Off the Hook (My Response to @mcleod)


Like Steve, I appreciate your passion and greatly value your ability and willingness to share pieces of this puzzle with so many, on these tremendously important issues (always have, always will!). However, I also think you may have missed my point.

Like you and Steve (and most folks participating in these online conversations), I feel strongly about technology and its positive pedagogical potential. (Say that three times). Several years ago, I created Pay Attention and still feel strongly about its message. Teachers and administrators alike are often missing the boat when they fail to use technology for collaboration, instruction, and learning. Sheesh, along these lines, I even still think that every teacher should blog. (Think of how incredibly eye-opening it would be for all involved if every educator would only participate in these very important conversations!)

Nevertheless, just because a person should do something doesn't mean they can - and there are many reasons why teachers and administrators still. just. can’t. Or yes: maybe "won't" is the right word there. Do they need a push? Absolutely. But the point of my previous post was that they need to be pushed with love, with patience, and with understanding.

To be clear, I think the polarity of this conversation is very telling. Even the comments in your post's thread reflect both extremes. Rattling off just a few from your thread:

Yes, yes, yes! I get so frustrated when a teacher tells me s/he can’t use technology (of any kind) because “I’m not a techie”.
Whoa. That sounds very Rhee-esque. Surely you aren’t implying that it is tech-savvyness that makes a teacher a “learner” and “effective”...
Scott, all I am saying is that it is far too simplistic to draw the conclusion that the “geekier” teachers are better. And, if you agree with this premise, then one could make the argument that less technologically proficient teachers “could” be more effective in some instances.
I guess I am just reacting the the tone out there/here that technology makes everything better… and the more technology, the better things get. In our impatience with technologizing and web2.0ing everything, many sometimes lose their focus on some things that really matter. Rather than sit and have a meaningful face to face discussion, they have to reserve time in the computer lab so that they can backchannel the discussion because backchanneling is hip. (Yes, I still believe students should be able to speak coherently to one another while maintaining eye contact.)
I’m torn between both sentiments and need more time to ruminate on this. While how “distorted the view is as seen through the eyes of a typical EduBlogger” is so true, so too is the idea that we simply can’t accept teachers who aren’t willing to try and succeed.
Hugh McNally:
Steve Dembo’s right that ed tech people are way ahead of the curve, but maybe that’s not because they’re driving a race car: a lot of educators may, in fact, have a flat tire.
Colin Matheson:
I agree that we can’t let teachers off the hook with any kind of professional growth (whether its tech integration or instructional strategies like differentiation). However, the main skill of teaching, ie working with kids day-in-day-out, is so specialized and crucial, that we let teachers slide on a lot of other skills (not just tech). I am willing to concede that many excellent teachers will not have mastery over a wide range of secondary skills (e.g. organization, communication, technology).
And this tennis match represents only the first few comments!

To conclude, here's my question of the day:
  • If such polarity exists in online conversations, what kinds of thought might the silent majority bring forward, if only their voices were heard in these spheres?
The majority online is still very much in the minority; and I'm confident that the majority of those still silent remain silent for reasons more complex than simple laziness, incompetence, and fear. The real issues lie deeper than that. I'm at the point where I think our real job isn't to teach educators how to use all of these shiny new tools. Rather, it's to figure out what's been keeping good teachers from using them all along. Indeed, those second-order barriers are the toughest eggs to crack.

Keep moving forward, brother. We're all in this together. :-)

The Reality of the Matter #edchat

I'm so grateful for Steve Dembo's post entitled The majority is in the minority. In it, he describes his experiences and understanding of today's population of teachers - and how the majority of educators that participate in the blogosphere today are still very much in the minority of educators who even realize that such opportunities exist.

I had a conversation with a colleague the other day who was lamenting the fact that so many teachers are so far behind (aka ignorant). That they aren’t aware of PLN’s, have never participated in a global project, or make use of wiki‘s and sites like Edmodo. S/he seemed almost pissed off that so many educators don’t make the extra effort to learn all the tools they need to make sure students can be set up to succeed in today’s world.

I beg to differ. I don’t see it as teachers spurning technology, or choosing not to take advantage of those new ideas and tools. I think most teachers don’t even realize that there’s a decision to be made. It’s not a matter of choosing the red pill or the blue pill… if you don’t know that there are even two pills available as options.
It's been my experience that Steve's description is spot-on correct. Most teachers don't know what they're missing and they'd often rather not know because they already feel piled upon, used, under-appreciated, under-paid, and frazzled. For that matter, few public school teachers have adequate time to prepare for the curriculum they're asked to address - and most teachers view professional development that isn't job-embedded as additional, unwanted weight to their already busy lives. Testing, testing, testing (including common formative and standardized summative assessments) have become a mandated priority for most in our schools and last year's worksheet is so much easier to distribute than the time consuming efforts it will take to transform pedagogy.

Honestly, nevertheless, the large majority of teachers that I know are very caring individuals that believe firmly in life-long learning. Most love teaching because making a difference in the lives of our youth can be the most rewarding profession on the planet. Most love kids, love community, and want to share. It's not that they don't want to try new things, it's not that they're lazy, and it's not that they're incapable. Rather, it's that their priorities don't always line up with those of other progressive educators in and out of the blogosphere. I'm not saying it's right, but I am trying to describe the reality that so many in the blogosphere seem to misunderstand.

As a result, I've taken it upon myself and my team to help teachers in our District overcome the hurdles that might impede them from progressing in their use of technology to teach and to learn. We understand the needs teachers and administrators have (or are trying to understand) and have constructed a support model that allows for ed-tech professional development that is continual, job-embedded, and community-driven. We're constantly learning, teaching our teachers about both blue and red pills, and even passing them out in faculty meetings. Nonetheless, this whole business is extremely complex, significant change comes slowly, and patience is required as we steadfastly trudge forward together.

Forward. Together. One pill at a time.


Image source: Flickr user RaGardner4.

Math Is Not Linear

I love this. If you're a math geek - or even a geek in love with good presentation - I think you will too. Click the play button at the bottom of the player, give it a spin.

Teacher Needs in Anticipation of the Instructional Use of Technology

[I've appreciated recent attempts made to define various needs that teachers have of their school administrators. By way of contribution to the discussion, I thought a few paragraphs from a literature review I recently conducted might be beneficial. As a side note, I think it's unfortunate that there still remains such a disconnect between traditional academic literature and the thinking distributed so easily throughout the blogosphere. Not sure why this disconnect exists - other than TTWWADI, pride, and my brain can beat up your brain - but here's my stab at building a bridge. Too bad my references don't link as well as other online papers do. :) ]

In preparing to understand the needs teachers might have with regard to realizing the instructional use of technology, it’s important to understand what needs have already been dentified by teachers in other locations, as documented in the academic literature base.

To begin with, as teachers begin to introduce technology into their pedagogy, they are naturally forced to change instructional behaviors, and as a result, associated attitudes. Fabry and Higgs (1997) have articulated this concept well.

To integrate technology into classroom practice in the manner envisioned by ardent proponents, teachers must make two radical changes - not only must they learn how to use technology, but they must also fundamentally change how they teach. (p. 386)
As result, teachers not only need to understand how to use the technology, they must also understand how to use it to enhance the curriculum. The grandeur of this need, and the tasks associated with its support, cannot be overemphasized.

Levin and Wadmany (2008) shed additional light on teacher needs through their exploratory, longitudinal study that examined six teachers’ views on the factors that affect technology use in the classroom. The needs exhibited by those in their study included:
  • Formal training at an early stage of new classroom experiences with technology.
  • Educational opportunities at subsequent stages of professional growth that facilitate collaboration with colleagues on authentic routine classroom issues.
  • Collaborative opportunities devoted to personally-directed inquiry.
  • Feedback customized for individual circumstances.
  • Mentorship often in the place of authoritative training, particularly in later stages of professional growth.
The results of the Levin and Wadmany study also support arguments by researchers that follow-up mentoring systems, programs for enhancing professional growth, and informal collegial collaboration are necessary after formal technology integration training. Such follow-up sessions have been shown to foster collaboration and support, address daily challenges, and increase the overall effectiveness of instructional technology use (Sahin and Thompson, 2007; Di Benedetto, 2005).

To continue, other researchers have identified a wide range of teacher needs, specific to the instructional use of technology. While I've found no extensive reviews of academic findings related specifically to the needs of teachers, many of these needs can be gleaned from the reports that other scholars have provided. Culling from the research on barriers inhibiting teachers from the pedagogical utilization of technology, these needs include:
  • Adequate time to acquire and transfer to practice the knowledge and skills necessary to effectively and completely infuse technology into their curricular areas (Hawkins & MacMillan, 1993; Kinnaman, 1990).
  • More time to prepare technology-facilitated resources for lessons, experiment with technology as a learning tool, and create technology-related assessments (Preston, Cox, and Cox, 2000; Lam, 2000).
  • An increase in positive experiences using technology as a productivity tool (Hope, 1998; Snoeyink & Ertmer, 2001).
  • Help in overcoming feelings of anxiety on the part of teachers and a genuine fear of technology (Li, 2007; Stone, 1998) • More confidence in the use of technology and in incorporating new innovation (Hardy, 1998; Dawson & Rakes, 2003).
  • A mechanism for overcoming feelings of intimidation, in light of the possibility that students might know more than them (Fryer, 2003).
  • More ongoing support from specialist mentors and online resources (Sherry, Billig, Tavalin, and Gibson, 2000; Hardy, 1998).
  • An increased ability in dealing with the changing nature of technology itself (Zhao and Frank, 2003).
  • More convenient access to computers and better planning for the use of technology (Smerdon and Cronen, 2000).
  • A better understanding of the advantages that technology integration can provide (Scrimshaw, 2004).
In summary, teachers “need an attitude that is fearless in the use of technology, encourages them to take risks, and inspires them to become lifelong learners” (National Council for Accreditation of Teacher Education, 1997, p. 11). Fulfilling these needs through whatever means possible might work toward technology integration taking place in schools on a more widespread basis.

No discussion of teacher needs would be complete without considering also the things teachers need to know in order to appropriately incorporate technology into their teaching. This question of what teachers need to know has received a great deal of attention lately by scholars, government agencies, and educational organizations alike (Smerdon and Cronen, 2000; International Society for Technology in Education, 2008; National Council for Accreditation of Teacher Education, 1997; Zhao, 2003; U.S. Congress, Office of Technology Assessment, 1995).

The National Educational Technology Standards and Performance Indicators for Teachers by ISTE (International Society for Technology in Education, 2008) has become a widely accepted set of benchmarks for the kinds of things teachers need to be able to know and do in order to effectively integrate technology. According the these standards, teachers need to:
  • Facilitate student learning and creativity
  • Design and develop digital-age learning experiences and assessments
  • Model digital-age work and learning
  • Promote and model digital citizenship and responsibility
  • Engage in professional growth and leadership
While on the surface many of these standards appear to reside independent of technology, subtasks developed in ISTE’s list of standards clarify the need for teachers to possess a strong technical background in a wide variety of technology tools.

Having made it this far:
  1. How are you still awake?
  2. Can you think of any needs teachers might have that aren't included in the list?
BTW, a list of references - if you're interested - can be found here.

Focus: What You See Is What You Get

I wonder if we really understand how much our actions outside of school drastically affect our performance inside of school; but not just our actions - or even those of our children. I'm talking about the actions and attitudes of greater society. Think big.

Consider for a moment, what might happen if Katy was really the name of an eleventh-grade student, sitting at the 25-yard line in the photo below, intently preparing to take her AP math exam.

With this level of support, might her academic performance improve? Might she be motivated to put in the time it takes to gain AP-caliber skills? Might those at home also push her toward success, even paying some of the price it takes for nations to be the best?

While many look to technology as a savior in times of educational distress, until we - as a society - learn to focus on what's truly important... we'll continue to get what we've desired all along. I just wish these desires would have reached loftier heights than the leagues of overinflated egos we continue to pay to entertain us in our weekend stupors.

Does your school really want to make adequate yearly progress? How about your nation? Might I suggest a change in focus.

Focus: What you see is what you get.


Image sources: Flickr users PhilipsPhotos and dsevilla.

Pay Attention, People

This is why more teachers today should be using technology to increase student engagement than ever before. Unless you're Hannah Montana, Justin Bieber, or Spiderman, I honestly know of no easier way to effectively increase student motivation.

You've heard me say it before, but I can't help saying it again: Pay attention, people.

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