The Strength of Weak Ties

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Tuesday, September 13, 2005

Wanna Bet?

Here is the subject line from an email I received today from eSchoolNews:

eSN: Emerging technologies educators can't ignore

Oh yes they can. And they will.

The article dealt with blogs, digital curriculum materials (digital textbooks), as well as cell phone and iPod technology, all technologies with much capability to help us restructure how teaching and learning occurs, but with actually very little potential to do so.

Now, before you fire up that comment button, let me make my argument.

The problem lies with the concept of technology integration and of teacher’s perceptions of the instructional value of technology, among other's but I'm starting there.

Let’s begin with technology integration. I’ve argued for a long time that this was an inappropriate terminology because it implies a “top-down” add on, bolt-on to something a teacher already does, and might do successfully. Why add technology? Why take the time? My lesson works already. How often have you heard “I don’t have the time to do anything new.” What’s needed is a view that teaching and learning with technology should be “bottom-up.” In other words, when a lesson is designed, the application of technology to the learning process should be evaluated against lesson goals, just like any other tool (cooperative learning, lecture, lab, discussion, etc.). If technology extends the learning opportunity (for example, the process of digital storytelling) and adds value to the lesson then use technology. If not, don’t. I read with interest in David Warlick’s blog today, via John Peterson, who linked technology integration to extra credit. I agree with David, I think he has hit the nail on the head. Technology integration = extra credit for teachers. That provides a very simple equation to explain the current perception of technology use that most teachers hold. Most don’t get evaluated on their use of technology and they have always been successful teachers. Why change what works? Well, at the risk of stating the not-so-obvious-to-many, because kids have changed, what they are expected to do once they leave school has changed, and they way in which they learn has changed.

You can read above that many of my comments are directed at teachers. Well, so be it-I taught for 15 years so I have standing to make the comment. They have to assume some of responsibility for the failure of technology in our schools. Too much lecture, too much doing what I have always done. Now I know I’m not talking about everyone in every situation, and we have some simply outstanding teachers in this country, and some great school districts where emerging technologies are embraced, supported and used effectively. But how many teachers can even design an effective presentation in PowerPoint? How many take advantage of the professional development opportunities available to them? How many internalize technology tools as significant and mission-critical tools required to teach today’s kids. Sadly, the news is not good.

Blogs? Digital Textbooks? Cell phones and iPods? Are you kidding me?


  • At 7:49 PM , Anonymous Anonymous said...

    This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

  • At 4:55 AM , Blogger David Warlick said...

    Great post, Dave. I've not had a lot of time to read lately, beyond my immediate blogospheric conversations. But so much of what I hear about integrating technology, I agree with 100%. Yet there is something in me that cringes, ever so slightly, as I read it. Someone commented very elequotenly the other day on one of my blog articles. He said that what I was talking about was making the technology transparent. The way that he put it was inspiring -- except that there was that yank at my spinal cord that there was something wrong here.

    What's wrong is that as teachers read these conversations, they see that they need to be using (integrating) technology, but now they need to do it transparently, and they need to show that it improves test scores, and they need, to need to, need to, need to -- error!. We're not getting there.

    There is a learning environment that we seek and can almost visualize (closest I've gotten was Downers Grove Summit).

    I suspect, though, that it won't happen until we take out all the paper and pencils and textbook, and... And give everyone a laptop, projector, and all appropriate peripherals, and then say, "teach!"

    Of course there would be much more to the formula than that (support, professional development, MUCH needed research and reflection time, etc.). But the only way to teach contemporary literacy, is to teach from a contemporary information environment.

    See you in New York in a few weeks!

  • At 1:24 PM , Blogger Jamie said...

    So I guess what you're saying Dave is that the world (including the world of education) has moved on, and yet the inertia of the human condition (people are afraid of or unwilling to risk change) has prevented many teachers from moving with it.

    I wonder how resistant teachers were to using chalkboards when someone first nailed a piece of slate to the wall?

    I wonder how well some teachers refrained from smacking kids when corporal punishment was determined to be amoral/unethical/illegal?

    I wonder how resistant some teachers were to the application of revolutionary educational theory when Piaget did his work with human cognitive development and Skinner suggested the application of Pavlovian behaviorism (psychological posotive reinforcement) to learning?

    I think almost every teacher in the nation would agree that the above "revolutions" are commonly practiced today.

    I wonder how long resistance to the intergration of technology (use of proper research strategies using the web, web 2.0 [the read/write web] wiki's RSS and RSS aggregators)into common pedagogy will last?

  • At 8:18 PM , Blogger David said...

    Well, I first started using technology (I'm talking laserdisks and limited computer technology here) when it first came available to me in 1986. So, if you use me as an example, at the very least, some form of basic instructional technology (beyond simple things, like the overhead) has been available for about 20 years, yet some still resist. Exactly how long do you want to wait? Meanwhile, kids suffer.

  • At 10:19 PM , Anonymous Jeff Utecht said...

    I'm with you David. I've only been in education for 8 years and I'm already to the point of 'where's the change' it's killing me sitting in a system day after day that knows it needs to change, but won't. As Warlick said, you have to find an administrator who is willing to make people feel uncomfortable. To throw out the paper and pencils and hand them a laptop. Change isn't easy, but sometimes it is necessary. I think we've reached that point where it's necessary. If not we're going to loose our kids to places like myspace and such. Or to other institutions that do it better like online high schools, and online courses.

    Our school found out the other day that a student was taking an IB course that is offered here at our school online instead. That says something about the system.

  • At 10:50 PM , Blogger said...

    David you made me feel guilty about using "technology integration" because I use it so much in my day to day work, but you are absolutely right. I guess it's easier for me to label it than to try to reinterpret that definition to an educator.

    The problem I find is moving people along the learning curve in order to be transparent users of technology that help them to teach and reach their students more effectively. Even if a better easier way is available, how willing are educators to move away from the comfortable to the unknown.

    I'm often reminded of a little story that another teacher told me about new techologies. (I was trying to move her over to the 'new' report card program that we were using) She said that 50 years ago she used to take her rugs outside to beat them twice a year. That was considered a thorough cleaning. Now she has a vacuum cleaner and spends two hours every weekend vacuming her whole house. The house is cleaner then ever before but what has improved and what has she lost with regards to quality of life.

  • At 9:55 PM , Blogger David said...

    Quentin: I very rarely use technolgy integration when I talk with teachers, although I agree it is easy to do, it is a familiar term, and I have to force myself from using it...

    Instead of integration, why not think of it as integral?

    The key, in my opinion, to moving people down the continuum is to find an entry point for each teacher, and help that teacher have a success regardless of where they are on that continuum. For some of my teachers that may mean helping them using wikis with their kids, for others, it may mean showing them how to improve their Powerpoint presentation by linking to an animation or simulation. Fearless and unwavering support of those entry points are also critical. Sometimes I think that the secret to effective technology use is not about the technology at all (at least not initially), but about relationships and trust.


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