The Unrelenting Third

I need your advice. Really.

Scenario 1

Yesterday, I and a few members of my team confronted the challenge of leading all of the curriculum specialists in the Jordan School District in a discussion centered on learning how to (1) better integrate Google Docs into a number of educational scenarios, while (2) learning how to use Google Docs in and of itself.

Picture sixty different people simultaneously editing this document after minimal training. While forty undoubtedly thrive with the new possibilities of global collaboration, there still exist that twenty that can do little more than shake their heads in misunderstanding.

Throughout the entire experience, it was evident that while roughly two-thirds of the group easily understood how to use Google Docs (with minimal training on where to click), there was an unrelenting third of the group that simply didn't know how to function. In other words, roughly one-third of our group - and mind you, these are "Curriculum Specialists"; the teachers in the know, the leaders, the ones that you actually want up to bat in the ninth - I repeat: roughly one-third of these specialists actually needed step by step, click-here-for-this, there-for-that instruction.

Scenario 2

In our second session of OpenPD last night we discussed why we should use social software in our teaching. During the discussion Dennis Richards, a Superintendent from Massachusetts, brought up the point that it is difficult to formulate policy governing the use of online tools because the tools are changing so rapidly. Jamie Gustin and Glen Moses - also educational administrators - agreed with Dennis. As it turned out, we concluded that at times it is best to simply provide a blanket statement, blanket policy, [blanket training] - much as our district has done with its Acceptable Use Policies. In other words, if we're able to provide a policy, for example, that covers all of our bases in one flail swoop, then all will work out in the end.

To illustrate further, take note of the scope our our district's policy and how generally it is addressed:
This policy references the use of electronic information resources made available to employees by Jordan School District. These resources include, but are not limited to, voice mail, electronic mail, the Internet, and other network files or accounts provided to employees.
Did you notice the wording? Instead of listing every online technology imaginable (i.e. online video, audio, podcasts, wikis, blogs, voicethreads...) we are covered with the encompassing term "the Internet". It seems that in addressing these needs generally, the specifics take care of themselves.

Or do they?

Throughout our OpenPD sessions, we've had excellent discussions about how various social software tools can be used in a classroom setting, thus enhancing a teacher's curriculum. We've also deliberated over why such tools should be used and to what extent. In short, we've spent far more time in discussing the pedagogy behind the tools rather than simply addressing how to use the tools. With that in mind, I think we've been able to reach the wider audience - as most people these days are simply able to figure out how to use the tools with minimal training (see scenario 1) and they really can't get such a discussion about the intricacies of pedagogy anywhere else.

But is reaching the wider audience really best practice?

In asking this question, I'm reminded of that unrelenting third that simply can't function - or appear to not be able to understand - without step-by-step tutelage. For upon completion of our wonderful discussions about the how and the why behind the tools, I was left with a third of my class last night, struggling with how to edit their own wiki pages. Simply put, the twenty to thirty minutes of push-button instruction that we had dedicated in our class was simply not enough (click here to edit the page; no, you have to sign in first; yes, you have to sign in every time you want to edit; yes, this page is even available to you from home).

To encourage constructivist learning is important, indeed, but that which is intuitive to you and to me may not be so instinctual to that unrelenting third.

Which is now where I desperately need you to step in:
  • Wherein lies the balance between teaching the hows and the whys behind the tools and teaching the tools themselves?
  • How do we teach this "unrelenting third", whom I love and honestly hope to help, without holding the rest behind?
And on an even different level, I'm ashamed to ask:
  • How do we provide differentiated instruction in our teacher-centric OpenPD environment?
I understand fully that shift has happened in our world. I'm just afraid that it's already time for a shift in the way we approach OpenPD.

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