Allow and Encourage #aest - $chools and EdTech


In era of accountability, schools with greater autonomy over curricula, assessments, & resources do better 

Although Tom Van De Ark believes the New York Times has "declared war" on Educational Technology--except when it's for their own benefit--the two examples he cites contain germs of truth in them that are infectious.

Here are the two examples Tom mentions, although I've retitled the pieces to better summarize them from my biased perspective (see? you've been warned):
Tom also seeks to expose the New York Times affiliation with Epsilen (in Texas, less popularly known as Project Share).  Neither is a challenge to educational technology, but rather, a challenge to how dollars are being spent in schools today. But, for fun, let's explore some other scenarios.


Source: http://goo.gl/DTVLg

Should educators be that worried about the coming transformation, the selling-out of public schools in favor of private, charter online entities that will be free (or almost free) of accountability, paid for by taxpayer dollars?
When schools or other organisations embark upon transformation, implementation of new ideas or other change initiatives this has a direct impact upon stakeholders. All change initiatives demand resources and require an investment of time for those involved. Change will bring an emotional reaction by some and a sense of discomfort for many. Yet, research is clear, most change initiatives fail 
(Source: Time to Rethink Leadership During a Time of Transformation)
Failed implementation of desired changes is often the point where grand visions of a transformed world meet reality. When one considers the Idaho Teacher--certainly a stakeholder, just as I am as a technology-using educator--mentioned in the NY Times piece about Idaho Teachers rejecting online learning....
Ann Rosenbaum, a former military police officer in the Marines, does not shrink from a fight, having even survived a close encounter with a car bomb in Iraq...To help pay for these [online learning] programs, the state may have to shift tens of millions of dollars away from salaries for teachers and administrators. And the plan envisions a fundamental change in the role of teachers, making them less a lecturer at the front of the room and more of a guide helping students through lessons delivered on computers. (Source: Teachers Resist High-Tech Push in Idaho Schools, New York Times)
...it appears that Ann isn't objecting to using technology to enhance her teaching, but how the money will be used. This is further elaborated on in the article by another teacher, Don StanWiens:
Half of teachers, he suspects, will not use the new computers. And the online learning requirement seems to him to be a step toward cutting back on in-person teaching and, perhaps eventually, on not having students congregate in schools at all.
It would be great to think that technology was the real obstacle here, but it's not. What's the real obstacle is that there isn't enough money to pay for Ann's teaching position (figuratively speaking here) AND implement online learning. It's clear that there are benefits Idaho hopes to gain by shifting funding:
  1. Broaden the reach of teachers who do get a chance to be online learning facilitators. Potential Downside? Teachers will have larger class sizes and have to be available beyond the traditional 8:00am to 3:30pm school day so they can stay in contact with students, parents.
  2. Spend less on traditional salaries and more on centralized web-based resources that are more easily managed.
    Potential Downside? Less teaching and management positions will be available since there will be less money to spend on them. That chalk and pencil teacher who never quite "got technology" won't be hired as an online teacher. Principals who can't manage online campuses are also going to be left out of the loop.
  3. Spend less on multiple school districts needlessly building infrastructure, instead putting money into centralized state-approved curriculum.
    Potential Downside? School districts won't be able to build capacity--and afford--the technology they need to implement in-house initiatives, instead must rely on state-provided resources and expertise. The State-wide network is down? Sorry, tough luck.
  4. Make more rich curriculum available to students, circumventing the poverty of individual school districts who lack teaching staff to teach a new class.
    Potential Downside? Schools won't bother to build up capacity in tough-to-staff areas, and individual offerings may be poorer in the future.
Of course, this is just my two-second fly-by the issues and downsides. What do YOU think?

If standardizing an approach to technology use in schools is desirable, then one message does come across quite clearly--if you're an educator in schools today, and you're NOT using technology, then you have failed to 1) Prepare students for a technology-rich learning environment that surrounds them and doesn't depend on brick-n-mortar teaching approaches; 2) Build expertise in an area that you need to be successful for your own career. Of the two, the more important one is the latter. After all, efforts are being made to excise you from the equation.
Source: http://goo.gl/QvdVt
In many school districts, the the curriculum guides that many teachers must follow "lock-step," technology is an after-thought. Schools just aren't changing fast enough, and legislators have realized that even the best school districts can't deliver services being developed by business world.
Why have businesses succeeded where schools have failed? I suspect it may that schools have been given a set of failure-oriented parameters that restrict what they can do and focus on. They've internalized those and now, can do nothing but work within "the box."

After all, the focus centers around preparing students to do well on high stakes assessments. And, as many principals have pointed out to me, those high stakes assessments do NOT rely on an individual teachers' technology prowess but on how well the teacher 1) adheres to the curriculum; 2) checks for understanding; 3) works to fill in the holes. 
Faux Interview with a Superintendent:"What made you switch to an online learning provider?""The challenge has always revolved around 3 variables: 1) Providing teachers and student access to a content-rich curriculum; 2) Ensuring teachers teach that curriculum; and 3) Checking to make sure that students learn that curriculum. If we can master those 3 variables, our children will be college-ready.""If resolving the dynamic tension between the 3 variables is your pathway to success, what does online learning bring to the equation?""Online learning allows us to rely on a vetted curriculum aligned to national and state standards, enables us to rely on teachers who have received extensive training--more than we can provide uniformly to our in-house staff--from a consistent source. It also allows us to track every student, immediately seeing what that child is learning through assessments that fit him/her like a glove. What I mean is, everyone involved--the online teacher, the district administration, parents, and student--know exactly how well, or poorly, a child is doing because that growth isn't locked up in one person's head...it's a printable report with graphs, and performance observations."

Teachers who embrace technology use must do so under the radar ("free time") and/or in ways that fit in with the status quo (why bother?). The reality, then, unless teachers are granted permission to use technology, is unmercifully limiting. When you consider the plethora of Read/Write Web Tools (a.k.a. Web 2.0), there can be no use that does not fall into the vision. In that limited vision of schools, traditional approaches (e.g. Socratic Seminar) fit well. 

However, that traditional approach can't be allowed to survive. There is not enough money in it and mega-technology companies (e.g. Pearson, K12, Inc., Apple, Dell, and million other companies) want taxpayer money. And, shouldn't they be entitled to that money since they are providing products and services that individual schools cannot?

Faux Interview with Technology Director:"When did you decide to make the switch to the cloud for student/staff email?""It wasn't tough to decide to make the switch. You see, we were spending a few thousands on mail servers, top of the line software to host our own, but we couldn't justify the continued expense since a) Our best services didn't provide enough storage space to end users; b) Our best services couldn't provide 24/7 always-on support; c) Our best services couldn't provide spam/malware filtering that cloud email and storage could provide.""So you're saying, 'Since outside companies provided better quality service at little or no cost, it would have been irresponsible to continue paying for a server farm, staff time and effort, when your best simply wasn't good enough?'""Well, I wouldn't put it that way, but yes, that's about right."
I suspect that most teachers and administrators will do what they need to do to stay gainfully employed. In Time to Rethink Leadership During a Time of Transformation, Simon R Walker outlines 8 errors common to change, citing Kotter's work. My favorite from Kotter is Our Iceberg is Melting

Here are my notes on Kotter's work...would you agree that most schools and staff are still in step 1, suffering from a "sense of despair-induced apathy" as a result of the required changes?

1. Create a sense of urgency. (not panic) “Problem. What Problem?” Take the issue to the right people. Watch this YouTube interview with John Kotter on his new book, A Sense of Urgency.


2. Pull together the guiding team. This team must be strong enough to guide the change—leadership skills, credibility, communications ability, authority, analytical skills and a sense of urgency. If you look at the companies that are good at initiating a major change, increasingly you'll find that it doesn’t work if the top few try to do all the heavy lifting.

DECIDE WHAT TO DO: 
3. Develop the vision and change strategy. Change to what? Too many change initiatives might indicate that you haven’t done this step well. You’ll get change burnout and more resistance.

MAKE IT HAPPEN: 
4. Communicate for understanding and buy-in.
5. Empower others to act. Remove barriers so that people can act on the new direction. Get the “junk” out of the way to get the momentum. Empowerment, but not a free-for-all—competent training may be called for.
6. Produce short-term wins. It’s critical because you always have skeptics. Tangible success will help to drain the power from these people and bring them on board.
7. Don’t let up. Even after the win, keep up the pressure to keep the momentum going. Be relentless until you reach the end goal.
8. Create a new culture. Make sure that it sticks—internalized.
We are quickly moving to a stage of education where schools must willfully set aside the restrictions imposed upon them or face obliteration. Focusing time on leadership during transformation, perfecting the art of achieving the 3 variables won't get the job done. 

Instead, I suggest the following effort to superintendents and deputy superintendents to allow and encourage school technology to flourish. Some specific examples include the following:
  1. Allow and encourage the use of new technologies for professional and student learning.
  2. Allow and encourage the use of external services (e.g. cloud-based email and storage a la GoogleApps for Education) and don't let your tech dept say "No."
  3. Allow and encourage teachers to select new and innovative online curriculum for use in their classrooms rather than continue to limit and discourage the use of curriculum resources other than what the school district designs.
  4. Allow and encourage schools to embrace technology tools that are non-standard a la BYOD.
  5. Allow and encourage teachers and administration to learn how technology can transform what they are doing for the better, as well as how it might for the worse.
These aren't earth-shattering recommendations, and if not, why are they so hard to embrace in school systems today?


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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

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