Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Tech in Schools: It's Not Just the Tools, Stupid

At Educon a couple of years ago, I heard someone-- maybe Will Richardson?-- say that he was thinking that the best kind of PD session would be to take a bunch of teachers, throw 'em in a room with computers, and say "Figure it out." I think that was true several years ago but I'm starting to believe that learning to weave a seamless flow of tech, curriculum, and practice is becoming much, much more complex.

One problem-- challenge-- is the multiplicity of competing, sometimes conflicting realities: the stakes for testing will get even higher as test results become linked to teacher evaluations. We thought NCLB drove learning toward teacher-centered practice, drill and kill test prep, and increasingly narrowed curricula? I predict we ain't seen nothin' yet.

Let's look at one conflict. As districts scramble to understand and implement the Common Core standards, I'm hearing about PD that is not only boring, it's increasingly dictatorial, moving toward telling teachers what to teach and how to teach it. This despite the oft-repeated CCSS assurance (in the Myths section) that this is exactly what should not happen.  

At the same time, the push to move beyond tech-for-tech's-sake-- AKA "engaging" the connected learning environments and real-world contexts is calling teachers to transform the way they think about teaching, learning, and the structures of schooling.  At least, it would if teachers could get access to social networks in their schools.

This push-pull starts to look like "use technology to get kids to do low-level thinking while we trick them into practicing filling in bubbles on Scantron pages." Of course, no one not many intend(s) for this to be the goal, it's just that there's no time allotted for authentic, teacher-driven brainstorming about how to create and work toward a different vision.

So. Enough bemoaning the difficulties. What can we do?

  • Teachers, especially those with tenure who know the bureaucratic ropes of their districts, can come together across academic subjects and meet with IT folks, Superintendents, etc. to get specific social networks unblocked: Google Docs, VoiceThread, Glogster, Skype are the ones I see teachers talk about most often. I would add Storify to that list, especially for Humanities teachers.

Strategies need to include

  • Concrete examples of how the tech will be used and for what purposes. For example, an argument about developing interdisciplinary work that would build cross-discipline  inquiry-based learning environments across the entire school would be a great way to start using the Common Core to inspire a...well, a common theme for the whole school, perhaps even a grade-level concrete problem to solve or goal to accomplish that every academic subject could connect to 

  • Concrete examples of what other schools have done and the results (of course, the positive results). Schools that are similar demographically and/or in closer proximity to your own will carry more weight. There are a couple of YouTube videos you could share-- URL only, because YouTube will undoubtedly be blocked in your school. Here's one: Teachers and Principals Talk about Google Docs

  • The Connected Principal, a blog by a group of connected principals, would make great reading for your school leaders. 

  • Teachers, even one or two, can commit to spending 1 block of time --and yes, it will probably be after school, and yes, it will undoubtedly be uncompensated-- playing with new tools, and, more important, to talking about ways to use them to build new dimensions in curricula. Teachers can pick a book to read together. I make some recommendations here.
  • Parents who are connected will be invaluable resources. Draw on their expertise and ask them to bring other parents on board. 
It's not all about the technology. It's always about power-- what is the tech that matters? That doesn't? The rationale for any decision? Who decides? 

I want to hear teachers' voices loud & strong in the push for change. 

It's time. 

Image: Speak Up: Make your voice heard by Howard Lake used via CC  AttributionShare Alike Some rights reserved by HowardLake

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