Can We Watch You Working?

The first segment of last week’s Freakonomics podcast addressed a question from a listener who asked if internet-connected cameras were placed in a “poor performing junior high classroom… would performance improve, would the students grow up and contribute positively to society”.

The hosts didn’t believe placing cameras in classrooms would make any long term difference (“the problem is no one’s going to watch”) but they did like the idea as an experiment that might get parents more involved in their kid’s education if they could tune in anytime.

I also have my doubts that the “power of scrutiny” would have any effect after the novelty wore off and I certainly agree with this stumbling block: “I can’t imagine how many lawyers you’d have to talk to before you could get even one camera in the room.”.

But I wonder if there might not be other reasons for classroom cameras.

For one, I’d love the opportunity to watch a great teacher at work on a regular basis, something beyond a single, special occasion drop in. And that teacher could in return receive professional feedback from far beyond their local circle.

What about it? Would you be willing to let colleagues from the world watch you work?

Some Flipped Thoughts

I spent most of yesterday at a conference dealing with the “flipped” classroom. It’s not an easy concept to explain in one or two sentences but the implementation most of us have heard about is where students are expected to do some basic learning outside of class (often by viewing videos) and then class time is used for more interactive activities.1

Flipped learning is certainly interesting approach to changing the traditional teaching process and all of the teachers I met at the conference are very interested in improving their practice as well as the learning of their students.

Even so, there are still a couple of fundamental things about this concept that bother me.

One is that, even with all the talk of change, the teacher is still in control, both of the curriculum and how it’s presented.  Real change will start with a serious reevaluation of what we expect students to learn during their time in K12 and that process must involve the kids themselves.

The second thought running through my head all Saturday is that the technology is still largely in the hands of the teacher. What about kids creating video, both to express their learning and teach each other? Maybe include projects of their choice, instead of the same assignment done by everyone.2

Anyway, I need to dig into flipped learning more and keep an eye on what teachers do with it. It could be a great way to shake up traditional classroom practice but I don’t believe it rises to the level of revolutionary. So much more needs to change as well.

1 If you’d like to dig deeper into the concept, take a look at the site of the Flipped Learning Network, the organization that presented the conference.

2 I’d love to see the Google 20% concept applied in high school, with the proper guidance, of course.

There’s a Smart Way to Blog… and a Stupid Way

Here we go with yet another high profile story of a teacher posting information about her job in the open space of the web and getting suspended when the bosses hear about it.

The Central Bucks School District has suspended a high school English teacher after parents complained to administrators about her blog in which she railed on her students for more than a year.

Since the original site has been pulled down, I have no way of knowing exactly what she wrote, but based on the news reports, I’m not sure I can muster much sympathy.

And her current posts about the aftermath do little to clarify or improve anything in this situation despite her writing about the “lack of respect for teachers as professionals”.

Certainly there’s always been a certain lack of respect for the teaching profession in this country. But insulting your students by name in multiple entries on a site archived by every available search engine over a year or more is not professional.

Or particularly smart.

However, this is thankfully an aberration. I can point you to many blogs by educators who regularly write about their classrooms, schools, and students, including the stupid mistakes that kids inevitably make.

What sets them apart from the few teachers who wind up on the evening news for their posts is the smart, creative, sympathetic, and positive way they present their students and classrooms, errors and all.

But beyond a negative impact on the profession, I also worry that stories like this dissuade other teachers and principals from blogging as well as from using the many wonderful tools for publishing on the web, both for themselves and their students.

And make administrators and school boards more likely to reflexively punish employees who create material with which they disagree.

If we really want to improve the image of the teaching profession, it can only be done with more transparency about what goes on in schools and greater connections to the public.

However, at it’s core, the issues involved in this and similar cases are not legal. This is an educational matter.

I’ve written a lot about the need to teach kids about the responsible way to represent themselves on the web but maybe it’s time we did the same for teachers.

No Substitute

Bud Hunt has written an excellent response to those teachers in his district who want the internet filtering system to do their jobs for them.

Here’s the essence of his post, something that should be at the heart of every district’s philosophy in this matter.

What we’ve decided is that we will no longer use the web filter as a classroom management tool. Blocking one distraction doesn’t solve the problem of students off task – it just encourages them to find another site to distract them. Students off task is not a technology problem – it’s a behavior problem. It is our intention that we help students to learn the appropriate on-task behaviors instead of assuming that we can use filters to manage student use.

Exactly right!

We constantly declare that technology cannot replace good teachers.

It’s even more true when it comes to classroom management.