A couple of moments from my short hiatus have been occupying my thoughts the last few days. The first was the opportunity to listen to and later briefly meet Sir Ken Robinson at an arts conference I presented at in New Jersey two weeks ago. The other was listening to the final presentations of my Seton Hall Ed.D. students as they talked about their technology journeys this year.
What strikes me is how little if anything seems to be changing in public schools, despite what I think are some pretty compelling cases for change that are out there. (I know, I know…back to this again.) Let me tell you a couple of stories.
A building principal at a small public school in upstate New York told us at Seton Hall that just this year, when she wanted to begin using a flash drive on the computer at her school, she was told she couldn’t by the IT person in the district who was afraid that doing so would cause all sorts of havoc on the network. Finally, after some begging, the IT person agreed to open up one computer in the library for all flash drive use in the school. And not for kids.
Another building principal read a letter that his IT person wrote to his board that included a bulleted list of reasons why the district should not pursue the purchase of laptops for the school, everything from laptops are just a craze, to laptops get stolen, to the expense of shipping and handling . Not only that, but no school in his district can move ahead of any other school when it comes to technology. So if one school wants laptops, but another school doesn’t, then neither school (or any other school in the district, for that matter) can get them.
(Of course, there is the flipside as well, the districts that have the ability (or the connections) to create media centers and mobile media labs that will immerse their kids in the content creation and media literacies that they’ll need to compete. The gulf between the two is striking.)
What’s shocking in these stories is that it’s not just about control of the technologies in the classroom with students. It’s about control of top administrators in their own personal use of technology. I mean, if we’re just now letting principals use flash drives in their schools, how long will it take to get to where kids and teachers are creating and connecting? And what, in the end, does all of this control, which no doubt washes down to the students, teach them about using self control? That’s the hardest part of this for me to get to at times. The only ways our kids will learn to navigate the world is if we give them the tools and opportunities to use them in their practice. How can they learn that self-control if we’re always controlling everything? What a horrible lesson.
In his keynote, Sir Ken said something along the lines of “we have to stop talking about school reform and start thinking about school ‘transform’.” And that transformation has a lot to do with ceding control of so much of what we currently do. He also noted that instead of an industrial model, we need an “agrarian model,” one where instead of standardizing every output, we nourish the environment to allow each to grow at it’s own, most effective pace. The picture he painted looked so different from the pictures being painted by those administrators. Hard to see when, if ever, the two become one.
Eric Grant says
Fascinating that Sir Ken advocates a term like “agrarian”. I can’t help but associate agrarian with the era in which our school system was created.
But yes, control seems to be a central issue here. The Web 2.0 model of co-creation and distributed ownership have not penetrated the top-down federalized school system.
Tom Hoffman says
But it is important to recognize that school IT represents a particular set of problems which is actually rather separate from other standard education-related problems. What you describe is really the result, at least in part, of bringing a corporate IT perspective into schools. If I’m running a chain of supermarkets, I don’t give one store different terminals just because the clerks like them more. That’s the perspective a lot of IT guys bring to schools.
Add onto that fear of lawsuits and advice from lawyers whose primary goal is to rule out anything that might cause a lawsuit. AND genuine concern over cyberbullying. AND the fact that schools generally run operating systems vulnerable to malware.
Zittrain’s book addresses these issues directly — we’re losing generativity and the opportunity for innovation — but it is important to see IT problems as IT problems, not as metaphors or as part of the problem with traditional schooling.
I was just talking about this same issue this morning. Our school board policies prevent us from doing some great things– we can’t store any student data or student work on servers that we don’t own or that belong to companies with whom we have no contract. That means we can only podcast from our own podcast server (which isn’t yet operational). We can’t use wikis unless we create them ourselves. Our students can only blog from within our “protected” environment, which means only people from our district can read them. All of these issues prevent teachers from doing any of it at all.
Scott McLeod says
Two of the most popular posts on my blog have been:
(Principal blogging not allowed)
I hate it when I hear stories like this. Who’s working for whom? Who’s hiring (and retaining) these people? And, just as importantly but less obviously, who prepared these #$&!@#* administrators / IT people!
David W. Keane says
I can tell you that, Who is working for who? is a question I ask myself almost each and everyday. I love that not only do the IT person, but the bus superintendent, the head building custodian and often the local teacher union president have more say on what goes on in some districts than the principal. I have found that establishing where on the hill you fit is important when the perverbial “shit” starts working its way down that hill.
David W. Keane says
I was extremely intrigued by this post as I have just finished a college course with Dr. Scott Mcleod during which we had this same discussion. I see a vast divide between the Digital Natives and we the Digital Immigrants in how we view technology. There are those of us who understand that the only way students will learn the responsible use of technology is through guidance which will require us to let them be irresponsible at times. I am the principal of a high school in Iowa. In my high school we have a great deal of technology which is accessible to students, but we still have issues with allowing students to use some of the technology that is available. I have a big problem with our existing cell phone and Ipod policy. We just simply ban the technology and thus at times end up suspending a student due to an escalating situation which began with a student taking their phone out of their pocket to read a text or possibly even to just check the time. The teacher attempts to confiscate the cellphone which meets with a great deal of resistance from the student. The students often cite the fact that faculty are allowed to use their cellphones and often do so irresponsibly, taking a call in the middle of a class. The Ipods often cause the same types of issues. Now I don’t make policy but I am charged with carrying it out and I do so to the best of my ability. I just don’t agree that the best way to deal with the technology prevelant today is to ban its use. I see a similar problem with our school wellness policy. We established a policy to improve the wellness of our children which required that the pop and candy machines be turned off during the day or removed from the buildings. The effect of this policy is that now instead of the pop being purchased at school, I have students carrying it in from outside the building. The policy did not attempt to implement any sort of educational component to help students understand the importance of making healthy life choices but rather just took their poor choices away, or so they thought.
I advocate for allowing students to use their technology in schools along with a program which will aid them in developing proper etiquette and responsible habits for its use. I have a daughter who can text about as fast as I can type. She wants a laptop to take notes in class, I say let her use her cellphone instead. It is a piece of technology she already has and is proficient in its use.
We need to encourage students to use technology responsibly. There is not an executive businessman out there that doesn’t have a cellphone these days, and often it is a smartphone with internet capabilities as well. We need to prepare the kids for the world in which they will live and stop trying to prepare them for the world we grew up in.
Jeff Wasserman says
We’re going that same route…the tech committee, of which I am a reluctant member, is now touting email accounts for every student. Of course, you can only send messages to one of these school accounts from another. So much for SMS-to-email, let alone normal-person-email-to-email.
Scott S. Floyd says
I attended a tech coordinators meeting the other day where Apple presented podcasting as a curriculum piece. After lunch, the IT’s all went into another room to hear about the Apple server and how it can play a key role in the infrastructure. Immediately the questions came rolling about how to lock down things on it so that the IT has control. The Apple tech handled the situations very well (he was a former IT who had occasional lapses into agreement with these guys). When an issue was brought up, he would say, “Well, ask Scott and Michael how they are doing it.” We would share our bit about what the kids and teachers are doing with it and how happy it made the superintendent and parents. So we went along this way for an hour or so.
Then the end of the meeting hit. As soon as we hit the door on the way out we were called into a pow wow about putting a halt to all of this podcasting nonsense. We (Mike and I) were making it difficult on the others to keep Apple out of their locked down PC/Linux systems, and our sharing was not helping at all.
We gave a short response and walked away:
The superintendent looked at which teachers had accomplished all of his goals in tech integration that he had put forth at the beginning of the year. Oddly enough, it was only the teachers with MacBooks or iMacs because they had everything they needed in one nice little package that made it “easy” for them. Podcasting was the key for students, parents, administrators, and school board members. It has become a tool that engages the students in the learning. It is not the driver of the learning. It is a part of the process of learning.
Now, I am not saying Apple is the only way. It isn’t. What I am saying is you have to have the right tools in place for the teachers to do the work they want/need and is being asked of them. If we allow the IT Nazis to control the curriculum, then we are not doing our jobs as educators. The superintendent is still the head curriculum driver. Not the IT.
Lisa Nielsen says
I think back to the days of when I was a library media specialist. Those with the most beautiful libraries were called library dragons because they were so interested in the pristine cleanliness and security of their libraries that they had to form a wall/barrier that no one could get through. The more successful libraries were perhaps a little messier, but fun and creative and brought kids into the equation of ownership, decorating, and being pristine and orderly.
I also think several of us are before our time. Preaching something that will become all too obvious when every kid has easy access to a hand held internet device (perhaps no longer made of detectable metal) that gets past all these silly controlling barriers.
I don’t quite know the answer…though I think it has something to do with getting education around authentically solving real-world issues…but I know that holding kids in what often are boring, albeit pristine, lecture cells is not it. Schools trying to enforce this control are promoting their decline by an even higher drop out rate.
Reminds me of when I first started teaching- you had to go and ask the principal if you could have art paper and he would sigh- ask why and then plod along to the art cupboard and count out just enough for one piece of paper for each child. He could never remember how many kids in my class so I would exaggerate and get a little stockpile of paper handy for random works of art the children felt like using.
I like the idea of an agrarian model- the first thought that came into my mind is that of bio-diversity which we all need to survive. We can’t all be the same if we are going to flourish- we should embrace ambiguity (my Twitter bio). That linear work flow just won’t work in the 21st century in my humble opinion.
It’s a difficult decision because administrators want control and the world is changing so rapidly in our times. It is so much easier just to ban things rather than to face the issues and try to address the concerns expressed on each level. I don’t think that this is an easy task.
I saw this presentation on YouTube, “Shift Happens” v.4 (http://www.youtube.com/user/durangowrangler), and it made me realize that the children today will be facing a future with challenges we have not yet conceived of because of the swift advances in technology, the influence of the Internet and globalization of the world’s economy.
The question remains, how do you adequate prepare and equip the children in the schools today? And how do you allay the fears of adults in charge so that they, too, can face up to the challenges that will be coming?
Lisa Raines says
Wow! I feel really blessed to be in a school where the administrators (even though they are uncomfortable using technology sometimes themselves) fully support our efforts to put technology into the students’ hands. We’re not completely there in our district as far as allowing students to use every available media but we have a lot of support and the future looks bright. As far as IT concerns over damaged networks with USB keys etc., those types of things happen on a small scale. Deal with the culprits and the few situations that occur; don’t ban all technology because bad things could happen. The majority of the time, students and teachers are responsible and magnificent learning happens when we unleash them with technology.
I was in the group with Alan November and did not hear the presentations by Will’s group. I hope my other Cohort mates at Seton Hall reply. I for one, loved the presentations and hearing the challenges facing educators in different situations. I teach in an American International school in Mexico and have been overseas for 11 years. Challenges to students the new literacy skills they need is also a challenge in my situation, just a different kind of challenge. My school is looking for a consultant to help us develop our tech vision and plan.
Jane L. Hyde says
What a heartening post and set of comments! Thank you to all of you!