Meet The Teacher
Jay Horschak is an English and social studies teacher at
E. W. Seaholm High School in Birmingham, MI, an affluent suburb of Detroit. Seaholm has roughly 1200 students in grades 9-12. Jay is a co-founder of the Flexible Scheduling Program, or Flex (see Internet Resources below), which involves 180 students in grades 9-12. Participating students earn all the credits in English and social studies that they need to graduate from Seaholm.
Project Description: Neoclassicism and Romanticism
This is one of the electives that Jay offers in the Flex program. In this class, Jay's main goal for the students is that they learn to identify and distinguish between Neoclassicism and Romanticism and see how each view's structure and content is unique. He "hit the jackpot" when he conducted an Internet search on these topics, finding University of Pennsylvania English professor Jack Lynch's comprehensive Web site of literary resources (see Internet Resources below). Jay's class went to the computer lab to check out the site, and "have been there ever since. You could do 100 projects on this site, and there'd still be more work to do."
Jay has been teaching for 33 years, all of them at Seaholm. He "walked out of the University of Michigan and into that job." When Jay first started at Seaholm, the superintendent of schools was a very innovative person who was interested in innovative programs. With the help of some funding the superintendent secured, Jay and some colleagues put together the Flexible Scheduling Program, which is now in its 30th year.
As a "Flex" teacher, Jay teaches both language arts and social studies topics that "are all over the world." Among other things he has taught African, Chinese, Russian, and Latin American literature and anthropology with a focus on many other countries. There is very little repetition in the program, and Jay rarely teaches the same thing twice.
Jay says, "I've never been high on the idea that I've got the latest information. The Internet has made that position more clear to me." Using the Internet in his classroom has shown Jay that the role of the teacher has changed radically. He "doesn't pretend to be an expert," and his students are comfortable with that. In fact, Jay relies on the technical expertise and interest of his students. For instance, the school superintendent heard about Jay's computer lab and wanted to visit. He happened to visit when Jay was out of town, and he was very impressed with what he saw. Jay says, "The students wowed the superintendent just by going about their regular business in the lab."
Since students in the Flexible Scheduling Program earn English and social studies credits, the program has an interdisciplinary focus. Jay says that the Internet has enabled him to expand on the Flexible Scheduling Program's interdisciplinary approach because "the Internet doesn't follow any curriculum constraints." Jay said that he adheres to the notion of permeability in education, which is an idea of Alan November's that conceives of education as being barrier-free. The key to life-long learning, November says, is to make sure that the flow of information to students is unhindered by biases about who should know certain things and how they should learn them.
Jay also believes that the increase in the use of the
Internet will lead to a radical decentralization of schools, with more autonomy
for both teachers and students. The fact that Jay's students can run the computer
lab in his absence is an example of this sort of decentralization. Jay does not
find it problematic, because he is accustomed to a role with his students that
more closely resembles that of a partner than an authority. However, Jay feels
that most teachers are not prepared for this kind of autonomy, either for
themselves or for their students.
First Experiences with Technology and the Internet
Until five years ago, when Jay got his first Telnet disk with a computer and a modem, he had never done anything other than word processing on a computer. Now he and his students work on Internet projects on a regular basis.
Five years ago, Jay was talking to the
detention monitor, a paraprofessional who sat in the detention room and watched
the students. Frustrated by the lack of school resources, Jay commented to this
person that, "Our library is sorely lacking." The next day, this paraprofessional
gave Jay a computer disk that contained KA9Q, which is a Bell Lab Telnet program.
At that point, Jay says, he didn't even know enough about computers to know that
he had to type DIR to access the information on the disk. As he worked with this
resource, Jay discovered how time-saving it was to be able to conduct research
from home. "My growth curve was so fabulous," Jay says, and he realized what a
valuable resource the Telnet capability was, to say nothing of the
paraprofessional, who is now the technical advisor at Seaholm.
Jay's computer lab, which is the only Internet lab in
Birmingham, has six computers connected to the Internet via an ISDN line. Every
classroom at Seaholm has a computer and a dedicated phone line. Jay says that
there is great support for what he is doing with his students at the high school,
because since there is a lot of good equipment in the elementary and middle
schools, parents have become accustomed to knowing that their children have
access to technology. They want to make sure that the trend continues when their
children reach high school. And this will likely be possible, since Jay bought
the computers in the lab from someone with a lot of technical expertise: one of
More about Jay's Work
Jay is very interested in search engines such as Yahoo (see Internet Resources below). With the deluge of information that students now have access to because of the Internet, he perceives that "the focus has shifted from information mastery to information management." Now, information management is an important skill for students to have; when students conduct a search, they have to know which information will be most useful for their purposes. This also necessitates the acquisition of critical reading skills.
Jay also finds that his students are thinking about fairly sophisticated educational issues as a result of their work on the Internet. In keeping with the need to manage information well, Jay's students talk about structuring information in ways that make it more accessible to information seekers. They are actively interested in how the Internet may change the ways in which people think and learn.
Jay also commented on the fact that along with shifting
educational roles for teachers and students comes a shift in economic
positioning. Some of Jay's students are associated with a group of five students
called BigWeb, whose members maintain a cybercafe
and design Web pages. The students associated with BigWeb have the technical
knowhow that big companies need and are willing to pay substantial amounts of
money for. For instance, some of BigWeb's clients have included the Detroit Lions
and a major construction company. On one Web page development deal for a major
company that eventually fell through, Jay said that for developing this one Web
site, his students each stood to make enough money to pay for one year of
college. "What do you do when kids make more in a month than you do in a year?
Talk about parity of teachers and students, what about economic parity?" Jay
asks. Examples of the changing economic roles Jay perceives include the fact that
Jay bought the computers in his lab from a student, and the fact that five of his
students are part of BigWeb, which is in high demand. In contrast, "schools
cannot come up with the money to keep from slipping badly every year" in terms of
the technology they can supply to the students and teachers.
Problems with Technology
When Jay has problems with his computers, he says, "My
students are the people I go to [for help]. There isn't any problem so far that
they haven't been able to solve." There is also Seaholm's technical advisor, who
introduced Jay to the potential of the Internet in the first place.
Other Internet Projects
Senior Research Paper
As part of the Flexible Scheduling Program, Jay advises 30 seniors on a senior research paper. Most of their research and bibliographic work is done on the Internet, which Jay says speeds up the process of conducting research. On the Internet, students can Telnet to literally thousands of university and public libraries and search the resources there. One of their favorites is ZWeb (see Internet Resources below), which is a listing of 30 or 40 college libraries. They can also participate in scholarly discourse with experts in the field they have chosen to research by subscribing to listservs. Jay says that usually the students will subscribe to a listserv and then observe for a few days until they develop a sense of the etiquette for posting messages on that particular listserv. Students can present their findings as regular papers or as HTML documents. The following are descriptions of student papers that were presented in HTML format and that are available on the Flex site.
Impressionistic Influences on the Music of Claude Debussy is a paper/HTML document written by a student in the Flexible Scheduling Program. As its title indicates, the paper deals with Impressionistic themes in art and their influence on the French composer Debussy. By presenting his paper in HTML format, the author was able to include sound clips of Debussy's compositions and images of some of the Impressionistic art that influenced his work, rather than being forced merely to describe them as best he could.
Virtual Reality is a paper/HTML document written by a student who was also in the Flexible Scheduling Program, prior to his graduation from Seaholm. The student has included lists of links to relevant sites having to do with virtual reality.
How to Use the Web to Enhance Your Academic Performance
This is the title of an elective Jay teaches at Seaholm. For this class, students are required to identify an educational issue of interest to them, conduct Internet research to find out more about the issue, and then present their findings. Most students choose to create Web documents. Web presentation is in keeping with Seaholm's focus on portfolio assessment as a way to help students keep track of their best work. Jay says that for many students, their Web pages have become their portfolios. Indeed, when Jay writes college recommendations these days, he is able to refer admissions committees to student home pages.
During this class, Jay found that the students who consistently did well were ninth grade girls. He commented that this may help people shift their perceptions about gender and computing, because the prevailing wisdom is that boys do better than girls when it comes to technology. In this class, Jay observed senior boys helping freshman girls with technical issues and being very generous with their time. "It's all about collaboration," he said.