Sunday, March 9, 2008

Which Way Is It?

I'm in a kind of strange position when it comes to technology. Most of my job involves acting as an evangelist for the kinds of change that technology can bring. My role is to promote the promise of technology and to help with its implementation in any way possible, certainly a role I embrace. And yet any teacher who has been in a classroom for more than a few years quickly learns that too much technology is not teacher-driven, but rather foisted upon us by those with other agendas. TV's were supposed to change learning, so were projectors and film clips. B.F. Skinner even promised teaching machines back in the 50's. I have seen the reality that technology can distract teachers from real learning ("PowerPointlessness"), that it sometimes only promotes commercial interests over educational (closed-circuit TV's paid for by Coke, free computers from Apple and others), and that it often seems to be enhancing inequities among schools and students instead of diminishing them.
The technologies that are seen likely to be implemented in the near-term, such as grassroots video and collaborative technologies, clearly demonstrate this dichotomy of possibilities. On the one hand, the power of video and other collaborative technologies is indisputable in reaching out to people and connecting them in new and powerful ways. Yet I've seen too many times where this ability is its own rationale, that the assumption becomes because we can do this, that we must do this. Too many times in my career, I've seen teachers scared into embracing technologies not because they need them or understand how they can enhance learning, but because they fear the scrutiny of not being on board with the newest thing. Heaven forbid that you are the only teacher in your grade who hasn't published a podcast. My somewhat different position on that is, you should understand the technology well enough to use it when it does something that you could not do otherwise, or as well. But that is not the pressure placed on teachers. Instead, the pressure to embrace the "latest thing" comes from outside the boundaries of what is educationally appropriate, and that (any veteran teacher will tell you) just drives us nuts.
And then, further down the road, teachers hear of technologies such as "collective intelligence" (wikis, etc.) and "social operating systems" and with a panic realize, oh my, we better get on board with this before some parent, administrator or school board member sees us as the only one NOT using this technology! From my work inside the classroom, working with teachers on how to embrace and exploit technology, I have tried to develop a sense of not cynicism (which too many colleagues do embrace), but rather a professional sense of judgment about which technologies should be used, and how they enhance learning. I worry that the unexamined embrace of technology will lead to situations that do not help teachers, students and learning. For example, in the article, Which Technologies Will Shape Education in 2008, there is a quote about weaving the connections and clues of our lives together, "and use them to organize our work and our thinking around the people we know." That notion clashes (mashes?) with another critique I read recently about social networking, that what is happening is that it is connecting people only with people who think like they do, which is most definitely NOT what the goal of teaching is about.
I feel that the more fully I can help to empower teachers to make their own professional judgment about the use of potentially useful technologies, the more that the embrace of those technologies will be truly deep and meaningful, not merely public relations.


Karen Kliegman said...

Well said! Your response provokes a lot of thought. We do not and should not embrace every new technology without exploring the educational usefulness first. Personally, I have not witnessed teachers who feel 'pressured' to use new technologies. I have observed teachers, however, who take the cautious route; allowing others to try it first and then deciding if they want to jump in. Smartboards would be a perfect example of that. I think in Herricks we are lucky that that kind of pressure is not put on teachers - at least, I haven't witnessed it. There are those who want to jump in head first, and they are the beta testers for others. I think that it is possible for some teachers to feel pressured, however, when those that are utilizing newer technologies are more about making sure everyone (especially the administrators) "looks at me" -- thereby making it a competitve thing. At the same time, I don't think that educators can ignore the change that is happening with the Internet - to an interactive, read/write tool. In so many ways it is opening doors that previously were closed - for example, sharing a wiki with another class on the other side of the world. As far as social networks, I don't know that I agree with that critique about it only exposing you to others like you. The cool thing about social networking is that it allows you to tap into the knowledge and questions of other educators - allowing this very interesting exchange of ideas -- doesn't mean they think the same as you! On the contrary, what they have to say is usually something you didn't know! And they allow you to form partnerships with all kinds of educators that you never could have met previously.
Didn't mean to be so long-winded!

Adam Dugger said...

Very interesting entry Frank! While I am feel totally excited, engaged and motivated by new technololgy resources on the digitally pedagogical horizon, I most often struggle with where it fits. I have blogged about this before, but using technology simply for the sake of using technology (or the "look at me" factor is almost as useless as not using it at all.

Teachers should be empowered to investigate and make intelligent choices as to what resources we opt to use to best compliment our teaching styles, student population and curriculum areas.