Plurality of Diversity @gcouros @timholt2007 #txeduchat #cpchat

"Why should we have computer labs anymore in schools?" The question had been put to me by a dear colleague. We were in my supervisor's meeting room. While I carefully considered the question, I felt a profound sadness at my agreement with the suggestion he was making. The sadness results because, frankly, we should be much further along this road of implementing the suggestion than we are, as a Nation of educators and learners.

His question suggested something that should be obvious in schools, but continues to elude those of us who work in Texas public schools--the complete blending of technology into classroom curriculum to the point that technology is no longer a special event. Simply, why does technology continue to be ignored when curriculum initiatives are implemented at the district, campus and classroom level?

"Why aren't these empanadas all that spicy?" I put the question to my daughter and her friend earlier this week, at mid-point of her empanada-making. This past holiday week, my daughter has been making Panamanian empanadas. Since she is still a novice empanada maker (or was at the start of the process), she didn't realize that she needed to mix the picante sauce in with the meat while it was being prepared. Adding it afterward resulted in empanadas that lacked sufficient spice to make them palatable.

As Dr. Chris Moersch (creator of the Levels of Teaching Innovation (LOTI)) points out, blending technology into curriculum typically fails because technology--the spice--is left out of the cooking process, as this article on the "What Didn't Happen in Edtech in 2013" highlights. This results in a product that fails to engage. Of course, Moersch says it in this way:
The first problem is that since none of these models/initiatives individually address technology use in the classroom, it is not surprising that when the innovation is fully implemented technology is often missing from the equation. 
The second problem is more systemic; since technology is not modeled as part of the implementation process, educators as well as district and building administrators often perceive technology as a separated curriculum or initiative by itself, and therefore, not an integral part of the innovation's implementation.
When technology is missing from the equation, both during preparation of an initiative (e.g. Writing Workshop, Problem-based Learning, whatever), then later when it is shared, adding technology after the fact results in a waste of money. Efforts like mass inclusion of tablets, Bring Your Own Device, Chromebooks fail, not because the devices themselves are insufficient or inadequate to the task, but because they are add-ons to the original recipe...and they were never meant to be included.

In Inequity and BYOD, George Couros makes the following points that I'd like to consider:
...we need to rethink the practices that we already have in our schools to provide for them.  For example, many schools have “computer labs” where we take kids once or twice a week, to do something with technology or allow them to type out an essay for us.  This is not a good use of technology anymore and we should know better now.  Technology should be at the point of instruction and be as accessible in learning as a pencil; it shouldn’t be an event. How many pencil labs do you have in your school?

In the yellow highlighted section, it must be recognized that while computer labs are no longer a good use of technology, computer labs remain an essential room in schools. Here are 4 reasons why we aren't taking these labs apart, as George asks, "So why are we not taking those labs apart and using those devices for the kids that don’t have the technology readily available?" 

In Texas, here's why:
  1. High-stakes testing remains as the single-most support of organizing technology in computer labs. Since the exorbitant cost of equipment prevents creating one to one environments in public school districts (e.g. New Tech High Schools have done so, but how often have those funding initiatives been able to maintain and expand the program to a larger district) prevent granting every student a "testing-approved device," then the computer lab is the best way to achieve this.
  2. State-wide instructional programs (e.g. Texas Success) depend on equitable access, and minimum device specifications. Programs like iStation, Think Through Math,  as well as other tutorial software, are inflicted on public school systems who must spend their "treasure" to develop "public service workstations" that will enable use of these state-wide initiatives. iPads, Chromebooks are NOT supported.
  3. Classroom teachers have no idea how to blend technology into instruction while they are preparing it and technology remains an add-on, an after-thought.
  4. District level staff development haven't a clue how to prepare curriculum initiatives that blend technology into pedagogy, as well as andragogy.
The question that devils me is, Why do independent school district superintendents and school board leaders NOT push back more? The push back should be against mandated technology-delivered programs that tell districts what technology to use rather than having vendors match their programs to district technology available. If the complaint from vendors is, "We'd have to match all sorts of different technologies," the answer is simple:

Develop for the mobile platform, such as iPads, Chromebooks and Android (e.g. Nexus 7, Samsung 10" tablet), use HTML5 in lieu of Flash, and your product will work on most computers out there. If they don't, no big loss because districts want to invest in mobile technology so they can place "technology at the point of instruction."

When technology isn't a part of equation formulation--"We'll learn that later, after we get this process down" is the attitude I've heard expressed and documented in this blog entry (Separate but Equal) on writing workshop--it is easier to ignore at the point of instruction.

By using the words, "at the point of instruction," the implication is that technology should find itself in the hands of students. And, of course, I agree with that perspective wholeheartedly. The technologies available should be a wide mix, because the goal should not be standardization but rather, personalization:
Whilst personalized learning may happen in traditional learning contexts such as schools and colleges, it embraces learning that happens anywhere, for example in the home, in the community - anywhere. Personalized learning can happen in partnership with other learners, for example learners working together in a group to study a particular topic. This 'anywhere, anytime, anyplace' learning can be seen in light of the forces of globalization that are influencing this latest trend in education, where time, space and place are experienced as compressed; a death of distance.
The death of distance, the re-introduction of the idea that learning can happen anywhere, anytime. Approaches like Bring Your Own Device/Technology are well-supported by reconceptualized instructional approaches. PLNs--personal/professional learning networks--can accelerate teachers movement towards adopting new technology-aided perspectives, as can Professional Learning Communities. Twitter certainly serves as an avenue to welcome teachers and students to the globalized anytime, anywhere learning opportunities available.
Once the possibility exists for students to study informally, at online (and offline) schools, compiling their own learning playlist, putting together units of study that appeal to their passions, the one-size-fits-all model of high school will appear alarmingly anachronistic. So, if educators want to keep their students engaged and inside their buildings, they have to look at the way they learn outside, and bring those characteristics inside. Source: MindShift, What's Our Vision for the Future of Learning?
My vision for the future of learning is quite simple--personalized learning anytime, anywhere and in collaborative online and face to face spaces. It involves making time for reflection, focusing teams to solve real life problems embedded in project-based learning opportunities.
Animals can work can edtech and curriculum.
It involves establishing technology infrastructure that doesn't cut our nose off to spite our face--dumping computer labs needed for state-wide mandates--baking technology into curriculum development and implementation, and requiring everyone (especially high-priced consultants who haven't upgraded their own teaching and learning strategies to blend in technology, during development not after) to rethink what they are doing and how they are doing it.

It also involves recognizing that different technologies must find their way into classrooms than what we use to support yesterday's approaches (e.g. standardized assessment, drill-n-kill tutorials, lock-step movement forward) to technology in schools. Those technologies, which include a host of mobile devices like Chromebooks and iPads, are useful, not because they are easy to support, cost-effective (or not), but because they meet a genuine need.

When a teacher who hasn't blended tech into her classroom instruction asks me for money to buy technology, my first question is, "How have you reconfigured your lessons to take advantage of existing technologies students are bringing to school?' My second question is, "How are you connecting with other educators around the globe in your PLN to see what they are ALREADY doing?"

To Tim Holt's points that we are equipping students with donkeys (e.g. Chromebooks) when they need thoroughbreds (e.g. iPads and Macs) to run the "horse race," I can only laugh. 
Here is an argument I am hearing a lot:
Some low end device like a Chromebook (formerly netbook, formerly thin clients, formerly OLPC laptop, formerly Linux/Unix refurbs, formerly whatever cheap ass piece of technology de jour was being thrust upon education…) is good for students because it provides XX% of the technology experience that the “real devices” does. This is especially true for students that have NO technology. Hey kid, be glad for what you get, because anything is better than nothing.
Frankly, that is a terrible argument and it is demeaning not only to the students that are in low SES and their tax paying parents, but to education as well.
In the rich learning environments I recommend to classroom teachers, the goal isn't ubiquitous uniformity but rather infinite diversity. And, a PLN provides more than infinite provides plurality:
“Pluralism” and “diversity” are sometimes used as if they were synonymous, but diversity—splendid, colorful, and perhaps threatening—is not pluralism. Pluralism is the engagement that creates a common society from all that diversity. (Source)
I'd hate for my PLN to all be the same person with one message. Better than strict adherence to one technology over another, a plurality of diversity that builds relationships among diverse partners to achieve common goals. In this case, various technologies (e.g. Chromebooks, iPads, desktops) to achieve personalized learning opportunities for students, staff and the community.

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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


Tim Holt said…
Miguel, the point I am trying to make is that kids form low SES already come to school hobbled. To pair their poverty with low end devices because they are "good enough" is not doing them favors, especially when kids from a higher SES will be brining their high end devices to school in any BYOD initiative.

You yourself wrote that Chromebooks can do "90%" of what other devices can, and Chris Lehmann even acknowledged that they were low powered when he switched to Chromebooks by hang to also get desktops "for things that the Chromebooks could not do."

Nothing funny about getting a device that you have to augment with another desktop...
drpresident said…
The key idea that stayed with me from this article is "the goal isn't ubiquitous uniformity but rather infinite diversity". This starts to shift the conversation away from which device to many devices. Limitations are not confined to low cost devices. For example, many educational websites still use flash and are unusable on an iPad, even with workarounds like Rover. Every tool, even higher end laptops, have affordances and limitations. What suite of tools supports the vision of personalized, anytime, anywhere learning? I don't think that it's just one tool when we consider all times and places.

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