It’s been great fun to get to share a part of eight school opening days this year from Mississippi to Vermont. They’re always filled with a great deal of energy, and they’re also a good way of getting a sense of where things are in terms of schools’ evolution (or lack thereof) in thinking around technology in a teaching and learning context. I’d love to be able to say that it feels like we’re a lot farther down the road, but by and large, that’s not the what I’m seeing. There is still a real emphasis on the implementation of “stuff” without the hard conversations about pedagogy that deal with preparing kids for a connected world. There are pockets of that, but not much that is being discussed within the frame of a long-term plan or real vision as to what classroom learning is going to look like in say, ten or even five years. (I put out a Tweet last week asking what the timeframe was for the technology plans at the schools where people are teaching, and most said three years with an occasional five year plan or a “Technology plan? What’s that?” thrown in. I’m wondering, by the way, when we’ll stop calling them technology plans and just call them learning plans.)
What I am sensing, though, is that more schools and districts seem to “get” that the Web is affording some new opportunities for learning, and that they are willing to seriously consider what the impacts are for their schools. The problem is, and this is just my take on it, that most still see it as a conversation about technology as opposed to a conversation about change. As I’ve suggested here before, there is a lot of “tinkering around the edges” going on, but not much that I can see happening in terms of really rethinking the role of schools in learning. In large measure, the schools I visited assess their effectiveness by making AYP, the scores their kids get on AP tests, percentage of graduates going on to colleges, and the merit scholars they produce. In and of themselves, there is nothing wrong with those measures. But I’ve been struggling to see examples of what learning looks like in those schools, examples of engaged kids, asking and answering their own questions, creating, cooperating or maybe even collaborating with other learners young and old, and doing all of it in ways that the rest of the world can learn from it. I’ve heard very few stories of learning that sound any different from the stories we’ve been telling for a very long time now. There are some, like the teacher I met today outside of Buffalo who has been collaborating with another teacher in Scotland the last couple of years as their students study literature together through a wiki, or another teacher outside of Pittsburgh who has her students using Twitter to ask questions and connect around science. But these are still ripples; there are few waves.
I wonder if that’s an accurate portrayal…obviously, eight schools does not a trend make. But I’m betting these schools are not dissimilar from most others at this point. And I’m still left wondering what it will take for evidence of more widespread, systemic shifting to bubble up.
Brett Blanchard says
Great relatively quick commentary on potential versus actualization. I will be sending you specifics that educators at Fair Haven Union High School are using to overall our learning opportunities.
Tom Hoffman says
You can stop talking about the technology when you’ve got the right technology. Right now, it essentially doesn’t exist.
I don’t know if it is a question whether or not you have the right technology or if it exists. I think that since students are already using the technology that is currently out there, it is our responsibility as educators to teach students how to responsibly use what currently exists. Students will not ask if it is the right technology. They use what is easy and fun to use. I think the main problem that many educators face, myself included, are the road blocks that pop up with a school district. Right now at my school, there are several teachers that want to be involved in technology inspired lessons like collaborating with teachers and students in other countries like Scotland about literature and other topics, but because of blocks on sites such as wikipedia and many blogging and social networking sites, it does make using technology hard for teachers.
Alie Hempleman says
I agree with you Tonia. I realize the road blocks educators face when they are trying to teach using technology and for example, the website needed is blocked. It understand how that could be frustrating. I think schools need to start stepping out of the box a little bit.
Neil Winton says
Just to prove it’s a small world… I’m the Scottish teacher that Rob has been collaborating with. He just about fell off his seat when you used the picture of Andrew and myself talking about Scratch with your own kids.
I’m finding more and more willingness to share and to work together, but quite a few teachers are still balking at what they perceive as the tech and time barrier. They need to see more people rippling the surface before they plunge in. I find the progress slow, though often understandable… the traditional” demands on a teacher’s time (getting through the curriculum, doing the paperwork, justifying one’s existence because your qualifications and experience don’t count unless you write them down on a report/plan) often mean that thinking different becomes a chore and ‘can wait’.
Real change will come when systems allow teachers the freedom to experiment, or (as I tell the teachers in my department) to make mistakes… when they can stop worrying about the mundane and start concentrating on the inspired.
Will Richardson says
Thanks so much for commenting here. It was a kick when Rob came up and told me he’d been working with you. Small world.
I still just love that story about Andrew and my kids. It’s just such an eye opener for people. Thanks again for helping me set that up.
Barb Schulz says
In many ways, some school districts have gone backwards. I did online projects many times with 4th & 5th graders, my best well known one writing a mystery story with a school in Denmark, and an author in New Hampshire, and having it edited by kids on Eastern Shore, Maryland, as well as South Africa. This was back in 1996. However, I had lucked out and had a phone line in my room, then left the school district because I couldn’t grow as a teacher. Right after I left, phone lines were at first prohibited, then added back in 5 years later. I spent the time in between in higher ed, then returned to the classroom. In a small district in Colorado I was able to do online projects with an explorer traveling around the world and having the kids respond to his blog entries.
I went from that small district to a larger one where technology was plentiful and supported, and evidenced several uses of the collaboration you desire. Then the last two years, I returned to my old district due to returning home for family problems. That district has made some great strides in that schools have labs, laptops, internet connections in the room, but anything that links to outside communication, is locked down. Teachers (especially me but others as well) WANT to use discussion boards, wikkis, etc. However, I had my hand slapped for trying to use a wikki. I’m fighting the political fight trying to get administrators to see the benefits (including citing the research behind using it), but making very little progress. Another young teacher in my school has made some progress by writing a grant and using IEarn, however, both she and our Integration Specialist have had to fight an uphill battle to be able to do the projects.
So I disagree with you, Will, when you say things have to “bubble up” from the bottom. Many times I’ve seen the enthusiasm of teachers that want the change have their bubbles popped by the system and its lawyers who are so afraid of being sued by parents. And most teachers are afraid to try changes, not because they don’t believe in it or see the pedagogical benefits, but because it hasn’t been approved by those who sign their paychecks.
So how does one make changes to administration, when one is seen as “just a teacher”?
I have the opposite situation at my school. The majority of my fellow teachers want nothing to do with new technologies. When I suggest to my fellow teachers (who still like to stand at the front of the classroom talking at their students for the entire class period)that we are doing our students a disservice by not utilizing blogs, wikis etc… it’s as if I dragged my fingernails across their blackboards. Some of the resources I have come across suggest that today’s students actually learn differently than we did twenty years ago. If this is true, and students continue to change the way we learn, we may wind up becoming obsolete unless we fundamentally change the way we teach.
Our district is implementing a program this year to address exactly what you have discussed here. We’ve done well adopting technology; now’s the time to take it to another level. Those involved in the planning realized there was no model to emulate, so we are creating the model. I’ve got some ideas (fingers crossed that I am chosen to participate) for collaboration, but how do I connect with teachers of similar mind? Is there a clearing-house of teachers looking to collaborate with others? A social network?
What was your favorite school opening day this year?
Trina K. says
My school district can’t seem to decide whether to dive into the Web 2.0 pool or completely dry the toes it has dared bare to test the waters of educational technology. Teachers who use their Smart Boards, Air Liners, student response systems and such are touted as cutting edge as long as the instruction occurs in the same classroom isolation that it has for centuries. Dr. David Thornburg (Laureate Education, Inc., 2007) would rightly consider this situation a choice example of using technology to do the same old things. I guess itâ€™s a start.
Just the same, the flipside of Thornburgâ€™s coin â€“ using technology to do new and different things â€“ is an idea that receives little more than an apprehensive wink-wink from our district decision makers. While one branch of the district tree whispers secretly to promote teacher and student use of social sites, blogs, wikis, and podcasts, another seemingly more powerful limb towers mightily even as it cowers from those nasty “L” words: lawsuits, lawyers, and litigation. Teachers are left closing their literal classroom doors while trying to hack into a virtual portal that will take them to worldwide communication and learning for their students. Curse Big Brotherâ€™s filters.
Without doubt, there is some trepidation in lowering the walls so students can freely communicate and collaborate with an Audience of All, but theyâ€™re doing it informally anyway. As teachers, we need our districtâ€™s support as we figure out how to harness this beautifully powerful but uncertain steed of runaway technology. To fail to do so is to leave our youth trampled in the dust.
Laureate Education, Inc. (Producer). (2007). Program 2. Evolution of Technology and Pedagogy [Motion Picture]. Understanding the impact of technology on education, work, and society. Baltimore: Author.