November/December 2002 // Vision
Embracing the Information Age in Public Education: An Interview with Michael Warren
by James L. Morrison and Michael David Warren, Jr.
Note: This article was originally published in The Technology Source ( as: James L. Morrison and Michael David Warren, Jr. "Embracing the Information Age in Public Education: An Interview with Michael Warren" The Technology Source, November/December 2002. Available online at The article is reprinted here with permission of the publisher.

Michael Warren, the Secretary of the Michigan State Board of Education and Chair of the Board's Task Force on Embracing the Information Age, is a leading advocate of using information technology tools and learning practices in K-12 education. He has played a major role in developing, drafting, and advocating information age education reform proposals that have been implemented into law and policy in Michigan.

James Morrison [JM]: Michael, could you explain the origin of the task force?

Michael Warren [MW]: With my urging, the Michigan State Board of Education adopted a single strategic goal for 2001-2002: improving the academic achievement of students in chronically underachieving schools. We then established five task forces to develop policy initiatives to meet our goal. The Board then asked me to chair the Task Force on Embracing the Information Age. The task force included a number of educators and other leading experts in information age learning practices.

JM: How is embracing the information age a strategy for improving student achievement?

MW: A fundamental finding of the task force report (2001a) is that although much progress has been made, current educational standards and traditional ways of schooling have become obsolete. Dramatic cultural, economic, political, organizational, and technological changes have taken place throughout the world, creating new demands and expectations for education. In recent decades, agriculture, commerce, industry, and most major institutions have adopted fundamental structural changes and incorporated state-of-the-art technologies into their daily activities. All workers must excel, all community members must be engaged, and all citizens must be knowledgeable participants for the great experiment of America to succeed. To prosper in this dramatically changing context, students must possess learning skills and knowledge not even in existence a few years ago. Yet public education has been slow to change?¢‚Ǩ‚Äùclassrooms look too much like they did 100 years ago. According to the report, a technology-rich, learner-focused environment is essential for all students to be prepared for 21st century life.

JM: Please explain specifically how education should change to embrace the information age.

MW: Some folks think computer literacy is enough. On the contrary, reform must go much deeper. There needs to be a fundamental change in how we go about teaching and learning. Too often we think of education as "schooling" and not "learning." Schooling conveys a mental image of a school building, as well as teachers lecturing with a chalkboard in front of rows of students, arranged in a near-assembly line fashion. Schooling is teacher- and system-focused, while learning is student- and results-focused. The premise of the task force is that the information age offers freedom for students to learn and for educators to teach, regardless of time, place, ethnicity, or social and economic status, and that an information age-focused education allows educators to individualize learning programs for each student, while leveraging technology's ability to scale up for all students. The whole purpose is not just to learn content, but for students to become critical, self-directed, and collaborative thinkers and learners. Students should be encouraged to think critically, ask hard questions, conduct research, and craft solutions to difficult problems. Specifically, in the task force vision statement, we said:

Stakeholders in the education system will aggressively support the premise that students' ability to find, analyze, and synthesize information is critical, and that information technology will play an increasingly fundamental role in teaching, learning, assessment, and educational management. (Executive Summary, Our Vision, ?Ǭ? 1, 2001a)

Therefore, the foundation of the change is the use of information technology tools throughout the learning day, every day. We really need to move to a 365/24/7 mode of learning. But that is just the beginning. Students and educators should work together to learn, debate, share information, and create knowledge. Educators become not only teachers, but facilitators, and students become not only learners, but creators of knowledge.

JM: What proposals did your committee make to implement this vision of education in the information age?

MW: The task force proposed innovative policy proposals involving educator preparation, student standards and assessments, transcending the four walls, virtual districts, and bridging the digital divide. In particular we recommended the following:

?Ǭ? Educator Preparation and Development. All educators and administrators will be prepared to use information age tools, learning techniques, and processes. This encourages improved teaching and learning skills for our educators.

?Ǭ? Content Standards and Assessment. State and local academic standards and benchmarks, and assessments of schools, administrators, teachers, and students, must reflect the knowledge and skills necessary for success in the information age. This shift to a learner-centered approach involves cultivating critical thinking skills and high-order thinking, and fundamentally alters the approach to learning and state standards.

?Ǭ? Transcending the Four Walls. The Michigan State Board of Education will encourage schools to transcend their four walls and districts?¢‚Ǩ‚Äùdistance learning and other learning resources should be integrated into the learning community. This proposal dramatically broadens the reach and access of learning for students.

?Ǭ? Virtual Districts. Chronically underperforming schools and districts will form collaborative partnerships, creating virtual districts by which all partners share best practices and resources. This proposal will also foster virtual districts among all districts and intermediate school districts (intermediate districts are county-wide districts that provide certain services to districts within the county). This cutting-edge proposal, to our knowledge, is the first of its kind in the nation.

JM: What progress have you made so far in enacting the policies?

MW: We have made great strides. On educator preparation, we have put forward revised teacher certification requirements that will include "embracing the information age" as a critical requirement to certification (Office of Professional Preparation Services, 2002). I hope that the Board will approve the standards no later than November. We also approved a new teacher endorsement of educational technology for teachers who have already been certified. Although voluntary, it allows those educators who have an interest or expertise in this area to be recognized for their efforts. On transcending the four walls, we have approved new rules for how the state reimburses schools that foster virtual and distance learning (the old rules basically barred reimbursement for on-line learning). We have also adopted a policy framework to create virtual districts. However, there is a great deal more work ahead of us. For example, having a policy framework for virtual districts is just a step?¢‚Ǩ‚Äùwe need to create virtual districts, assess them, and expand them.

JM: Last year, I interviewed David Spencer, Michigan Virtual University, who told us about the "teacher laptop program" that provided a laptop computer and technical training to all public school teachers in Michigan (Morrison & Spencer, 2001). How have your Task Force initiatives leveraged that investment?

MW: The laptop initiative and the technical training provided by the Michigan Virtual University were superb efforts at increasing the technical literacy of our teacher corps. The Task Force focused on the next step?¢‚Ǩ‚Äùwhat do the teachers do with the machines? If laptops are used to just take attendance or store grades, it is not worth the effort. We need to fundamentally transform teaching and learning by individualizing and customizing education and by fostering collaborative, self-directed, and critical thinking enabled by information technology. That is what the task force focused on.

JM: Many states are currently experiencing budgetary constraints due to the current economic slowdown. Where does Michigan stand in this context? Was this an extra challenge in formulating these policies?

MW: This is a large challenge for Michigan. Like many states, we are facing declining revenues. However, Governor Engler and the Legislature have done a great job in protecting education. The bottom line is that we need to make embracing the information age a top priority for the state. There is over $13 billion already dedicated to public education, and a reprioritization of existing spending, or simply using existing resources better, would go a long way towards making huge gains. We need to invest heavily in our information technology infrastructure, including distributed Web services to support local development and centralized systems to deliver learning objects and to support assessment. There was a time when electricity, water, and roads needed to be installed as basic infrastructure. We now need to build the same backbone for the Information Age.

JM: In reviewing your Web page, I see that you advocate that every student and educator in Michigan should have personal Web sites. What is the rationale for your proposal?

MW: Enabling all of our students and educators to have their own Web sites would go a long way towards helping our students possess the skills and knowledge necessary for success in today's global information economy. By effectively leveraging state purchasing power, we could significantly foster the critical thinking, planning, and technical skills of our students at a minimal cost. Better yet, the initiative would encourage creative thinking, problem solving, writing, design, and communications skills. The initiative is also intended to help educators and parents. Web sites for teachers would enable students, teachers, and parents to interact with greater ease and depth. Teachers could post assignments, study resources, and lesson plans. An added advantage of this proposal is that it would complement and support individualized learning plans and portfolios. I tried to model what I preached by setting up the Web site.

JM: I understand that based on your recommendation, the Michigan State Board of Education (2002) has also approved a Policy on Learning Expectations that sets the overarching expectation for Michigan's public school students. Please summarize this policy.

MW: The policy states that students need to understand how to research, analyze, and present information; think critically; learn in a self-directed and collaborative manner; and create knowledge. Michigan's curriculum framework?¢‚Ǩ‚Äùthe student academic standards all students are assessed by?¢‚Ǩ‚Äùis being revised to reflect the policy. In essence, educators will no longer be expected to simply teach their students in an assembly line fashion whereby students are tested on their ability to regurgitate what the teachers have taught. Instead, educators will be expected to individualize instruction and foster higher-order thinking skills, and students will be assessed on their ability to think, reason, and analyze, in addition to their ability to grasp domains of knowledge. By the way, this is the "sleeper" reform in Michigan public education over the next five years?¢‚Ǩ‚Äùthis can truly transform Michigan public education.

JM: This policy is revolutionary. Where is Michigan vis-?É -vis implementing it?

MW: The Board has set the direction for public education in Michigan by directing the Michigan Department of Education and the Department of Treasury to use the policy to revise all of our academic content standards in such areas as math, science, social studies, and English language arts in light of the learning expectations the Board has for their students. In addition, annual standards will be created under the new federal law (the No Child Left Behind Act of 2001) in those subject areas for which we have not had such standards. The State Board (2001b) has outlined a plan of action to update and revise the standards accordingly.

During this revision process we will incorporate information age skill and knowledge requirements. When setting social studies standards, for instance, we need to be asking, "How do we develop the standards to ensure that our students can search for information, evaluate it, present it, discuss it, debate it, and even create new knowledge?" No longer would the standard just be, "Students should know the major historical figures of the Civil War." Now the standard will include the ability to find, decipher, and debate about primary texts, biographies, lives, perspectives, and underlying ideas. If the standards are genuinely changed to reflect the policy, and our standardized tests are authentically changed to reflect the standards, then we will fundamentally transform the landscape of education in Michigan. This fundamental transformation would require a significantly altered Michigan Educational Assessment Program (MEAP) to appropriately assess the new learning expectations. Michigan would be the clear educational leader, not only in the nation, but in the world. The challenge, however, is to take the ideas encapsulated in the policy and make them the reality in the classroom. I have no doubt that, through the combined efforts of our educators and the public, we can meet that challenge and capture the vision.

JM: I am impressed with the leadership and vision that you and your colleagues have demonstrated in your efforts to transform education in Michigan. I hope that your program will inspire other states to follow your lead. Thank you for sharing these efforts with our readers.


Michigan State Board of Education. (2001a). Embracing the information age: Report by the Task Force of the Michigan State Board of Education. Retrieved September 29, 2002, from

Michigan State Board of Education. (2001b). Proposal for revision of the Michigan curriculum framework. Retrieved September 29, 2002, from

Michigan State Board of Education. (2002). Policy on learning expectations for Michigan students. Retrieved September 29, 2002, from

Morrison, J. L. & Spencer, D. A. (2001, September/October). What impact are virtual universities having on higher education? An Interview with Michigan Virtual University's David Spencer. The Technology Source. Retrieved October 9, 2002 from

Office of Professional Preparation Services. (2002, May 30). Proposal to the Michigan state board of education for the preparation of teachers. Retrieved October 9, 2002 from

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