David’s post from a couple of days ago got me back into that “think of what this could look like” mode and started me speculating just what it was going to take to make it happen. There are days when I get into the flow of these technologies and think the sheer amazingness of what they can do should be enough to at least make educators want to sip the Kool-Aid. And when David laid out the ways that he could see teachers changing their routines with RSS and blogs and the like, I was mostly nodding my head in agreement. Mostly.
What gave me pause was the phrasing more than the ideas. The key word for me at least in his plan was “require,” that every teacher would be trained and expected to dive in and rid themselves of paper and begin working and teaching transparently for students and administrators and parents and community members to see. That administrators would begin to use aggregation as a way to keep track of what’s going on, and that sharing of plans and ideas would become standard practice. Again, all great ideas, don’t get me wrong. But as Stephen Downes noted, very little in schools is of magic wand creation.
At my school, we’ve implemented some huge, mandatory changes over the last few years. A new student information system. A new operating system. Perhaps now, a new classroom model. We’ve planned and met and discussed and tried very hard to build consensus and “buy in” around the ideas, and we’ve met with our share of resistance along the way. In each case, the need for the change was fairly easily communicated. We had 30 some odd different systems that didn’t talk to each other as our SIS. We couldn’t run certain programs any longer on Windows 95/98. The benefits were tangible.
As are the benefits of using RSS and blogs and wikis, I think. Tangible, to me, and perhaps you, but not so much to the vast majority of teachers who have literally no context or day to day experience with the technologies we’re talking about. I’ve shown over 50 teachers at my school the wonders of aggregation. They’ve started Bloglines accounts, created search feeds, etc. I’m guessing only a handful still check their accounts. The blog experience is a bit better, but not stellar by any means. Now why is that? It’s obviously not an easy answer, and there are many pieces in play, I think.
First, the fact that over 50% of high school teachers are planning to retire in the next five years is a big, big issue. 42% of all teachers are over 50, and it’s been my experience, stereotypical as it might be, that by and large, technology is not something older teachers come easily to. In fact, I did a training this morning where the frustration level among the older teachers was palpable, while the younger teachers were much more at ease.
Second, very few upper level administrators have the technology experience necessary to see the potential nor the vision necessary to see how it all works together. And the transparency of the tools scares them, frankly. Much of this relates to issue #1: I’m sure the expected retirements among administrators is even higher. If the paltry number of principals and superintendents who are communicating with these new technologies is any indication, there’s neither much understanding nor support for bringing these technologies mainstream.
Third, while Alan (and I, to a certain extent) loves the flexibility of small pieces loosely joined, I don’t think most classroom teachers find the mix-em-up approach as attractive. Time, habit, comfort level there are lots of reasons, obviously, but the bottom line is that cobbling together all of these tools might be a creative exercise for us and a daunting proposition for most. (I’ve started offering training one tool at a time for precisely this reason.) (And another thing, even my own limitations with writing scripts and code leave me pretty frustrated at times. I would love to have the time to learn how to use the Google Maps API or create sites with PHP but I just don’t.) I’m lucky enough to get e-mails from lots of educators, a large percentage of whom want to talk about how to deal with the nudity on Flickr or the monitoring of student blogs or the ways we keep kids safe. Even I will admit to a yearning for Moddle to add modules for blogs and pictures and bookmarks so that we can have it all in one, easily made safe space. But I know that in some ways undermines the power of the Read/Write Web, even for K-12 students.
And there is more. Lack of access for students and teachers. A lack of real intellectual curiosity among many educators. The pressure of high student test scores Frankly, schools in general these days are not very creative, risk-taking, forward thinking places, and that may be the biggest reason of all.
Somewhere in the last month, I forget where, someone said that these changes are going to take a generation. That it’s only when the kids in schools now come through our system with a much greater facility for the Web and understanding of its importance that things will really change. Looking at the landscape right now, more and more that’s starting to feel about right