The Missing Link

Over the past decade, many school systems have spent millions on computer hardware, software, networks, and other instructional tech stuff. In the overly-large school district I work for that amount is well north of $100 million. So, after spending all that money, why do we see so little use of technology in the classroom?

An article in the online version of Technology and Learning magazine has a short list of the excuses teachers make for not using the hardware and software purchased available to them. It’s pretty much what you’d expect: "I don’t have time.", "We don’t have any good software.", "I’m not a computer person.".

However, the writer only hints at the real reason for the lack of technology integration, the one few teachers will verbalize.

No one is requiring them to make it happen.

For starters, few principals and other administrators would know authentic technology integration if they saw it. They haven’t been trained on what to look for. So, when teachers are evaluated, the most rudimentary use of computers satisfies the grafted-on, check list item for computer use in the classroom.

Staff development programs also send a signal that technology use is a nice extra for teaching and learning not an essential part of it. We offer training sessions on using computers and software and then there are those on teaching techniques and instruction. Too often, the two have very little intersection.

Going beyond that, however, technology is often an afterthought to the foundations of most K12 curriculums and textbooks. Often it shows up as a list of useful web sites or as an "extension" in the supplement to a lesson. It doesn’t take long for teachers to get the message that this is something they can skip.

Of course, it’s possible my view of things is narrowed by the experience one district and those of a few friends and colleagues. Maybe in your school, technology is unambiguously woven into most aspects of teaching and learning. Maybe your principal is one who not only understands what it looks like but is a leader helping to make it happen.

If that’s the case, I suspect yours is a rare school in this country. And you need to share with the rest of us the secrets of making it happen.

educational technology, technology integration

More Censorship, Less Education

This weekend the Wall Street Journal features an article about schools attempting to censor student online journals, ground covered recently by far too many other mainstream media outlets. There isn’t anything new here but I thought I would throw it out here just for the record.

However, this piece also offers the chance to note that the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) has recently added a Bloggers’ FAQ for students to their excellent Legal Guide for Bloggers. It’s good, practical advice that any student – K12 or college – should read.

censorship, blogs

Snapshots From The Classroom

What does "technology integration" look like? Ed tech people throw that term around all the time (myself included). But if you walked into a classroom, how would you know that the process was actually happening?

If you’re continuing to read this rant to find the answers, sorry. It’s the question that was important the other day when I spent the morning doing drop-in classroom observations at a local high school. This school and the others in the same neighborhood are part of a project that is looking at how technology integrated into instruction changes learning.

Since these visits are the just snapshots of computer use for the baseline of the evaluation for the project, there wasn’t much to record. However, other things I observed during the drop-ins suggests this project could be doomed to failure.

All of the teaching going on was straight out of the traditional mold. Every classroom featured a teacher in the front of nice, neat rows of students performing some variation on the standard lecture/demonstration.

The students for the most part had their worksheets in front of them, some following the lesson, but most paying little attention. Except for the mix of kids, this could have been Ferris Bueller’s high school (minus Ferris, of course).

If any sort of legitimate technology integration is going to occur – as a result of this project or otherwise – that kind of traditional classroom organization (it’s hard to call this teaching anymore) cannot continue. Layering computers and high speed access to the web on top of that antiquated structure is an incredible waste of resources.

Computers in the hands of teachers and students, and especially the powerful communications tools that are included, make the whole concept of schooling on display in these classrooms completely obsolete. If done correctly, technology integration should lead to a massive upheaval of the traditional concepts of teaching and learning.

By coincidence, Anne Davis earlier this week was asked to address the same issue of technology integration and arrives at the same place. And she makes the point so much better than I do.

The largest problem that we face in technology implementations is our outmoded paradigm of education. Traditional models of education are built around the teacher being the expert and the one that dispenses knowledge to students. Curriculum is delivered mainly through the lecture mode. We are teaching from textbooks that in many cases are outdated as they go to print. This has to change before technology can realize its promise.

However, I was only in this school for a couple of hours. I was assigned a random set of classrooms so maybe I was missing something less traditional going on in other classrooms. Maybe the technology integration I was looking for was hidden behind other doors.

Maybe. But just walking down the halls and peering into other classrooms only confirmed my other observations. Other than an occasional PowerPoint slide on a TV, very little seemed different from room to room to room.

technology integration, high school, education

Digital Disconnect

So, how does school fit into the world of digital media?

Not very well, according to a British expert on "youth culture".

Schools are becoming increasingly irrelevant to the modern child as a result of their failure to embrace the digital media, a leading expert on youth culture will warn in a lecture tonight.

Outside school, children are said to be engaged in a constant whirl of chatting in chat-rooms and exchanging instant messages with friends. They play computer games – often with people on the other side of the world, download popular music and movies. Yet, in many schools, they are taught little more than the rudiments of information retrieval.

"Compared with the complex multi-media experiences some children have outside school, much classroom work is bound to appear unexciting," Professor David Buckingham, head of the Centre for the Study of Children, Youth and Media at London University’s Institute of Education will say.

Part of the reason for this is their teachers’ reluctance to develop the use of new technology in lessons because of inadequate training. "Given the limited nature of most training, teachers themselves may have good reason to feel incompetent – or at least lacking in confidence – when it comes to integrating technology in the classroom," he will argue.

Ministers say they have invested £1.67bn in computer technology in schools.

Things are largely the same on this side of the pond.

I especially like the Professor’s comment about schools teaching "little more than the rudiments of information retrieval". Standardized tests, anyone?

education, digital media, ed tech