Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Progressively Unnecessary - Defeat of the Vogons

No matter where I ended up as a teacher during my first 10 years of work in public or private schools, my role as campus technology coordinator was assured. It didn't matter if I was the writing teacher, the bilingual/ESL teacher, the campus instructional specialist, it always ended up boiling down to the simple fact that I knew how to use technology and the rest of the campus did not.

My job, then, became a process of facilitating professional development opportunities that would help other teachers become...well...more like me. After my first workshop with teacher--when one's vision of can be meets reality--I asked a better question. "How could technology tools I knew about be helpful to teachers?"

Over the years, there has certainly been a transition in that campus role. It's a transition I've not liked in the following cases:

  • Technology access for campus users is locked down. To get something done, they have to call a HelpDesk that may be too slow. This reminded me of one of my mottos at the campus--which my principals always agreed with. If you wait for the District, it won't get done until long after you need it.
  • Lock step curriculum narrows the choices and flexibility individual teachers and campuses have to purchase software relevant to student needs. Of course, this isn't all bad, right? This is true especially when you consider that many teachers just wanted to buy Word Munchers or ReaderRabbit and plop their kids in front of the technology for endless drill-n-practice. Now, while that's over (unless you count districts/schools that still believe the pseudo-research of Integrated Learning System vendors) there is so much more available in the "think, create, collaborate" arena. The old model of locking things down doesn't work because we now have so many wonderful tools available to us that DO support higher levels of Bloom's revised Taxonomy! Unfortunately, district curriculum staff are too busy crafting curriculum scope and sequence documents, analyzing test scores to even be aware of what's available...for them, technology can be a profound distraction.
  • The training opportunities for classroom teachers that are technology power-users are limited. You can't build capacity if all the "problems" are in places that are inaccessible by the regular person. I often feel like schools that lock machines down so no one can solve the problem--or "give it a go"--are cutting their own throats in terms of building capacity for the organization.
All these thoughts came flowing back when I read Fraser Speirs excellent reflection on the changing nature of his job as he facilitates iPad deployment. Consider the following:
Later still, and this is the situation today, the local authorities got their act together and locked everything down. Now, nobody cares because it's impossible to get anyone to do anything without vogonesque bureaucracy. I've heard tales of teachers going out of school to McDonalds in their free periods because the school network is so restricted that the free WiFi in McDonalds is much more conducive to actually getting their work done. I can't imagine how many contraband MiFis and 3G dongles are used in schools each day just to get something working. Anyway, the point is that the Computing Teacher was the expert.

That technical role is being diminished by centralised control from local authorities but, in principle, the computing teacher is still the expert in educating with computers. There was a time (last year) when a big part of my role was to teach children skills which could then be of use in other subjects. This was partly because I knew the various apps a lot better than any other teacher and partly because the other teachers didn't have time to spend three weeks teaching an app before they could teach their lesson. I don't know how much longer this role will exist. Already, I'm no longer in control of the set of software that we teach with. Yes, I know what we're using and I get it installed, but there's no way that I have used or somehow approved all these apps.
Fraser Speirs' points in this are important to reflect on. They signal a change that mean simply that ALL educators are becoming responsible for technology. The end of an era, at long last? Have we lived up to the expectation that "A teacher's job is to make him or herself progressively unnecessary" at long last?

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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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