The Strength of Weak Ties

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Friday, May 05, 2006

Things that keep me up at night

Here are some random thoughts about technology that cause me to lay awake at night...

The Kids know so much about technology Thing: are you sure about that? In the conversations that I have with kids in my district about technology, it is apparent that there is a "Big Five." I'll bet you can guess: IM, video games, and cell phones, and mp3 players, and yes, the dreaded MySpace. They have that down. But I've seen many kids struggle with some simple operations with computers. Are kids, as a group, podcasting, blogging and using wiki technology? Maybe they are in your schools, but not in the ones I work in or visit. Now, do they have the affinity to learn new technologies rapidly-absolutely. They do possess that, but how much of that do we as educators exploit?

The Teacher as blogger Thing: Realistically, does anyone besides Mark really think that teachers will contribute on a large scale to the blogospheric conversation? An inflammatory statement I know, but c'mon, think about it. Look at all the pressures on teachers, planning lessons, grading papers, calling parents, serving on committees, etc. Time for blogging? I don't think so. At my recent TechForum presentation on professional development, I asked a pretty tech-savvy crowd how many actually were bloggers: 4 out of about 75. I do believe that many will read blogs and will post an occassional comment-maybe that is enough. And I do believe that the most important role that teachers will have in blogging is to get their kids to do it.

Are there some great teacher bloggers? You bet. But blogging in large numbers? I'll believe it when I see it.

The integrating technology Thing: why do we want teachers to integrate technology? Why do we use those terms? Do we integrate paper and pencils? Do we integrate textbooks? Maybe I'm being too sensitive to the phraseology, but the integration thing does have its implications-we want you to do more-we want you to integrate technology into your curriculum. I've heard teachers say this: "Now you want me to integrate technology-I don't have time for that." It also implies a top-down bolt-on methodology where technology is added to a current lesson or a curricular sequence, in some cases, where it might not be welcome, or even appropriate. Technology use should be bottom-up, and should be a choice during the lesson design process, where instructional methodologies are chosen. Should I use a lecture, should I structure the class into collaborative groups, what kind of assessment should I use that will give me the data I need to understand if they understand? Should I use some technology tool? Will the use of that tool add value to the lesson? It should be a choice when instruction is designed, not an afterthought to integrated later.

The kids as professional developer Thing: one of my personal favorites-let's get the kids to teach teachers about technology-now that's a good idea. Many teachers are intimidated by what kids know -having them teach about technology should reduce that angst, right? Simply stated, the teachers I work with deserve a professional educator knowledgeable about technology, classroom practice, assessment, the school's climate and culture, district or building goals, etc. to lead them in learning about teaching and technology . Nothing against the kids, but teachers are probably the hardest group to teach and this is too important. And I know we have an ample on-demand supply, but what other industry would consider something like this-honestly?

The use of the word training Thing: training is what you do to dogs. It suggests a Pavlovian stimulus-response. For example, when you say: Gibson's 12-ounce filet, medium-rare, I salivate. I don't want to train teachers-hey, given this, do that. I want them to know, to understand in the context of what they believe in, to reflect, to apply....

Use professional development, even staff development, but please consider eliminating the use of the word training.

The technology babysitting Thing: this drives me nuts. Technology Babysitting is when a teacher takes kids to a computer lab, they engage in some task, while the teacher sits at a table and grades papers, or worse yet, reads the paper. That's nice. Thanks for the effort. And what happens when you walk up to them and ask them about it? Take it from me, don't try it....

Enough for a Saturday morning....


  • At 8:16 AM , Blogger Miguel said...

    David, I agree wholeheartedly with you on most of your points, but find your slant on them to irritate (grin). For example, should the goal be to make blogging widespread? No...the goal should be to encourage writing as a reflection on praxis.

    How can there be a technology choice for lesson design, when teachers choose the choices that are easiest to implement based on time available to plan? No one wakes up and says, "I'm going to make today's lesson even harder for me to teach. I'm going to use technology...I hope it works." Teachers are people, and they need to be convinced of the benefits, sustainability, in such a way that they're willing to overcome their personal discomfort. I'm sure you see this when you do the digital storytelling workshops. At what point do teachers cross-over, and how do you know that their's isn't a temporary stay? That when they leave, they continue to do digital storytelling?
    What factors contribute to the sustainability of an innovation in the classroom?

    What have you discovered?

    Awake on Saturday morning, too,
    Miguel Guhlin

  • At 7:19 PM , Blogger Mark Ahlness said...

    I agree it's frustrating getting teachers involved. I am one, and I'm often in the position of trainer. It's pretty slow :)

    With the vast array of tools now available to us, why is "training" going on the same way it has been for so long? And just as ineffectively? It isn't working nearly fast enough to keep up with technology innovation. The gap is widening very fast.

    I say scrap the whole inservice idea, the teacher training workshops, the technology conferences, all the forms currently being used to get teachers to use technology.

    Start over. Look at every characteristic of and variable in the traditional "tech workshop", for instance - the leader, the location, the form of presentation, the size, the frequency, the format, etc, etc. Start suggesting something wildly new for each and every one of those characteristics (using the latest tools to the max), and maybe something good will happen.

    Come at teachers from a totally different perspective, or maybe don't come at them at all - I don't know. It's too important to give up. - Mark

  • At 2:29 PM , Blogger pete reilly said...

    I appreciated your contribution to our panel discussion on Professional Development at Tech Forum in Chicago. I left town a little discouraged. As you know, I pointed out that whenever I ask tech leaders to list the major obstacles in the way of achieving their tech vision, (other than money) I get responses like the following:

    -Fear of technology
    -Fear of Change
    -Generational disconnect
    -Control and turf issues
    -Competing staff development priorities
    -Poor Leadership at every level
    -Staff doesn't share the vision
    -Folks don't perceive the value of technology
    -Building culture resistant
    -Union Resistance
    -Resistance to learning new skills

    So, as tech leaders why aren't we spending more time on these issues? Perhaps we are swamped with day to day tasks, or perhaps we love to pursue the bright and shiny new technologies and trends...and get excited when we show them to others. The problem is, it ignores the core issues above. In general, this has been the norm for 25 plus years.

    If we want to produce a real change in our schools, we need a new approach that deals with the human beings (including ourselves) and the difficulties involved in changing classroom practices, old habits, and the personal attributes that may be getting in the way. I don't believe that traditional professional development or introducing more and more technology will resolve these issues. We, as ed tech leaders, need to face this conversation honestly.


  • At 12:26 PM , Blogger pete reilly said...

    I understand your take on students working to train teachers; but have seen this work beautifully when organized and in Dennis Harper's Generation Yes program.

    The benefits of Gen Yes are twofold, 1) teachers get "at the elbow" technical assistance for projects directly related to their curriculum and 2) Students get the benefit of being teachers and active citizens in their learning communities.

    Students providing technical assistance is not the "silver bullet" that will solve all of the issues we face in Professional Development. Students will not help us with the human development and leadership issues mentioned in my last post. They will not be of great use in dealing with pedagogical issues.

    Students can play a meaningful role; however, when they are provided training on how to work with adults and consultation on how to use the technology to assist their teachers, both of which are part of the Gen Yes offering.

    Yes, we need more of a commitment to "professional" Professional Development; but we can also use this generation of willing and able students to provide much needed support to their teachers, while at the same time cementing their roles as responsible contributers to their own education.

    Don't lose sleep over this one, Dave.


  • At 8:21 PM , Blogger David said...

    Pete: that makes sense, and I like the way you frame the student help within what they are capable of. I think it has to be very structured and the Gen Yes program looks like a good candidate. Going to bed, Dave

  • At 8:21 AM , Blogger Rob said...

    I certainly agree with "The integrating technology Thing." This past year, my English (H) teahcer often asked us to have a blackboard discussion with x topics and y replies. Aside from fealing forced, the whole thing felt completely useless. The next day, without fail, we would get into the same groups we put into for BlackBoard, and asked to talk about _the exact same thing_ we were asked to post on the night before. Technology certainly wasn't useful in that situation, and it really felt like the teacher was just trying to give busy work, all in the name of "integration."

  • At 8:39 PM , Anonymous mcme said...

    This is so true, I am appalled at the reticence of teachers to integrate technology as part of their daily routines not APART, I think that is the key word, PART OF.
    Commitment is true, though professional development is also needed, starting at the root of the problem, beginner teachers as well and colleges.I have found myself leaving the profession due to reluctance to change and acceptance for the new tools, power struggles, and the "YOU have high expectations"! Lower them!, no thank you, children deserve better, I was gone. Training need to be on the trenches, not apart, teachers do not want to spend their time doing EXTRA things, so "if you can't beat them, join them!" right? I think that will be more valuable to them. Still, counties do not have money to spend on EXTRA TRAINERS, so like James Blunt says: "Here we go again"


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