Arrived at NECC in time for the morning keynote debate about whether or not bricks and mortar schools impede learning. It wasn’t a great question to begin with, because I don’t think anyone really thinks it’s an either or, either online or face to face, but a combination that’s going to emerge from this. I wish the focus had been more on the topic of learning and what we focus our learning efforts with kids on; that’s the real shift we need to explore. Gary Stager was a last minute addition to the panel, and I agreed with much of what he said, especially the idea that we should do what can be done at home at home and that schools should be places where we focus on projects and problems and arts and service. I find myself being more and more drawn to that vision. The debate had its moments, two great student members of the panel, and I’ll link this to the archive when it’s posted.
But here was the real kicker. Brad Jupp who is a high level adviser to Secretary of Education Arne Duncan was also on the panel, arguing that we should keep physical space schools. He pretty much articulated a vision that didn’t hold much in terms of any significant change. But if you want a snapshot of what the problem is in terms of moving any of the conversation forward, here you go: An administrator in the audience directed a question at Jupp that basically asked “How am I supposed to use things like blogs and wikis in my classrooms when I have the threat of lawsuits from parents and others hanging over me all the time?” In a phrase, his answer was “Lawsuits? What lawsuits?” He did go into somewhat of a response about a teacher using Facebook and being careful, but it was painfully obvious that he was basically oblivious to the on the ground concerns and fears that these new technologies have created. Not a clue.
I’m not feeling any better about the ability to move any of this to a different space with that apparent lack of understanding from the folks at the top.
Ira Socol says
As big a supporter as I was of Barack Obama, he was always clueless on education. Something about growing up in a super-educated family and succeeding at every step often blocks true understanding of the struggle.
His selection of Duncan and cadre confirmed this. This administration is no different on schools than the last – which makes it all the more disappointing.
The question asked was crucial – where is federal support for new ideas? new visions? Since about 1983 the US government has worked actively against change in education – note the vast quantity of public school experiments which flourished in the 1960s and 70s but which vanished afterwards. http://speedchange.blogspot.com/2009/05/great-schools-1-changing-everything.html NCLB took this to extremes. And now Duncan’s solution is more of the same, but run by unaccountable corporations.
Without federal support for new things – here’s my suggestion – http://speedchange.blogspot.com/2009/03/one-third-bored-one-third-behind.html – nothing will happen. That principal represents ten thousand across the country who are – justifiably – afraid to try. Unfortunately, looks like we’ll need to wait another 8 years.
Rachel T says
I think you’ve hit the nail on the head exactly. This administrator is afraid to try. Where does that land us on the educational spectrum? When we are afraid to try to open doors for the education of our future leaders, what does that teach them? It is clear that we need to find a safe way to help our students navigate through the web, but we shouldn’t abstain while we figure that out. Perhaps the answer is what we do every other day: Teach it. Teach our teachers and students how to be safe. Publicize an open market with other schools, perhaps the safety comes from a collaboration of students and schools. Using each other to gain feedback and support, we will be able to teach our students the important lessons that people who do not see us daily have to offer.
This post motivates me to continue pursing my doctoral degree so I can teach at the university level. I feel we need some coursework in the educational leadership programs in educating future (and current via recertification) principals and superintendents on technology use in the classroom to help them make good decisions about it.
It’s frustrating to see technologies emerging that could transform the learning experience but still be faced with 17th century thinking at the leadership level…
Marcie T. Hull says
I share your frustration & was shocked by his long pause, as well as the fact he had the question repeated to him three times. Obama’s education policies have made me nervous for the future of schools.
It has always been a huge obstacle to get the pedagogy / technology message to the top. However frustrating I think we need to keep repeating ourselves and at the same time reach out for other ears. Ears that are at the top and ears that are not at the top.
The main thing is that teachers and administrators that are hearing this pedagogy / technology message are able to teach students and get them the skills and experiences they need. This is all about the kids and I never want to lose sight of that no matter how frustrated I get.
Michael Doyle says
I was hoping (praying) that your post would be a repudiation of the fear of lawsuits–I work under a wonderful supervisor and principal, but the administration does indeed have to consider lawsuits.
In the meantime, I can keep our wikis and blogs closed, but my kids lose out on the benefits of the exposure to other readers.
How real is the threat of lawsuits? What are our obligations as teachers, as administrators, as citizens?
I am a retired pediatrician, so I may well err too far on the side of caution when it comes to privacy. I will say this much. My supervisor and my principal get the value of using these tools. We have access to the internet in class, with multiple terminals. I am blessed with high tech tools other districts dream about.
This is not about stodgy administrators squashing the dreams of hip, young teachers. The concerns are valid. I read about yet another higher-up muckity-muck not grasping the issues and I want to bang my head against my monitor.
Jim Gates says
I, too, was VERY disappointed with his response. I was also disappointed that it was allowed to stand, as it was obvious that he dodged it entirely.
It’s the weight of that burden of fear that is crippling decision making, and shaping our curriculum, instead of the curriculum being shaped by research and what we know makes a difference. If he doesn’t see that then I agree that there is little to hope for from this team.
Paul C says
‘It’s moments…its posted.’ I know you were testing us to see who would notice.
But on topic, I agree that ‘We focus on projects and problems and arts and service. I find myself being more and more drawn to that vision.’ Students need to develop their critical thinking skills with a rich humanities exposure.
Will Richardson says
With red-faced English teacher embarassment I say, “fixed.” Thanks.
Rick Alfonso says
The discomfort in the crowd after Jupp’s response was palpable. I still don’t know a lot about Web 2.0, but I do know that opening our kids’ opinions and thoughts to the world is a way to empower them and let them know that what they think counts OUTSIDE of the classroom. I also know that there will be a lot of work ahead before my school community accepts this. I applaud those educators and school leaders who understand this to be the only way to head into the 21st century, lawsuits aside.
Dar Hosta says
“what they think counts OUTSIDE of the classroom.”
A powerful statement… and one that I will repeat. Kids who are active online outside of school know that what they think DOES count. But, being isolated by lo-tech curriculum is just one more way to make them cynical at, and about, school.
And, my feeling is that teachers and administrators remain terrified that anything resembling student-led instruction will take away their own power and reveal what they do not know. It is sad that they cannot also see the cultural and social shift in this young population– that of a cooperative, collaborative group of learners, producers and creators.
Thomas Newkirk’s new book, Holding On To Good Ideas In A Time Of Bad Ones, chronicles the state of mind in education from the “literacy” standpoint, arguing that the word “literacy” has become synonymous with READING, the most passive spoke on the literacy wheel which has come to over power the other two, writing and speaking. I bring this up because much of what happens in the technological classroom is active literacy–WRITING–and speaks directly to your statement about empowerment and things that count outside the classroom. Newkirk’s book is like a breath of fresh air and leaves me feeling like I am not crazy to think that getting kids to write can change the world.
Doug Spicher says
Question: You stated that you agreed with the “what can be done at home should be done at home philosophy” and in a perfect world I would agree with you. For parents like you and me and hopefully thousands of others, this is great! But doesn’t this statement dismiss the digital equity issues? Doesn’t this statement assume that all kids have the same support for schooling? What about kids and after-school activities…when would they get this done? In utopia, I’d agree. However, that would require that kids WANT to take ownership for their learning. But with the digital divide still an issue and current economics what it is, this is still a pipe-dream.
Finally, in this age of increasing accountability, having a kid learn things on their own with the teacher serving mainly as a gatekeeper is a bit daunting.
I agree with Doug’s point here regarding digital equality issues. I teach in a well funded, technologically advanced district with little to no poverty issues and I still have issues assigning nightly homework that involve access to the web. However, I belive that the pipe dream Mr. Richardson proposes is still a worthy goal. I know that I have found ways around the problems I’ve encountered ranging from giving the students more time to complete the online assignments or developing off line versions of the assignments. Just because it is problematic at times should not discourage us from moving in that direction.
As for Doug’s comment regarding after school activities, I would ask how completing assignments digitally would differ from completing traditional assignments. Wouldn’t they take similar time to complete?
Or am I missing Mr. Richardson’s point? Is he essentially proposing an online “addition” to the school day when he mentions the â€œwhat can be done at home should be done at home philosophyâ€? That may be appropriate for higher level high school (AP classes) and college classes, but I would argue that it is unrealistic at the primary and lower level secondary grades.
Doug Spicher says
I agree that the electronic and traditional assignments would likely take the same, or similar, time to complete. However, my point is that some kids’ only Internet access IS at school or the local library. Too many kids take care of siblings when they are kids themselves. Will, you have a great idea here. However, until the digital playing field is leveled, or at least evened out a bit, for all. It will remain just that, An idea. For the well-to-do, it will work out great. For those in less well of schools/neighborhoods, it is just another way that those who have get more and those who need it more continue to be left out of the equation.
I understand where you’re coming from agree with your premise. I was trying to explain that this is a problem even in relatively “well-to-do” area. Obviously not as large a problem. I have had experiences with both communities.
I believe that students who may have to watch their siblings, work, etc, already have to develop ways to overcome their situations and make school work a priority. Yes, modifications will need to be made and this would be an enormous obstacle if there were no access at all (ie no libraries, school computers, etc) Everyone will not rise to the challenge. Do you believe that all economically disadvantaged students are rising the current challenges now?
Because they may not have access to technology is even more of a justification to provide it to them. Doesn’t shying away from it and not providing them with exposure to it, put them even further behind? The “well-to-do” kids are going to get this both at home and at school. Don’t the economically disadvantaged kids deserve as much exposure as we can give them?
Marcie T. Hull says
I can see where you are coming from with these concerns you have brought up. I am an urban educator that sees inequity daily. My hope is that if schools as we know them implode and “what can get done at home is done at home” begins to take on a larger meaning. I would like to see master and apprentice relationships reestablished as a norm. I believe communities need to be willing to have a center that will allow students to go to during their days and evenings. These community centers could give students access to the tools they need. Artist opening the doors to studios. I know this contradicts where American society is headed… Everybody wants a payoff. But I hear things like 826 Valencia – http://www.826valencia.org/ This gives me hope, maybe it is possible to combine established workplaces into real world learning for kids?
Mike Porter says
Will, et al,
I watched the debate (archived here: http://stream.istevision.org/videos/tuesday.mp4 ) remotely and came away with a completely different take on Juppâ€™s response to the lawsuit question. My sense is that he was incredulous that schools could be so paralyzed by unfounded fears that they would not embrace new technologies. He did offer the example of the East High School teacher who has successfully used social networks (Facebook) to connect with students. Further, if I recall correctly, he made a statement to the effect schools face far more liability in a face to face, brick and mortar environment. I know that context is everything, and I was 2000 miles away (interesting that the virtual attendee, me, had a different take than the face to face attendees in light of the topic), but I believe that Juppâ€™s response was a tacit endorsement of Web 2.0 technologies for schools.
As someone who has recently been fired for using “social media” in the classroom, I think the person who posed the question in the audience (I attended virtually) had a valid question. There are counties that are truly afraid, and are stuck in a vortex in which the fear has them paralyzed. For some counties and states, this may be a very long transition, and just when they think they have caught up, the next new thing will be there to challenge them. The key is having movers and shakers at the top, encouraging safe, authentic, transparent use of the new tools. I fear and feel that our children suffer when we run our schools and systems with fear-based leadership. It is like being stuck in a slow moving station wagon, with the Ferrari’s going by. The Ferrari’s are the kids, by the way.
Rosa Frederick says
Using social media in the classroom does have its pitfalls. Consider this, students are asked to use Facebook or Myspace to network with their peers on projects and such and being teenagers, they inevitable venture into territory that was never intended by the teacher. I’m speaking of inappropriate material such as pictures or even cyberbullying. These “detours” are blamed on the teacher. Lawsuits ensue. Now consider a teacher using technology for students to communicate with each other in such a way that outside forces (predators, if you will) have no influence; I speak of a blow rather than a social networking site. Teachers can enforce rules with a carefully structured blog that they cannot using a social network. It comes down to this: we need to be mindful of what we bring into our classroom – social networks are for socializing, not necessary to academic needs that can surely be addressed elsewhere. So, for the powers that be…why not consider training teachers on how to implement appropriate media in the classroom? I hate to say this but, perhaps it is the judgment of some that is ruining it for many.
Jennifer Harmer says
I agree with Rosa that social networking sites are for socializing, and educators need to look for a similar type of platform for students to use for academics. Students need to be monitored because they are minors in our care. We are responsible for them while we are teaching them.
Let them have social fun on their own time, let them learn constructive behaviors on my time.
I agree with Rosa that teachers need to be trained how to implement appropriate media in the classroom. Appropriate media is media that can be moderated by adults. Who are the adults? Teachers, administrators, and parents.
Rosa Frederick says
My thoughts exactly! So many teachers are getting fired for the misuse of new media platforms. I’m sure we’ve all seen these teachers in the news – there are the ones that are socializing on Myspace with their students; this kind of behavior blurs the line between teacher and student and that is when the trouble starts.
Technology can be a wonderful tool – perhaps these teachers that have misused it shouldn’t be teachers at all. Like Jennifer said, “appropriate media is media that can be moderated by adults” – when teachers blur the lines between teacher and student another entity must step in to be the “adult” and lawsuits form and people get fired.
As teachers we need to remember that WE are on the front lines. WE are the ones that set pace and the example. We need to remember that!
Don Watkins says
I thought Brad Jupp and the lady from Illinois Dept. of Education were basically clueless about much of what faces schools today. On the positive side I found myself agreeing with much of what Gary Stager said. He was very positive and I agree with what he said about Seymour Papert. I think we need some place to educate primary children especially in reading, mathematics and writing in particular and we need places where students with special needs can be taken care of properly, but traditional brick and mortar schools with the associated bureaucracy is much of what stifles any real innovation. The NECC 2009 exhibitor hall was filled with white board vendors and I really like what Gary had to say about white boards in general. Whiteboards are very expensive blackboards and digital screens. I really didn’t see a lot of innovative uses for them anywhere at the conference. I did see much emphasis on Web 2.0 and some on cell phones in education and I was happy to see that. I’d like to see more uses of cell phones in educational settings. I’m not sure Gary Stager said this, but cell phones are not status quo. They remove the teacher from the center stage and are considered disruptive to today’s educational environment. Billions of dollars are being spent rebuilding traditional schools which are really industrial age models and very little money is being spent on technology tools or infrastructure by comparison.
The debate reminded me of Tom Peters’ book “Crazy Times call for Crazy Organizations,” in that the status quo wanted to keep the walls and cubicles because they’re comfortable when in fact we need to be looking at ways to tear down those walls and take people out of their comfort zones because until we do, we’re just treading water and putting on window dressing. Most current school design and practice does little to prepare students to be lifelong learners and to develop higher order thinking skills.
i really thing that both of your pionts do have a point….but i go with Gary Stager point of view