I seem to be talking about technology no matter where I go these days. Last night I was lucky enough to get an invitation to the Farmer’s Appreciation Night sponsored by the Estevan Board of Commerce and Tourism. It was an excellent roast beef supper followed by a speaker and ending with entertainment by a comedian. I sat and listened to the presenter speak about world trends in agriculture and the rapid technological changes happening in the industry because of the influence of young people with digital expectations coming back to agriculture and the necessity of the agricultural industry to keep up. The speaker started out with giving everyone his cell phone number, so that we could text him with questions that he would answer during the presentation. There were no laptops in the room-of course and this was the next best alternative. Among other things, he described a system that was being developed using digital tracking to allow consumers to trace the origin of fruits and vegetables back to the actual farm where they were produced. The farmer then will provide information about pesticide and herbicide use in production.
So what does all of this have to do with technology in schools?
As I listened to the presentation, I was struck, once again, with the reality that we are not doing a very good job of preparing our students for their future world. There is not a part of their world that is not be affected by technology, and yet the education system is lagging behind and we are not meeting the needs of this generation of learners.
I am reading the book, “Grown up digital” by Don Tapscott. Probably many of you have read it. It is very interesting and paint a picture of what he refers to as the “net generation”. In the chapter dedicated to “the net generation as learners”, Mr. Tapscott says the following:
“Net Geners are not content to sit quietly and listen to a teacher lecture. Kids who have grown up digital expect to talk back, to have a conversation. They want a choice in their education, in terms of what they learn, when they learn it, where, and how. They want their education to be relevant to the real world, the one they live in. They want it to be interesting, even fun. Educators may still think the old fashioned lecture is important, but the kids don’t, futurist Marc Prensky told me recently. He remembers one Australian principal who put it this way: ‘The teachers are no longer the fountain of knowledge: the Internet is.'” (p. 126)
So what is holding us back? When my professor for ECI 832, Marnie McMillan posed the following question… I had to try and consider this carefully.
How could schools implement computer-supported learning in ways that authentically transform teaching and learning?
The problem is not technology. I think most schools have access to technology, but putting computers and internet access into schools does not mean that authentic learning is taking place. I found an interesting blog post at coolcatteacher that was aimed at administrators, called Dear Administrator: Focus. The tone, unless I misunderstood it, was one of frustration based on lack of action by administrators and she seemed unwilling to take any excuses. I have to agree with her… no excuses should be accepted. The blog post gives 8 practical and to the point, considerations for administrators of school districts/divisions and schools to use to help make technology use and learning more authentic in our schools. I would like to comment on 3 of them.
1. Strong technical leadership– this is where the problem begins, I think. It does not really matter whether we feel we are technologically challenged or gifted, we have a responsibility to be leaders in our schools and promote and demand authenticity in our classrooms. I strongly believe that the administration in a school sets the tone for the school. My experience has been that what the administrators see as a priority, becomes a priority and the attitude of the administration in a school affects the attitude within the school. I also agree with coolcat when she states, ” It is often not how the technology works as much as how people feel about how the technology works.” Administrators, and I include myself in this, need to step up and start showing leadership in this area if we want things to change.
2. Benefiting the student– that is what is supposed to be all about, right? It is important for students to stay the focus at all times. What would benefit the students in my school? I often get frustrated by school division policies that prevent me from doing what I feel are logical things with my students that would benefit learning. Using I-pods would be a good example of this. We can’t use them in our school and students or teachers, for that matter, cannot get on to WiFi with their own personal devices. I understand the need for caution, but I hate some of the things we do out of control. Most of my students have this excellent learning tool in their pockets, but we are cut off from using it because of fear. “Don’t let IT rule just because they are using terms you don’t know. IT should not have complete control over the sites used on campus – that is often better decided by curriculum.” Coolcat is right… we should not be intimidated by outside forces, when it comes to deciding what is right for our students in our school.
3. Harness the power of those you have. How true again! We have lots of talent right around us, but we don’t often take advantage of it. Having conversations with people, taking advantage of their talents and letting them shine in areas where they have never had the opportunity to before is paramount to change. Setting teachers up in situations using technology in authentic ways and allowing them to be successful, breeds confidence and that confidence is shared with other teachers.
All this led me back to the National Education Technology Standards (NETS) under the adminstrator and visionary leadership. This is the one area that I did not feel we did a very good job of in our school. Perhaps this is where the problem starts and we need to get working on our visionary leadership. This in turn will have an affect on teachers and students.
- inspire and facilitate a shared vision of purposeful change
- engage in an on-going process to develop, implement and communicate technology-infused strategic plans
- advocate on a local and provincial level for funding to support implementation
I can get frustrated by the fact that we seem stuck where we are and can’t seem to make the jump to using all the technology we have available to us for authentic learning and teaching experiences. I think that it is the responsibility of administrators, at all levels, to have a plan and make this happen. When I say all administrators, I guess that also means me- I need to start advocating for my own sandbox and sharing it with others so that we can start playing together to benefit students.