). Knowledge workers for the future. In J. Steele and J. G. Hedberg (eds), Learning Environment Technology: Selected papers from LETA 94, 307-313. Canberra: AJET Publications.

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