Sunday, March 29, 2009

Bringing Everyone to the Party

How do we get more teachers and students engaged with technology? I have a District Technology Plan to bring together. In it I need to tell our story. I think I should title our plan "Bringing Everyone to the Party". The party - integrating technology into the fabric of our schools - sounds like fun. It's time to send out invitations and get everyone involved. We need to "bring 'em".

On the history side, the state ask; What have we accomplished since the last report? Have we put more technology in the hands of our students and teachers? Are they using it to solve problems, create novel solutions, communicate in effective ways, improve their scores on standardized tests?

On the tools side they ask; How many computers do we have in our school district? How many are connected to the Internet and at what speed?

On the support and training side they ask; What are our expectations for teachers using technology? What are our expectations for our students (they target the 8th graders)? How are we going to improve our teacher's and student's use of these tools? What venues have we created for training and support?

So the state is asking me for a State of Technology statement... now and into the future. Here are the ingredients of our little party. We have:

  • bright students and talented teachers,
  • access to the wonderful world of the Internet,
  • tools that are built to help us access the Web - to find information, communicate, create, and find more/new tools for expanding our toolset,
  • people who are trained (trained themselves in many cases) to support the people and tools.

Despite these incredible ingredients, despite our privilege and plenty, we struggle to put it all together. What's standing in our way? Do we need more money? Is the technology too complicated? Are people afraid of trying new things? Do they lack the time to explore and practice the skills? If we provided more training would they attend? I will be asking these questions in a survey of our teachers. I hope someone replies.

It's pretty evident that there is a disconnect between theory and practice in the world of technology. One theory is that if you provide people with the right "things" they will naturally put them to work. 1:1 laptop initiatives are a wonderful idea. And according to some accounts, there are schools and districts that have done a fine job of making this work. Clearly they do more than hand the teachers and kids a computer and wave "good luck". There is evidence that the successful 1:1 initiatives include effort to stage the influx of new technology, account for obsolescence in the budget, and include a strong dose of training and support. I expect successful district consult teachers in the process so they are prepared for the change. Some districts have even begun with 1:1 teacher initiatives before including students. This makes sense given that the teacher, while she doesn't need to be the expert in technology, needs to have a skill set for classroom, computer management. Even a party can turn into a riot if you don't have some norms and structure.

Our district is a long way from 1:1. First thing, we don't have the money. But even if we had the money, I don't think we have the resolution for it yet.


Just because we haven't developed our focus for technology, doesn't mean that I will give up. I see the value of it. I can picture teachers using it when it is appropriate, engaging with students to deepen and extend their learning, to find media that helps students grasp concepts, communicate their ideas in creative fashion, find their voice. Some of our teachers are already making this happen. The time will come when we share this vision.

Until that time, our focus is a blur; a mass of priorities overshadow integrating technology in a thoughtful manner. Our time is dominated by the edict of the day from the state, the latest report, testing, student management software, data storage and analysis, and teacher accountability. We don't see through the fog to understand the benefits of technology. Better yet we haven't disciplined ourselves to focus on what we can do in the mist of this mad blur.

I'm tired of trying to climb the priority ladder. The only way we will bring technology into focus (increasing resolution) is to create demonstrations of it's effectiveness. We need to find and work with the willing; understand what they are trying to accomplish in their classrooms, and demonstrate the tools we've discovered that fill their bill.