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Sunday, September 19, 2010

Technology - The Failed Promise To Education

Forgive me, but this is a rant.

Schools have been chasing the technology tail since the early 90's - and we will never catch it! Administrators and Board Members have been afraid to not support technology because of the reported promise - and the fact most Administrators and Boards do no understand or use technology. I keep hearing we must invest in new technology because we are falling behind the rest of the world. The last time I checked - the successful schools in the rest of the world are pretty much doing what we were doing 40 years ago - Discipline, student and parent involvement, and community support. We all want to believe technology can somehow overcome this - but it can't.

I support technology for its ability to make jobs easier. It is a tool for Administrators and Teachers so they can be better at what they do - developing a relationship with students - the  key to success. It is not for the students - they are, and will always be, farther along than the adults on technology. If a district is not using technology for teacher development, to become a better teacher, then they are not utilizing technology. Show me a district that blocks YouTube (or other sites) from teachers, with all its wealth of education tools, and I'll show you a district that is not very technical or interested in utilizing  the available tools that  make classes more engaging. Schools that utilize technology teach responsible use of technology. How many of you remember some basics you learned in school - Stop, Drop and Roll (during fire prevention week) and  Look Both Ways before crossing the street. Your children should be memorizing the basics of technology responsibility - starting before first grade.

Right now, there are students in our schools with more computing power in their book bags than is available in the classroom - and the numbers will only increase. We should put in the infrastructure to allow those devices to be more useful - and our classes should be modified to use these devices. We should give up trying to buy the devices.

This is not a new argument. I can remember when people fought the use of calculators in the classroom - now pretty much common. I guess nobody likes change except a baby with a wet diaper! The most valuable asset any school system has is its Teachers. Technology should be focused on  making better Teachers.

From the Cool Cat Teachers Blog:

Bandwidth is the Library Card of the Modern Age

The Internet is an increasing source of excellent quality video content. This video is an example - from National Geographic and their daily update:
Diving in the Maya Sacred Pools
gives UP TO DATE information on current discoveries in science. In this video, divers discuss how they have found some ancient artifacts in 
Belize and also you can see the fascinating way that they go through the bottom of a pool into an area where water comes out of the spring. You'd have to see it to believe it at the beginning! (So cool.)

The point is that the Internet is our library and that between features like this and services like Discovery Streaming, you can have access to the video you need.

I know schools that still have very slow Internet service. One school that has no Internet access (the administration believes it is a distraction.) The fact is that the payment for bandwidth is really a subscription fee.

When you pay for the Internet you receive:

  • Streaming video
  • Streaming audio of all kinds
  • Access to live events with leaders in society
  • Tons of down-loadable resources
  • Free Lesson Plans
  • Access to your state's standards database
  • Free cloud-based software of all kinds
  • Access to other students and teachers around the world
  • free videoconferencing (skype)
  • free encyclopedias and databases such as the Encyclopedia of Life
  • and more.
 It befuddles me why schools would debate the cost of bandwidth if they look at all of the services that libraries often pay for. In fact, bandwidth is truly the library card of the modern age.

We talk about the digital divide because those who do not have bandwidth are denied access. They cannot enter the library. Why would we intentionally keep people out when it is within our power to allow access? Why would we add barrier after barrier in our new card catalog by blocking educationally-beneficial sites.
Why do we seem so afraid of learning? Yes, there are places that we should monitor and filter but often it seems that we are straining out gnats and swallowing camels by thinking that the only services that are worth anything must be paid for. How about just unfettered access to the Internet where teachers can request to have valid URL's unblocked.

Modern Age Library Litmus Test

Answer these questions to see if your school is truly allowing access to the modern library card of the world?
1. If I have a specific site that I need to use for classroom use, I have the ability to request that the site be unblocked? (  ) 1 - Yes   (  ) 0 - No

2. When I request for a site to be unblocked for a valid educational use, it typically takes:
(  ) 5 - Same Day approval
(  ) 4 - Next day
(  ) 3 - Same Week
(  ) 2 - Next Week
(  ) 1 - Same month
(  ) 0 - Are you kidding?

3. Who approves your request for a website to be unblocked?
(  ) 5 - I have a URL to unblock it myself by logging into the filter
(  ) 4 - Curriculum
(  ) 3 - Administration
(  ) 2 - IT Department
(  ) 1 - the office manager
(  ) 0 - Are you kidding?

4. When you find a useful site that is not blocked and begin using it heavily in the classroom, which is most likely to happen:
(  ) 5 - Nothing
(  ) 4 - Someone may ask me what is going on in my classroom.
(  ) 3 - I will be E-mailed notifying me that if the site is not legitimate it will be blocked.
(  ) 2 - IT department gives me grief about bandwidth
(  ) 1 - It is blocked within days.
(  ) 0 - It is blocked within hours.

5. At my school we are:
(  ) 5 - Encouraged to use Internet resources and have an open environment of sharing those that meet classroom standards.
(  ) 4 - Encouraged to use Internet resources and some share the tools
(  ) 3 - Internet resources are allowed but not encouraged.
(  ) 2 -Approved resources are allowed, although very few are approved.
(  ) 1 - using an intranet and everything must be on our local server.
(  ) 0 - Not allowing Internet access.

OK, so add up your numbers.  The maximum score is 21. If you're there -- wow, count yourself lucky. When you get down towards 10, you're really dealling with walls.  Less, than 10, and you're severely limited from accessing the "library" of the modern age. 

Food For Thought:

The Innovative Educator - Information on First Grade FaceBook

A Principal's Reflections  - Principal Eric Sheninger's Blog

Who's In Charge In 'Principal's Office?'  A Boston Globe Article with reference to Principal Sheninger

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