My current reading selection is Transforming Schools by Allison Zmuda, Robert Kuklis, Everett Kline. This has been an interesting read and there are many things I’m mulling over. Today, in the mail, I received my monthly copy of Educational Leadership. Guess what the topic is for the month? Giving Students Ownership of their Learning! Well, if that doesn’t just fit in with the whole idea of transforming schools! Even better, two people that are part of my present PLN are feature writers. Will Richardson has a piece entitled Footprints in a Digital Age something that is very close to my own experiences of late and extremely important for our students. The second is the article Working with Tech-Savvy Kids co-written by Sylvia Martinez and Dennis Harper. For the first time, people who I “know” through my interactions online, are able to discuss important issues that many of us have discussed within our networks. Now, they are getting some great international exposure at a time that is critical in the way education seems to be changing.
The one thing that I always pre-empt my discussion about students and technology with is that fact that I give no credence to the whole idea of the “digital immigrant – digital native” idea. This whole idea, which I had thought had finally died the death it deserved before it began, has once again popped up in a few places and a few discussions. As an adult who has been surrounded with technology for a good part of my life, this whole idea that somehow children who are born during the last 10 years or so are more technologically adept is, for the most part, a neat marketing scheme to get adults to part with their money. If the discussions that I have had with colleagues from all over the globe is any indication, the difference seems to be that they have access to many of the new tools while adults don’t. They are less likely to worry about breaking or wrecking the tech tools because they don’t have to worry about paying for them. They have a limited range of skills that does not transfer very well and they need to be taught many things about using technology wisely, effectively and efficiently. They spend more time using technology and their intuitive abilities are related to the amount of time they have access to using the tools. Do I have any concrete scientific facts to back this up? Nope. But I do have 7 children of my own who have friends and my keen observations are that they spend way more time using the tools than any adult that I know, they use a very limited number of tools and they teach one another about various tools that suit a specific purpose. These are children who have access to more technology than most of their friends because their father, me, is keen on using it. I’m thinking they are average students aged 12 to 17 who have been around technology probably longer than most because of the interest that I had in technology. But I digress.
As we begin to see a shift in the use of technology in schools, we must be aware that any use of technology in schools must be integrated with all the learning of the students. It is not an add-on or a revision of what we are already doing. It needs to be part of the learning in the same way that reading is part of learning, writing is part of learning and talk is part of learning. Using various technologies, Smartboards, computers, video, digital cameras, recorders or other devices and tools must be infused with the learning outcomes for the students.
As my title suggests, we need to use the appropriate tools to give us the desired outcome. I wouldn’t suggest using a grinder to fix a broken fingernail although a grinder does smooth things down. It’s the whole idea that we need to be using tools that fit the context. If the technology being used doesn’t aid in the learning process but adds a “cool” factor, then maybe it really isn’t necessary to use. Having said this, much of what we are doing in schools is suited to using the wide variety of tools that are available. Not many house builders that I know rely solely on a hammer and nails. In fact, someone who is good with an air nailer can do the work of two people. This tech-tool has increased the amount and efficiency of work a person can do. This is also true for many other technological advances that we have seen. Instead of the whole “engage me or enrage me” mantra that I’ve seen, maybe we need to transform schools into centers of learning not entertainment. Much of the “engage me” discussion I’ve seen isn’t about making sure tools fit but just making sure we use the tools, enhancing the “cool” factor but really doing nothing toward the “engage me” part.
The work of educators like Sylvia Martinez is a great example of what is necessary to get to a point where the tech tools are integral parts of the learning paradigm. They are not add-ons but become essential tools used to help students in constructing their learning through a variety of lenses with a greater variety of sources than they would have had if technology was not available. This does not mean we toss out all we have been doing but instead it means we become more open to asking students how they might demonstrate their learning to us or how they think they might be able to access information. It means that, as educators, we need to be open to using such things like wikis, screencasts, videos, podcasts, ustream and other such tools to enhance the learning opportunities for our students.
How do we know what to use?
This is where, I think, people become extremely frustrated with technology. You see, unlike students, who have more free time to use the tools than adults (I would like to see the stats that says this isn’t true!), have more access to the tools, and have a greater need for connection than adults. (Do a survey to see how many teenage boys vs teenage girls have a cellphone and text. My observation is that far more girls have a cellphone and text more than boys). We also must qualify that cellphone texting is new – kinda – being only a few years old and wasn’t a major cause for discussion until then. It’s use by teens have driven a market that was very small only a few years ago. Because the adults in the schools do not have that extra time to learn but do have a myriad of responsibilities, they look at that for which they are responsible and their available time and see where they will get the most for their energy. Because many are not familiar with the tools and have been convinced that they are technologically hopeless (get your kid to download, upload, set the DVD clock), they prefer to stick with methods that have, in the past, been successful in accomplishing their goals. It will only be with a consistent and persistent development of ways to integrate technology that we will see more use in our schools. That, and a more reliable system which can handle the internet traffic that will grow as we have more students using the technology. It has come to my attention that if the system cannot handle the internet traffic, it doesn’t matter how tech savvy the teacher might be or how great the planning. A slow connection will kill enthusiasm. So it’s not just the schools and teachers that are part of this technology picture but the whole technology infra-structure must be able to handle the increases in demand. If society wants schools to use technology, then society needs to make sure that the schools can use the technology.
Is transformation possible?
I believe that we are well on our way to transforming the schools. We have begun to examine our schools, not as made up of individuals but as a system that needs to be healthy and accepting of change, examining what ways that the change can be managed, what is needed to make the changes successful and how the changes will affect what we need to do next. Instead of teachers working in isolation, we know have the ability for them to collaborate and work with any number of teachers, if they are willing to develop their Professional Learning Network and look at new ways of collaboration. I’d say that we are not only capable of transformation but we will have to transform to remain valid. It will not be long before students will be able to access all the learning they need online. Schools will need to be better able to demonstrate that they are not only necessary for learning but essential for the overall development students. That’s why we’ll have to know what to use when we break a nail. Especially if it is not completely driven into the wall!