Wednesday, January 27, 2010

History repeats itself

Some say history goes in circles, some say spirals. For more on this, check out Dr. Gerald Schroeder, the difference between the two led him to becoming a preeminent physicist and Talmudic scholar. I'm not going into that now, just a fun fact for you.

Either way, circle or spiral, history is redundant. We'll be looking at this redundancy through examining a tech model I made, and looking at a few articles examining technology in schools written at different times in the last 25 years.

It's a very interesting choice of articles this week. Staring with Larry Cuban, who wrote about the history of technology in schools up to 1984, then Rochelle et. al. talking about what it takes for technology to really "make it" in schools in 2000, and nicely wrapped up with a 2009 survey report by the U.S. D.O.E. This is extremely relevant to me because I started school in 1990, started High School in 2000, and taught in a Middle School in 2009. I had first hand experience of exactly what the authors we're talking about. I found that my model, which hasn't changed in the last week, agreed with Rochelle's argument, "The challenge is to ensure this technology is used effectively to enhance how and what children learn." No one can put a computer or other tech device into the hands of students and expect them to learn, or achieve great things without a great teacher, as Cuban states, "Teachers are the gatekeepers to technology".

Now this teacher isn't necessarily the old sage on a stage, nor the guide on the side, the teacher can be siblings, friends, parents, experts in forums, etc... The key is that it is a live person you are talking to or messaging or emailing, whatever. The key is people. People to people interactions. My model emphasizes this.
The first step to getting technology into your classroom is getting the monetary support to buy the equipment. This support is being either generated by or signed off by someone.

Next you need an idea, an activity, something to DO with the technology. If there is one thing all of the articles and chapters have in common and repeat implicitly is that YOU CAN NOT JUST PUT FLASHY TECH THINGS INTO STUDENTS HANDS AND EXPECT LEARNING TO HAPPEN! You need an ecosystem, structure, lesson plans, and ideas.

Naturally the next item down is the technology. I used Dell Netbooks here. I was under the impression when I made this model that the schools I work with on "Tweeting Character" were getting Dells, they got HP. The next model will correct this. More on T.C. coming soon...

These machines will be useless without access of course. As of 2007 only 63% of classes are wired for High-Speed Internet (see US DOE report below). I'm looking for a statistic of what it is now in 2010. If anyone has one, please let me know in the comments.

But no matter how cool, or fast, are rad your technology is, without teachers who are enthusiastic about using the technology and experienced and keep up with the training, and students who are eager or inspired, the technology will fail. Rochelle stressed this by talking about "Computer expertise" and a need for support of these teachers. I see that support in two possible ways. One way is through education of new software and tools. And the other is hardware support.

Hardware support is seen here as a caricature of Richard, my old IT guy. This is what Richard really looks like. Pretty good rendering on the model huh? - totally from memory too! Actually, Dick here wasn't my go-to-guy all the time. I worked very closely with his wife, Sherry, and their adopted son Ryan. A very tech savvy family. Some friendly advice for you, whenever you start at a new job or school more specifically, get close with IT and the lunch-ladies. No joke.

Up to this point in the model you have your tech, have a lesson plan, have access, got students excited and ready to learn, and you have your back-up. The next step is more ideas, more lessons, more engagement. Make the financial investment worthwhile! Because like one of the readings said, (paraphrasing) "The most cost effective form of education is paying one teacher to talk to 30 students." If you are a fan of technology you better make these things work and have lots of ideas, if you do not use you will lose it! Some other teacher will get your Netbook cart, or Richard will be busy when you need him, or you will be the last to et your machines updated, everyone will be zipping around on Windows 7 or Snow Leopard while you're chugging along through Windows ME. Or the new teacher comes in and gets an iPad while you're using a Newton, then you'll be S.O.L.

To prove it works, you need assessment. Assessment is portrayed here, in this model, as my adviser, Daniel Thomas Hickey Ph.D. He is an assessment expert (click on the model above for a high-res image and check out his shirt). He is also a metaphor. You don't actually need him, although I'm sure he'd love to help you out, but you need a fair, valid, and reliable assessment plan to show how your technology integration is salient.

Then you do it all again. Hence the redundancy.

If you looked close enough you will have noticed that this all takes place on a clock. Time is the biggest overarching barrier to bringing in technology into schools. Even time in the units. For example, ever teacher who has ever used computers, or a Netbook cart will complain about the time lost for simply logging-in. It is a very, very valid complaint. The point I am trying to make is that time will always be an issue in every step of the process, and in my opinion is one of the first things to consider before every attempting to include technology into a curriculum. It has always been an issue, and will be for sometime. However, in my reading I don't think it was mentioned. Did anyone see it anywhere else?

Readings for the week:

Larry Cuban: Teachers and Machines

Rochelle et. al. : Changing How and What Children Learn in School with Computer-Based Technologies

United States DOE: Evaluation of the Enhancing Education Through Technology Program: Final Report
Report Highlights

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