Way back in August, before I took an unplanned five-week blog rest, I wrote a post about attending a community presentation by the overly-large school district that once employed me. The assistant super and his associates wanted to explain their plans for an upcoming 1-1 program.
I ended that post by saying that I have a lot of questions about the project. Let’s start with one of the most basic queries: Why?
Ok, I suppose that’s rather broad. The project page on the district website tries to lay out a rationale so we’ll start there.
Students’ lives have changed considerably in how they live, communicate, work, and interact within a globally connected world. Students need both content and skills outlined in the Portrait of a Graduate in order to be successful in the workforce of the future. FCPSOn can support the development of both content knowledge and Portrait of a Graduate skills.
FCPSOn increases equitable access to technology and to instructional practices that lead to personalized, meaningful learning experiences. This allows students opportunities for deeper understanding of content and the skills needed by the Portrait of a Graduate.
FCPSOn will support teachers as they create learner-centered environments that help students learn concepts in meaningful experiences. The technology not only facilitates learning, it also frees time to focus attention in places that makes teaching and learning more rewarding.1
That’s it. Hard to argue with anything in that collection of eduspeak, but it really doesn’t answer my original question. Allow me to expand on it.
Why will giving every student a Windows laptop2 improve their learning?
If every student is carrying a device, does that really lead teachers to create “learner-centered environments” and “meaningful experiences”?
Where is the evidence that continuous access to powerful computing and communication technology will result in students leaving high school with those Portrait skills that are the centerpiece of the superintendent’s goals?
The rest of the page doesn’t really address any of those questions. But whatever committees3 wrote it worked hard to cover as many different educlichés as possible. Anytime/anywhere? Yep. Collaboration? You bet. Digital citizenship? Of course. Too much time on screens? Of course not.
Of course, the simple answer to all these interconnected questions is that technology will not improve learning, make it more meaningful, or improve student skills. Not unless we also make substantial changes to the rest of the learning process.
Missing from this page is the substantial issue of how the curriculum will be rewritten to make best use of these “digital tools”. Access to huge amounts of data and information should allow a shift from students memorizing lots of facts and processes to understanding how to organize, validate, and synthesize that information. But that doesn’t happen automatically.
The page also claims, as a result of this projects, students will work on “authentic projects and real world problems”. So will that change the primary means of assessing student learning? Most instruction is still firmly locked to the state standardized testing program, not to mention the curriculum pacing guides and the district’s expensive, home-grown “electronic” assessment system.
Then there are a few oddities on the page that make me go “huh?”. For example, how students will work on those projects when district policies prevent them from directly connecting with the outside world?
And I certainly don’t understand how adding computers to the classroom relates to this supposed effect of the project: “Supporting planning and reflection of student-created goals and teacher-directed learning outcomes”. How are goals “student-created” if “learning outcomes” are directed by the teacher?
As I said in the previous post, since I’m no longer in the middle of all this, my ranting here is almost entirely based on the small amounts of information provided to the community, like this project page. I could be completely wrong. District leaders may have already addressed all of my questions and have major changes in the works.
I look forward to being shown the errors in my ranting.
But until that happens, I will have more questions…
1. For those who are not part of the district, some explanation of terms: FCPSOn is the branding name given to the upcoming 1-1 project. Portrait of a Graduate is a collection of skills, divided into five categories, that a student should have when they leave school. It’s actually not a bad statement. Too bad it doesn’t really connect with what is actually happening in most classrooms.
2. I know it will be a device running Windows. The IT department works very hard to stop any other option.
3. I’m very sure the FCPSOn webpage was wordsmithed by several different offices in the district, probably including the lawyers.