Children of the Revolution

READER ROI READ THIS STORY TO LEARN * How schools are integrating technology at the K-12 level * How learning styles and habits change with technological evolution * How to prepare for your future workforce Jackson Jones sits at his computer, tapping away at the keys. Jackson is happy and productive; life is good. Suddenly a shadow passes over the monitor and two strong arms lift him from behind. Jackson protests, but the only tools available to him are fussy faces and two small waving hands. He gives up. No matter how technically proficient you may be, when you haven't yet hit your second birthday you still have to defer to Mom over naptime and apple juice.

Jackson probably won't attend kindergarten for another three years; he won't hit the workforce for another 20. But when he does, he'll hit it with a bang, along with the other members of what Don Tapscott, in his 1997 book Growing Up Digital: The Rise of the Net Generation (McGraw-Hill), labels the Net Generation. Today's school-age children, growing up in an educational landscape where technology access is paramount, are poised to march into the new millennium with laptop in tow and computer knowledge firmly ensconced in their little heads. And over the next couple of decades, sometimes with baby steps and other times with giant leaps, they'll start changing the workforce.

Some of them-kids who have never known a world without computers, students who have never written a letter by hand-will be the IS employees of the future.

Some will be your internal customers, and others will be external consumers of your company's products. But they will all, in one way or another, affect the way companies do business. And while the changing nature of the CIO position makes it impossible to predict where today's technology executives will be tomorrow, the workforce is fluid enough that those who grew up with computers will soon meet those who didn't. People, get ready.

LIKE I DON'T HAVE ENOUGH TO WORRY ABOUT To prepare for your future colleagues and customers, first consider where they're coming from. Thirtysomethings and fortysomethings might remember learning to assimilate the Internet into their jobs as it evolved, just as twentysomethings assimilated it into their college environments. But young students in school now might not think it outlandish to ask, "What do you mean, there hasn't always been e-mail?"

"Most of these kids have never wound a watch, touched a typewriter, seen a record album," says Willard R. Daggett, president of the Rexford, N.Y.-based International Center for Leadership in Education, which is dedicated to making school curricula relevant to an information-based society. "To young children, technology is not the Internet and floppy disks," he says. That's just the background hum of history. For them as for most of us, Daggett says, "Technology is anything created since you were born." When children breathe in computers and the Internet even as they learn to walk and talk, a tricky issue arises for educators and businesspeople alike. Today's school-age generation is the first to include large numbers of kids who hop off the school bus knowing more about technology than do their teachers. Not only does that turn the whole notion of teacher as disseminator of knowledge on its head, it has implications that reach beyond the classroom and into the office park. In the old scenario, the teacher was the boss. "In the new scenario, the teacher becomes the facilitator," says Daggett. For the most part, teachers who use technology in the classroom no longer funnel information into their students' heads: Where teachers of yesteryear might have taught fifth-graders facts about ancient Egypt from textbooks, today they are more likely to send them to the Web to take a virtual tour of the pyramids or play an interactive game with hieroglyphics.

"It's no longer that sage on the stage but the guide on the side," says Mike Maternaghan, business development manager for British Telecom North America (BT) and a psychologist who has studied the harmonization of people and technology. And that evolution will probably apply to other authority figures in these students' futures-that is, their bosses.

As a teacher's role changes, so do the methods of teaching-and the results. Not everyone thinks introducing young children to computers early on is the right thing to do, but nonetheless a slew of educational software and online child-oriented activities is making learning speedier, flashier and less traditional than ever-and making the teacher less central to the learning process. Consider JuniorNet Corp., an online service for kids ages 3 to 12 that has teamed up with children's publishing giants like Highlights for Children and Sports Illustrated for Kids to produce an advertising-free place where young members can perform interactive research, do puzzles and participate in virtual classes. An interactive reference area means that kids can search an online encyclopedia while they're engaged in one of the online activities; a fad alert lets them know what other kids are buying even as they're communicating with one another. "Younger kids get bored if they're doing only one function at one time," explains Alan Rothenberg, JuniorNet's founder and CEO. As software and schools begin to cater to the short attention spans and the take-it-all-in-at-once attitude of today's kids, businesses would be smart to prepare.

A peek inside JuniorNet's downtown Boston offices, where the average age of employees is 23, shows some of that youthful need for multiple stimuli already gripping the workplace. Of course societal changes don't happen in the blink of an eye, so it's impossible to pick one day in the future and say that's when the workforce will change. But it's fair to say that the youngest workers out there now represent the breaking edge of the new wave of employees. At JuniorNet, programmers watch their computer screens, listen to music through headphones and carry on conversations all at once, thriving on what may be distractions for older workers. When the first set of cubicles went into the offices, employees thought the walls were too high; they wanted to be able to see what their coworkers were doing. The spirit borne of the collaborative nature of information technology-whether it comes from kids clustered around shared computers in the classroom or virtually clustered in an Internet chat room-infuses the entire office.

A digital diet certainly produces a different worker, and some may argue that it's not necessarily a better worker. "Production is great, but individuality is sacrificed," notes Rothenberg, who speaks not only as a businessman but as a father of three who is watching his children grow up in a world governed by technology. He's not sure he's ever seen his daughter hand write a letter, and his children seem to look for verbal hyperlinks when he talks to them-"yeah, Dad, I know that; click to the next part." But as technology access in homes and schools increases, children who think this way will be as common as freckles in Ireland.

NO MORE PENCILS, HARDLY ANY BOOKS While a technically saturated childhood doesn't guarantee a better employee or citizen, it's not stopping many schools from taking a leap onto the technology bandwagon. "You talk to any superintendent nowadays and they can talk about their LANs, their high-speed WANs, T1s, ATMs. They can talk to you about wireless and what they should be doing with wireless, because everyone is convinced that technology will make a difference in education," says Bill Rodrigues, vice president for K-12 education at Dell Computer Corp. in Round Rock, Texas. His division works with schools across the country to help build technology infrastructures.

At Western Heights School District in Southwest Oklahoma City, which works with Dell, a combination of E-Rate funding (part of the $2.5 billion allotted to schools and libraries through the Federal Telecommunications Act of 1996), bond initiatives and funding from local businesses has helped create one of the most wired districts in the country. In 1995 the Oklahoma Board of Education requested the district study how proficient its schools were with technology.

The results: The district was woefully unprepared to help students meet a technological future. So a task force of 24 educators developed a plan to improve the district's technology access. Five years ago, the district had only two small, unconnected networks, and an Apple IIe was the only computer in classrooms that were lucky enough to have anything at all. Today, fiber-optic cabling connects the four elementary schools, high school, middle school and an alternative education site. Each teacher's workstation has videoconferencing capability, every student and teacher has an e-mail address, and for the last four years the school has been building a network so advanced and user-friendly it would make some CIOs drool onto their keyboards.

Observers might be surprised to learn that Western Heights doesn't have pots of its own money to throw at technology; in fact, 72 percent of the district's students qualify for free or reduced-rate lunches. Joe Kitchens, superintendent of schools for Western Heights, acknowledges that securing funding is one of the toughest parts of wiring the district. He has found, however, that businesses are more than willing to pitch in and that E-Rate dollars, courtesy of a presidential administration committed to improving technology access in schools, can go a long way.

Kitchens claims technology will allow the school to expand and be more flexible in the services it offers to students and the school community, even to the point of being a 24-hour organization. He cites the case of a teacher who was being treated for cancer; the district sprung for a computer for her home that allowed her to continue to communicate with students during her recovery. And he emphasizes that technology is the key to letting students learn at different paces, allowing accelerated students to take distance-learning classes that their own schools may not offer. Kitchens' district recognized early the dominant role technology would have and wasted no time making sure its students would be prepared to meet the challenges of an information economy. The question then becomes whether the businesses are ready to meet the students.

THE DEVELOPING WORKFORCE While Western Heights' commitment to technology may be ahead of other districts of the same size and economic situation today, it won't be long before its approach is the rule rather than the exception. The demand is for more and more IT resources, and the mantra is, "If we don't integrate technology we'll fall behind." For the short term this may mean a scramble for schools and districts to secure the funding and the human capital to get their schools running at the speed of business. But in the long term it means that more and more students, for better or worse, will leave school with the indelible print of technology on their brains.

Karen Krupnick, a 28-year teaching veteran at Gerald Litel Elementary School in Chino Hills, Calif., says most of her students have computers at home, and their comfort level with technology is extremely high. "Their toys are all computerized, they know the ins and outs of computers and use them regularly for all kinds of purposes, and unlike adults, they are not surprised by much new technology. They simply integrate it into their lives." That's a crucial difference between generations that will force CIOs and vendors alike to rethink the way they deliver technology solutions (or any other product) to both internal and external customers-as these kids grow up, they'll focus on what technology can do for them, not just the bells and whistles that come along with it.

This is not to say that the CIO who plans to be around in the next couple of decades should run for the hills, with visions of robot children running through her head. But CIOs should be aware that the results of technology's proliferation in K-12 education will greet them in three different guises: internal IS workers, users within the company and external consumers of a company's product. The CIO who wants to meet the future with a smile rather than gnashing teeth must look at each in its own way.

WHAT DOES THIS MEAN FOR ME? To work with the IS department of the future, keep in mind that the teacher-as-facilitator role will continue to spill out into the workplace; these kids will want and expect to collaborate with their bosses, not take orders from them-even more than today's workers do.

At Glen Cove Schools on Long Island, Superintendent Frank DeLuca agrees. He sees a future where teachers become "the originator of the project, defining where students should wind up and allowing them to get there on their own."

Fast forward a few years and what do you get? Employees who bring that attitude into their work life.

From internal users, CIOs should expect higher demands for the best technology and tailored applications. To Dell's Rodrigues the key is not just that today's students will be ready to use the technology but that they'll be in a position to ask for it. At Dell, for example, a technology-rich environment means that employees can attend training classes at Dell University; they can also find out almost anything they need to know about the company from Dell's intranet.

Expect expectations like those to increase. It won't be too long before the CIO's responsibilities include making technology resources throughout the company appealing enough to attract employees of every kind into departments like HR and finance. It doesn't take a rocket scientist to figure out that a job-seeker who enjoyed top-notch technology from first grade on will disdain a company that offers slow network connections and old machines. "The CIO has to be able to provide everyone with useful, ubiquitous computing," says BT's Maternaghan.

James Schmidt, senior vice president for the technology services division at First National Bank of Omaha in Nebraska, offers a slightly different take on what the workforce of the future will require. "Today we incent people to get into the new stuff," he explains. "I think the time will come when we'll have to incent them to stay on the old stuff." Technology isn't implemented as quickly as it's invented, and older skill sets will still be in demand to keep IS departments running smoothly.

Organizations should also get ready for a new wave of consumers who have grown up with blinking advertisements and the promises of speed and consumer choice all around them. "You're finding a whole generation of children that's growing up with technology, and [they use it to] communicate, collaborate, buy things," says Rodrigues. As the first generation to grow up with online shopping, kids today know that for every Amazon.com there's a Barnesandnoble.com and that if they can't find something one place quickly, another company will certainly be happy to supply it.

Furthermore, Janneke Bogyo, a teacher on the Tuscarora Reservation in Western New York, says students now realize that they can't believe everything they see. Learning to separate the wheat from the chaff on the Web makes them more critical. "It's not like the old days when you opened the World Book and it was the word of God," she says. This should make for more discerning consumers and a push for better products. And that'll offer up a challenge to manufacturers and advertisers alike.

In the workplace, these trends will take shape as interesting new demands on management. "Most of the knowledge workers at any organization are technology savvy and they are demanding access to information," says Satish Ajmani, CIO for the county of Santa Clara in California. Ajmani thinks that workstation support, heretofore the domain of the CIO, will cease to be of major importance in the future. "The challenge we're going to face is satisfying the demand for information that the knowledge workers need to do their jobs." One important shift he has noted in his organization: CIOs have to set up information so that it easily answers business questions, and in the future that need will only increase. "The technologist's job is going to be to make sure that infrastructure is there," he says.

IT'S ALL GOOD-OR IS IT? For every story of an underprivileged kid who learned how to use a computer, there's a frustrated teacher without the time to learn the technology or a lower-middle-class kid who's falling through the cracks.

And for every request for more and better computers there's a school or district budget sinking deeper into the red. But these considerations aside, there are social implications that go along with introducing kids to technology when they're young. Some argue that children who have early access to vastly more information than their elders did are growing up too fast. In addition, in a world where day and night access to school is becoming as prevalent as 24/7 access to work, free time is dying a rapid death.

How that dwindling commodity is spent is also changing. Rothenberg tells the story of a fiftysomething employee at JuniorNet who suggested putting together a company softball team. Nobody was interested. Instead employees play computer games with companies in nearby office buildings-both their uptime and downtime involve a monitor and a mouse.

But for good or bad, technology has captured a starring role in America's schools. Kids in school today have a Web search for breakfast, e-mail for lunch and videoconferencing for dinner. It won't be too long before these kids will want to work for you or your company or buy something from your Web site. And if you're not ready to serve them in whatever capacity they demand, it's very likely your competitor will be.

Features Editor Meg Mitchell can be reached via e-mail at mmitchell@cio.com.

NOT SO FAST Too much technology too soon may do more harm than good Not everyone thinks that early exposure to technology means better students and more avid learners. Jane Healy, educational psychologist, author and lecturer, spent years observing classrooms and interviewing teachers, parents and cognitive experts for Failure to Connect (Touchstone Books, 1999). What she found might make some parents rethink that pint-size computer desk. The business of the future, Healy contends, doesn't need just the technology savvy.

In fact, those who learn technology at the expense of other skills may be hurting themselves and the world they are preparing to enter. "[Businesses] need people who are creative and adaptable and have good minds to figure out new solutions to new problems," Healy says. And she thinks the increasing use of computers in the classroom may be keeping that from happening.

"I'm very concerned that the emphasis on marketing computer literacy to very young children is missing the point of what is really going to prepare these children to contribute effectively to the business of the future," Healy says.

Where do the dangers lie? Healy posits that many early childhood software programs are training children to be droids by teaching them routines and formulas rather than creative problem-solving abilities. So while computers may have their place in the classroom and, when used correctly, can act as valuable learning tools, too much too soon can stunt physical and creative growth.

And this isn't a problem for just schools and parents-Healy warns that if businesses don't get involved early and often in the educational landscape, they will have a paltry group to choose from when it comes time to hire the next wave of workers.

The solution? Hold off computer exposure until after Age 7-a shift in the brain at that age makes the abstract world much more accessible. And businesses should articulate the nontechnology skills they'll need in the future to make sure the schools deliver them. "Businesses can provide a model of saying, We want people who can think, create, reflect and imagine," Healy says. -M.

Mitchell

TEACH THE TEACHERS WELL Learning with technology has to start by educating the educators Fully stocked computer labs monitored by people uncomfortable with the technology are about as beneficial as a luxury sports car sitting outside a house where nobody has a driver's license.

A recent report from Shelton, Conn.-based Market Data Retrieval (MDR) suggests that America's teachers are not yet comfortable enough with technology to integrate it fully into the classroom. The report polled 1,547 teachers at the elementary and secondary levels. Sixty-seven percent of the teachers reported that they were not required to demonstrate technology proficiency to get their teaching certificates. Less than 40 percent reported receiving one to five hours of technology training in past 12 months, and 23 percent have received no official training at all.

Why the problems? For one thing, teachers, saddled with enormous amounts of work and often underpaid, don't always have the energy to explore an entirely new field. "Teachers are inundated with a constant flow of new ideas, many of which are trendy and will no longer be used in two years," says Karen Krupnick, who teaches a fourth-grade gifted class at Gerald Litel Elementary School in Chino Hills, Calif. "They want assurance that technology won't be one of [those passing trends]."

Kurt Reister, a kindergarten teacher at Raleigh Park Elementary School in Portland, Ore., agrees. "I've taught two years now, and I've been quite amazed at how much we are expected or required to fit into our curriculum and assessments, without additional assistance, time or compensation. You can imagine how 20-year veterans feel."

And there's a fine line between knowing technology and knowing how to teach with technology-computers in the hands of someone who values bells and whistles over learning can be a weapon rather than a tool.

But things may be looking up. MDR's report says that 62.5 percent of teachers between ages 20 and 29 feel very comfortable using e-mail, whereas only 46.9 in the 40-to-49 age group are comfortable. So if new teachers continue to enter the workforce with high-tech exposure in their histories, schools can expect better uses of computers in the classroom.

"It is important [that teachers] do not feel forced to use the technology but that they see it as a wonderful addition to their teaching experience," explains Krupnick. "We are no longer in a little red schoolhouse; we are part of a greater picture." -M. Mitchell

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