Monday, November 18, 2013

Five Wrong Paths Down Technology Integration Road

I believe we stand at the dawn of a great change in education. Technology is forcing schools to change as it does society at large. The direction of change, however, is not always clear and looking around I see plenty of examples for paths we should not be taking.

1. Buy Devices- This is an if you build it they will come argument. True new devices will push some teachers to try them out. But, it usually starts and ends with a massive investment in equipment followed by very little professional development and opportunities to experiment. Devices are great but they are just tools, teachers and students need to be shown how to use them well.

2. Teacher Devices Only- For financial and other reasons some schools see teacher devices and professional development as the end game. They champion a laptop/iPad/smartboard in for every teacher or in every classroom. These are inherently teaching devices and will increase student achievement marginally if at all- the real gains and 21st century learning will be achieved only if we put instruments in students hands.

3. Lets wait until they master basic skills- This is an old argument that has been used in many ways to stand in the way of making sure that all students learn high level thinking. In technology integration it usually means that students who have lower achievement are robbed of opportunities to explore other modalities and ideas. In this we may be limiting the futures of our most needy students. Just last week I heard a teacher say that her third graders were going to do research without computers because they have not learned how yet! It is our job to teach them and administrators jobs to make sure there is space for that.

4. The disabled device- Most teachers I meet have device/s from their district that they cannot update, download to or in one case even change the background on. In that way iPads go for a year before they are updated (making some apps useless) and prevent teacher from downloading great (mostly free) apps.  In some ways it is a curious argument. We trust teachers with the lives and well being of 20 seven-year olds but do not believe they are responsible enough to use their computer/iPad wisely. The same goes for student use. While I do not advocate allowing students full access to every device, if you do provide individual devices you must open it up, as recent examples from LAUSD show.

5. The canned curriculum- At the heart of 21st century learning is user choice motivation and creativity. In some districts, however, technology is leveraging curriculum company software to deliver a "one size fits all" curriculum. Paradoxically what started as an opportunity for teacher leadership and professional decision making is turning into a regimen of assessments, activities and monitoring that limits teacher decision making. If the curriculum companies with districts created a dashboard driven structure in which teachers can create their own sequence to a core curricular path, that would be great, but that is not what is going on on the ground. This is perhaps the most dangerous road to take as it may very well help de-professionalize the teaching profession further.

At the heart of my argument is that technology is opening new paths to leaning, adding a diversity of possible paths. Let's not use it to close down options. And if we choose to go down the road (I do not think we have a real option about that) we need to make sure that it is used by students and supported by top notch PD that helps teachers experiment and learn not follow a predetermined path.

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