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Frank Watson

Author:  Sandra A. Lathem, Ed.D.

Vermont's Father of Information Technology

Frank Watson
Frank Watson, for those of us who have been involved in information technology for the last 15-20 years, is the person we call "the father of information technology in Vermont." This tribute comes from the fact that Frank was one of the very first Vermont educators to recognize the power and utility of computing to help students learn. Frank's belief in this power inspired him to become Vermont's foremost spokesperson, advocate, and mentor for technology integration in education, especially during the last decade of the 20th century as the emergence of personal computers and telecommunications technologies became more accessible and affordable. Under Frank's guidance and leadership, new technologies became instruments for school reform -- tools that supported constructivist, student-centered learning environments.

Frank's voice and wisdom has guided Vermont teachers, administrators, and policy makers for over 20 years. Even today, although semi-retired, Frank continues to share his vision and compassion with Vermont educators, as they strive to create learning environments that build capacity, potential, and individual achievement.

On October 10, 2005, I conducted an interview with Frank and asked him to talk about his life and leadership in information technology in Vermont. In this segment of VT3, you'll learn more about Frank, the major influences in his life, and his enduring hope and vision about teaching and learning.

Meet Frank

Frank Watson is fundamentally a learner -- someone who is intrigued by ideas and eager to know more. Frank, an avid reader, is some one who looks for opportunities to see things in a different way. Frank's email messages ends with -- I'll see it when I believe it -- a recognition that truth requires scrutiny -- and a motto that describes how Frank thinks and lives.

As a young man, Frank attended school in Kenmore, New York, in a school where a large proportion of students went on to college. Frank credits his high school teachers with providing him with a strong foundation in study skills and the ability to know how to learn. Following high school, Frank attended State University of New York - Cortland College between 1954-1958. He majored in education, an experience that cemented his knowledge and his desire to teach. At Cortland College, Frank earned his Bachelor of Science degree in Elementary and Science Education (biology, geology major). In 1964, Frank attended Michigan State University where he earned his MAT in Science Education (biology and geology major). During this time period, he received a scholarship from the National Science Foundation and experienced firsthand the effect of working with outstanding faculty and on-site classroom experiences.

Frank taught elementary science in Herkimer County and Scottsville, New York between 1958-1967 where he coordinated K-6 science programs and developed and implemented K-6 science scope and sequence curriculum projects. Between 1967-1970, he became the Project Director of the Elementary Science Study (ESS), administered by the Education Development Center (EDC) in Newton, Massachusetts and funded by the National Science Foundation (NSF). In this capacity, Frank directed science professional development and directed the completion and publication of 56 units of science for teachers and students K-8.

During these formative years, Frank was influenced by a number of people who helped him grow into the educator and leader that he is today.

In the video clip that follows, Frank speaks of the many influences in his early life and career in teaching.


The Vermont Connection

Between 1970 through 1987, Frank became a faculty member in the College of Education at The University of Vermont, where he taught undergraduate and graduate courses in science and mathematics education. He also co-directed an award-winning early childhood program, the American Primary Experience Program (APEX). Then between 1987-1989, Frank became the Project Director of the Papua New Guinea Radio Science Project where he directed the development, broadcast and assessment of the grade 4-6 science program to 100,000 children across Papua New Guinea.

Upon his return to the University of Vermont in 1989, Frank directed the College's Information Technology Program in addition to teaching undergraduate and graduate courses in science and mathematics education. Frank became well-known in Vermont because he visited and worked in many school districts, especially in the Northeast Kingdom, and gained the respect and trust of educators throughout the State. Frank learned that while Vermont is geographically small, it is an enormously diverse and complex place.


Frank was also the first Executive Director of the Vermont Educational Telecommunications Consortium (VETC) and a long-standing board member of the Vermont State Technology Council. Efforts in these organizations heightened awareness in Vermont during the early 1990s about the impact and effectiveness of information technology in education. Frank was a contributor to two documents which promoted the integration of technology in Vermont schools. These were:

Frank presented both documents to the Vermont Board of Education and his advocacy was influential in securing new funding for technology in Vermont K-12 classrooms. These two organizations (VETC and VSTC) eventually merged to become VITA-Learn, the Vermont Information Technology Association for the Advancement of Learning, the state chapter and organizational affiliate of the International Society for Technology in Education (ISTE).

In 1992, Frank left the University of Vermont to become the Information Technology Specialist of VISMT, Vermont Institute for Science, Math, and Technology. Frank was instrumental in developing and implementing guidelines for local information technology plans that were aligned with school plans. Then, in 1995, Frank became the Executive Director of VISMT where he lead the development of --

    science, mathematics and technology section of Vermont's Framework of Standards and Learning Opportunities
    the standards-based Vermont Science Assessment for grades 6 and 11
    the evaluation of published standards-based K-12 science and mathematics curriculum materials.

In recent years, Frank has worked as an advisor and consultant for Vermont Institutes and the Vermont Department of Education concerning educational projects that support the integration of technology in Vermont classrooms and has been instrumental in developing guidelines for technology planning at both the state and local level. Frank is the creator of a framework called the Six Elements that is now incorporated into the Vermont State Educational Technology Plan.

On Teaching

Frank believes that good teaching is based on a solid understanding of the way people learn. Coupled with this is deep factual knowledge of the content to be taught. Teachers must bring this content to the students they teach and they must believe that all students can learn.

Listen to Frank as he speaks about the importance of good teaching and his hopes for teaching in the future.


Knowing Good Teaching

Frank thinks that you can often tell a good teacher by the bulletin boards in the teacher' s classroom. When he enters a classroom, he looks first at the bulletin boards to see -- Is it kids' work? Is it displayed in interesting kinds of ways? Did the kids have a hand in it? 

Next, he tries to determine how flexible is the teacher to the kinds of questions that kids ask. Frank thinks that all too often teachers establish a set pattern that they're working on, and if someone asks a question that doesn't fit that pattern, it throws them off and they don't want to deal with it. Frank feels that this reaction either turns kids off or shoves them aside. Teachers have to roll with the questions.

Good teachers always bring new things to the class, new objects, new ideas to the class every day. This provides everybody a chance to deal with brand new pieces of information.   When Frank used to supervise student teachers, he used to tell them - "every morning bring something new to the classroom and set it on a table some place to get people asking questions."   He believes very strongly that the answers are not what to look for - it's the new questions - kids asking questions that become more and more powerful as a result of what they are experiencing.

Technology and Teaching

Frank thinks technology is another tool that teachers can use in the classroom. Technology is a very important tool because it enables kids to to collect information, then to store that information, and organize it in a particular kind of way and then finally, to look at that information and analyze what they've got. Technology helps students synthesize information into new kinds of constructs and then give that information back to people in a way that is partially their own and partially the information they pick up.   It's a wonderful tool to expand their entry points to the world.

On Leadership

Frank's leadership in Vermont stems from his passion for learning and creating the best learning environments for Vermont students and teachers. This leadership grew over the last twenty years as his work in higher education broadened to statewide leadership positions. Frank's personal growth and leadership is marked by his accomplishments in spearheading the work of the Vermont Framework of Standards and his work at the Vermont Institute for Science, Mathematics, and Technology (VISMT).


Professional Development and Teacher Leaders

In speaking about the needs for technology integration today, Frank speculates about the steps he would take if he were in a position to do so. Job embedded, on-site professional development and the creation of teacher leaders would be two strategies he would employ.


The Road Ahead - IT in Vermont Schools

Frank acknowledges the enormous growth in technology since his first entry into the field, and yet recognizes that we have a long way to go before we take full advantage of the potential that technology offers us. Technology has the capacity to change the way we teach and how students learn. The challenge is creating an environment that permits this new approach to learning to take place, an approach that integrates technology into all aspects of the teaching and learning process. To the students of today, technology and its integration into everyday life is a given. But for most teachers, it remains a new and somewhat foreign tool. Frank feels that we have made great strides but much work remains to be done.


Favorite Books

The Soul of the New Machine - Tracy Kidder
See information at: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tracy_Kidder

Neuromancer - William Gibson
See information at: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/William_Gibson_(novelist)

Computers as Mindtools for Schools - David H. Jonassen
Visit his web page at: http://www.coe.missouri.edu/~jonassen/

Experience and Education- John Dewey
Learn more about John Dewey at: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/John_Dewey

The Process of Education - Jerome Bruner
Learn more about Jerome Bruner at: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jerome_Bruner

The Psychology of Consciousness - Robert Ornstein
Learn more about Robert Ornstein at: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Robert_Ornstein

Mindstorms - Seymour Papert
Learn more about Seymour Papert at: http://www.papert.org/

The Second Self, Computers and the Human Spirit - Sherry Turkle
Learn more about Sherry Turkle at: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sherry_Turkle


Frank's influence in educational technology has been recognized by both the University of Vermont and VITA-Learn. The College of Education created the annual Frank W. Watson award in 2004 to honor a graduating pre-service teacher who exhibits best practices in technology integration. At the 2005 Vermont Fest conference, its 20th anniversary celebration, Frank was honored and an annual award recognizing excellence in technology integration was established in his name.


VermontFest 2005 - VITA-Learn

Vermont Outstanding Technology Educator Award

Video footage contributed by Peter Drescher