Conversations Are Double-Edged

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This morning started out innocently enough. I had no idea I'd be dodging tough questions and practicing the high art of sophistry. It's the kind of morning that makes me wish I'd stuck to washing clothes, prayerful contemplation of my faults and grateful meditation on my blessings. But then, who wants to wash clothes?

Bill Ferriter starts out with this:
plugusin Just finished writing 5 Questions to Ask BEFORE Buying IWBs:  (Really applies to any technology purchase, though.)
To which I respond:
@plugusin what actions should districts take who have already purchased IWBs without considering your 5 questions first?
Bill suggests that districts who are already purchasing IWBs STOP SPENDING. I love it, but of course, that's not an option for districts that have already purchased it. It's like saying, "You just bought that $500 iPad and it doesn't do Flash but tough luck, learn to love it anyways." Ok, maybe not THAT good of a comparsion.

Bud the Teacher then asks a question that is a bit too direct. That is, my perception of it is that there is no way for someone to answer it without being critical of either party. Let me know what you think:
@mguhlin @plugusin Why don't your trainers support the stuff that the district is purchasing? Is the purchasing system broken, or the training one?
I stumble on this question, or perhaps, backing away from it like a brown bar in a swimming pool. When one school district I worked for went out and bought CCC, they didn't ask classroom teachers if they thought it was something good. They simply went out, bought it--after the obligatory cruise ship jaunt--and then expected teachers, administrators, instructional specialists to implement it at optimum performance.
Source: Hurley, T. J. & Brown, J. (March, 2010) "Conversational leadership:Thinking together for a change." Oxford Leadership Journal.

When you consider the diagram above, it's clear what the elements of such a expensive (consider IWBs cost $4K-$8K each and multiply that times how many classrooms in a school or district) conversation need to be. Are they exercised? What if the critical conversations aren't being had? How to jump-start those? Source for image below is same as image above:

No conversations = poor or nonexistent results

Of course, even perfectly executed, research just doesn't support usage of these high-priced, top-down programs (integrated learning systems that I won't even link to my research collection on since you can just google it). But back to today's conversation.

My response to Bud was this in 2 tweets:
@budtheteacher any purchasing system is broken when stakeholders--teachers--aren't part of the purchasing process.
@budtheteacher and, that said, any training program is broken when it is merely top down delivery of what districts subscribe to or buy.
Responsible for facilitating training on IWB in my job situation, you can perhaps recognize my concerns for continuing this thread of conversation, a point I noted in an aside to Bud. Such responsibility certainly can change one's own perspective and I'd be less than transparent to note that speculating about the value of the decision, the process or lack of, the quality of the training program are completely worthless for this conversation about how to best use IWBs when trainers may not believe in their heart of hearts that they are the way to education nirvana. I have to acknowledge my bias...which is summed up in a simple question.
If teachers can't integrate computers into daily instruction, do you honestly expect them to embrace a complex interactive whiteboard? 
In my experience, that has never been the case...frightening, huh? I hope you understand my bias. Will pursuing different experiences with IWBs change the current lack of appreciation for IWBs among education technologists? Probably not, especially for folks like Bill Ferriter who point out the following:

If there’s anything that I learned from my time with an IWB in my classroom, it’s that kids are far less impressed with them than their teachers are. 
While my students were enamored with our IWB for the first month or so, it quickly became old news to them.  In fact, when I opened the board up to student groups as a tool for brainstorming at the beginning of research projects, I had no takers!  “It’s not worth the hassle, Mr. Ferriter,” one group leader said.  “We’ll work here.”
Crazy, isn’t it? I mean, if you listen to the rhetoric that teachers spin about IWBs, you’d think they were revolutionary tools that captivate learners. 
That disconnect shouldn’t be surprising, though.  Teachers love IWBs because they make traditional practices—lecturing, presenting, sharing websites—easier

That's the challenge for ed-tech advocates. I'm not trying to make TRADITIONAL PRACTICES easier...I want complete, revolutionary change. How do IWBs accomplish that?!? The answer is--for now--that they do not. Maybe a different perspective is needed.

And, thank goodness, others have chimed in on this conversation, including @AngelaStockman. The challenge in THIS particular conversation goes back to the question of stakeholder involvement...were teachers part of this process or not? And, if they had been, wouldn't they have loved IWBs because they make traditional practices easier?

If yes--that teachers would have loved them if introduced--why shouldn't they be included in the decision to implement IWBs?

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Everything posted on Miguel Guhlin's blogs/wikis are his personal opinion and do not necessarily represent the views of his employer(s) or its clients. Read Full Disclosure


Linda704 said…
You might want to check out some of the links in a blogpost I did about IWBs and instruction:
Bill Ferriter said…

You're spot on when you say that this conversation is about stakeholder involvement in key decisions.

I couldn't agree more that when choices are made with no input from classroom teachers and students, those choices are probably going to be underinformed and may just be downright irresponsible.

What's interesting to me is how district size sometimes prohibits/limits the kinds of meaningful conversations between stakeholders that are necessary for making informed choices.

I know that in my district, there isn't a strong culture for earning widespread buy-in before important purchases are made simply because "widespread buy-in" would be impossible to build in a district with 9,000 teachers!

It's a stumbling block, that's for sure---and one that goes far beyond conversations about digital tools.

Thanks for making me think,
jkitterman said…
Thank you Miguel and Bill for helping me to think about this. While I agree that stakeholders need to be involved in such purchasing decisions, I struggle with the point that Bill makes - teachers who lack the skills to use technology effectively, in my mind , aren't necessarily equipped to make sound decisions regarding such purchases.

For example, I am seeing a large amount of ARRA funds going toward the purchase of drill ad practice type applications. Generally, it seems that many teachers are so impressed by flash animation and sound effects, that they buy into most impressive programs. And I find this distressing.

It seems that I have a huge job of educating the stakeholders.

Any thoughts about this?

Claudia Ceraso said…
Lots to reflect on here Miguel.

You ask,
If teachers can't integrate computers into daily instruction, do you honestly expect them to embrace a complex interactive whiteboard?

I find a paradox there.

There is a underlying idea in the framing of our questions that needs unlearning. The belief that there are "levels", layers of complexity, hierarchies that we can detect and... well, control. But wait! Isn't that the very old way we want to truly change with new technologies?

Thinking along these lines, I found myself writing a long reflection (and putting off my washing clothes!)
Here my Sunday rant:
IWBs and the Fallacy of Integration
Angela Stockman said…
Thanks for including me in the conversation, Miguel! I'm compelled by the questions that you and Bill have asked, and I'm pretty impressed with the discourse that has followed too.

The challenges that you are exploring are much like those our students will continue to confront for a long time. For me, this conversation wasn't so much about having either one of you arrive at a was simply a great model of what our students must be able to do in order to think and learn from one another as they solve problems together.

The two of you helpd me realize that much can be learned from IWB boards...regardless of whether their purchase was informed or not. I hope I explain better here. Thanks for inviting me to.

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