A quest for learning, unlearning and relearning…

Archive for the ‘Change’

Staying Relevant in a Climate of Obsolescence

Scott McLeod‘s post from a year ago, titled Struggling with educators’ lack of technology fluency came back to life for me when a new comment was left today (the beauty of comment subscription/notification). In it, he laments the lack of technology literacy often found in educators, even at the most basic of levels.

Today, Patricia commented:

Yes…and yes.

As a young teacher, I can feel your frustration.

And I think I have an answer to, “Why are so many teachers technologically inept?”

Three words: lack. of. training.

I just graduated from teacher’s college. Was I trained to use a SMARTboard? No. Was I introduced to kidblogs? No. Was I shown how to use ipads in the classroom? Again, no.

I learned all these things on my own, like many of the earlier commenters. I went to my practicum school early every day to tinker with technology.

In short…

We teachers are left alone to learn technology, like inmates set adrift on the raging sea on our way to a uninhabited island.


This is indeed a serious problem – and likely an all-too-common one in schools of education. Of course, today we live in a highly digital and globally connected landscape that lets just about anyone learn just about anything, as “ml” shares in the comment that precedes Patricia’s. So, what are some of the key variables that differentiate “ml” and Patricia from others? Lack of interest? Lack of passion? Lack of curiosity? Lack of even the most basic skills to understand the potential of the Internet for exploring, connecting and learning?

For students in schools of education who are not learning how to leverage new tools and new learning spaces… for learning, can they any longer just raise their hands in despair or do they now have some responsibility for learning this along the way? For sure, their programs in some cases are failing them in this regard. On paper, they are able to show that they are “integrating technology” across all programs and content areas, but from experience I know that this is often a sham. It’s just not happening. Other schools of education may offer a single technology course for all educators, packing far too much into a single semester and being forced to look at technology rather generally rather than specific to individual areas of specialization. In addition, their notion of “technology integration” is using Moodle or Blackboard. The reality is that for many instructors and professors of education, they too have not been paying attention to how the interplay between culture and learning has been shifting. They often see their specialty as it existed years ago. Their bag of tricks hasn’t grown much in the last decade or two. They are not active in this highly digital and global learning landscape at all. So, yes – they are ill-equipped to help their “Patricias” – the next generation of teachers.

In as much as this can no longer be an excuse for new teachers and experienced teachers alike, it can no longer be an excuse, it can no longer be acceptable – for those charged with preparing teachers today. In K-12, many would say that this is in part a leadership issue – that administrators need to both model and facilitate such growth in their staff. The same can be said in higher education. When deans and department chairs are as technologically illiterate as the rest, leadership in this area falters.

I feel bad for all of the “Patricias” out there. I teach many of them in a single education technology dedicated course. They need more. They need rich technology-infused experiences in the context of their content area courses. All of them. Some will be like “ml” and Patricia who take the bull by the horns and leverage the great potential of the connected web to fill in

the gaps and learn what they need. Others simply continue on cruise control, recognizing that they need more, yet seem unwilling and/or unable to do much about it. They themselves still have the old mindset that “if someone doesn’t teach me, I can’t learn it”. I think these two types of in-service teachers exist in schools today as well.

If you ask me, higher [teacher] education is still not being disrupted enough.

The More Things Change…

Change next exitAs I watched this new Apple commercial the other day, it struck me just how much knowledge creating, collaborating and sharing tools have changed over the years, with formal schooling contexts being one of the slowest contexts to exhibit such change.

  • We’ll never stop sharing our memories… but must they always be shared in those ugly black and white marbled notebooks that are requested year after year… and are thrown away once the year is over?
  • We’ll never stop getting lost in a good book… but must that dog eared book come out of those cheesy plastic bins on the shelf in the classroom?
  • We’ll still go to meetings, but must they be limited to physical space and a single, standardized agenda for all?
  • We’ll still make movies… well, for many kids, they’re still waiting to unleash their creativity and great ideas with this medium
  • And the final statement from this commercial: “And we’ll still learn new things”… yes, kids are always learning new things, but must their learning be limited to an inflexible agenda, limited largely by the resources in the classroom, limited by an “everybody must be on the same page” approach, limited by the sole “expert” standing at the front of the classroom, limited by a rigid and scripted curriculum, limited by preparing for a ridiculous number of local, state, and national standardized assessments, limited by scare resources, or even limited by a standardized and uniform 1:1 device implementation…

The commercial concludes by the statement,

…but how we do all this will never be the same.”


Just ask a student about going back to school in the fall and see what he/she is most looking forward to. Dollars to donuts the reply will be lunch, recess, band/orchestra/chorus, art, phys. ed., drama, clubs, field trips … if those things aren’t already stripped from the school experience to make more time and free up more resources for…

More of the same.

Watch the commercial. The platform doesn’t have to be, and shouldn’t be limited by or to,  the iPad. But will students’ learning at school this fall be any different (and more meaningful, relevant, powerful…) than it was from the last? From 5 years ago? From 10? From 20? What will you do to make sure that it is? Don’t let your classroom live and breathe the concluding part of this post’s title,

The more things change,_______________.”


Are You Living in Reality or Merely Tolerating it?

In the latest issue (v. 26, #4) of the Journal of Digital Learning in Teacher Education (JDLTE), this article title caught my eye: One-to-One Computing in Teacher Education: Faculty Concerns and Implications for Teacher Educators. The abstract reads, “This study examines initial faculty concerns during implementation of a one-to-one laptop teacher education pilot program” in hopes of “uncovering any hidden issues that might deter faculty from embracing the innovation.”

However, from the very beginning, it seems to me that the rationale is flawed. The introduction reads, “…with the influx of one-to-one laptop programs and the use of mobile laptop carts in K-12 schools and classrooms, there is an increasing need to better prepare teacher candidates for teaching in these technology-rich environments.”

I fully support the notion of preparing teachers to be competent and knowledgeable users of instructional technologies, but to me, that goal is secondary to helping shape teachers who are passionate learners – people who learn through creating, exploring,  discussing, sharing, thinking, collaborating, connecting… who are curious and who are able to solve their own problems and pursue theoretical ideas because they are are relevant, important, and personally meaningful. It is on top of this context that educational technologies make sense. Too often, higher education experiences are not of this type.

Credit: DavidDMuir

Credit: DavidDMuir

The long hours of sitting through thousands of PowerPoint slides (and yes, transparencies) that repeat the thousands of pages of textbook reading that students may or may not have read, uploading documents to Blackboard, the practicum experiences that seem so far removed from these classroom lecture experiences, the isolation that students so often feel when in those practicum experiences, …

Today as I write this post and watch the ISTE 2010 Panel, Shawn Koh, a student from Singapore, said technology is just an enabler. He also states that he wished he would have learned how to learn. He wanted to learn things that were relevant and current and understand how to harness new tools and connections for doing so (beyond the standard Wikipedia). I think that is distinctly different from learning how to succeed at/in school.

A recent report suggests that “newer teachers aren’t any more likely to use technology in their lessons than veteran teachers, and a lack of access to technology does not appear to be the main reason why teachers do not use it.” Don Knezek suggests that there could be two reasons for this: Either they are coming out of teacher preparation programs unprepared to integrate technology effectively, or they’re entering a school environment where they’re not encouraged to do so.

Many teacher education programs have added a single education technology course to better prepare their students, as this article notes. Often, this course is an introduction to various technologies and how to use them and is far removed from issues of teaching/learning. Students learn how to use a variety of tools but often never experience the pleasures and engagement that results from applying those tools for their own learning purposes – whether simply personal or professional. In the end, at best we have been creating new teachers who know how to use new tools to engage in traditional forms of learning (ie. use an interactive whiteboard to deliver a lecture). In programs where efforts have been made to integrate technology across methods courses rather than a stand-alone technology course, results can be quite varied, as many faculty have little experience learning with current technologies and even less experience in using these technologies for teaching in their content areas.

When the focus remains on “integrating technology”, one’s practice or pedagogy is rarely challenged (see prior post), yet this article states that “we must also consider that along with new technologies often comes new pedagogy”. This “new pedagogy” that is referred to is actually quite old pedagogy stemming from the progressives and constructivists of the likes of John Dewey, Jean Piaget, Jerome Bruner, and others.

Credit: luc legay

Credit: luc legay

So, the assumption that “teacher candidates often teach the way they were taught, the use of laptop computers in teacher education programs allows for teacher candidates to more fully experience technology integration that can be naturally transferred to inservice teaching” is built upon the notion of fitting powerful new technologies into preexisting frameworks.

This study examines the concerns of faculty and staff as they implement a 1:1 laptop initiative with a cohort of 29 teacher education students. The problem as I see it that many of the instructional faculty do not use technology to a high degree to enhance and further their own learning, so they struggled with was to “integrate” them into traditional higher education contexts with their own students. One should not be surprised by this, and the authors of this study state that this “led to the conclusion that both tenured and non-tenured faculty concerns were dependent on their comfort with technology personally and in teacher education”.

As we talk about 21st century skills or learning dispositions or new literacies, what role are these laptops playing in the nurturing of these skills? If our teacher education students are not experiencing these things every day in all of their coursework, how will they be competent in providing the same for their own students? Sure, they may be skilled at operating their laptops and using software, but is that enough?

This study describes some of the faculty participants as not tech savvy and one not even comfortable with e-mail communication. How is it possible for such learning mentors to provide the types of new learning contexts and experiences that our students so desperately need?

Thankfully, this study finds that it is imperative “to provide opportunities for faculty to discuss the technology innovation to deal with any misconceptions” they might have and identify those who “are not ready to be part of the technology innovation”. But I fear that they are still examining the technology and not the learning climate and pedagogy. Is technology infusion even an innovation at all when divorced from systems/learning innovation?

Education at all levels has historically been consumed with students primarily as consumers of knowledge and teachers as authoritative providers of that knowledge. 1:1 initiatives can either play into that model or support a different approach to knowledge and model of learning. The higher education classroom is no different. A radical transformation is required at all levels. If we are simply “teaching technology” because kids are using it and schools want teachers who know how to use it, we are sorely missing the mark. If we want new teachers who are competent and able to provide learning opportunities that are powerful, relevant and supported by amazing new tools and possibilities, then they need to be immersed in this as part of their own preparation.

In his blog post titled “Dear Students: Don’t Let College Unplug Your Future“, Gideon Burton writes,

It’s [computer infrastructure] not there to bring the pursuit of knowledge (teaching) onto the same plane as The Pursuit of Knowledge (big people research). No, your college wants to dazzle you with spiffy computer labs and brag it up that the Internet is piped into the dorm rooms, but the whole structure of college works against the best educational uses of the web no matter how wired the buildings are. So much oversight and review has been worked into the hierarchy and politics of higher education that it has made itself incapable of valuing or accommodating the very media and methods that could accelerate your learning.”

The previously mentioned study concludes with this statement:

…most teachers do not believe their pre-service education programs prepared them well to integrate technology into their classrooms or teach 21st-century skills.”

So, what is the technology enabling for our new teachers? Something new, meaningful, exciting, empowering, powerful, and passion-based, the traditional delivery of knowledge, or… nothing it all? There is much work to be done.



The Enemy Within

I stumbled across the video below a few weeks ago and it has continued to replay in my mind. The topic is an anti-creativity checklist – things to ensure that creativity gets stifled and change become less than innovative. These things are all too familiar to me as I am they are with you, both personally and within organizations. I even see many of these things in the students that I teach, as they have become part of our cultural fabric, especially within education circles.

#5 in the list is particularly problematic in education and is what is driving our current initiatives for student/teacher performance, competition, teacher evaluation & tenure, high-stakes assessment, and the resulting stress and death of creativity within the school walls.

So, I share these with you in the hopes that they challenge you, both personally, as well as in relation to your position as an educator, leader, administrator, board member, or any other circle of influence. My one recommendation is to surround yourself with folks who don’t subscribe to the ideas in this checklist. Often they can be found in the faculty lounge or staff room. In the pas this has been very limiting, but with the ability to make innumerable virtual connections with creatives and people of influence within your discipline (via Twitter, blogs, Ning and other social networks, LinkedIn, live webcasts, virtual conferences, Skype, …), this should no longer be an issue. Of course, we know it is for many.

For additional responses to this initial idea, read the comments on the author’s original post.

  1. Play it safe
  2. Know your limitations
  3. Remind yourself it’s just a job.
  4. Show you’re the smartest guy in the room. Let skepticism rule.
  5. Be the tough guy. Demand to see the data.
  6. Respect history. Always give the past the benefit of the doubt.
  7. Crush early stage ideas. Stop the madness before it can get started.
  8. Use experience as a weapon. Been there, done that.
  9. Keep your eyes closed. Your mind, too.
  10. Assume there is no problem.
  11. Underestimate your customers [...students - my addition].
  12. Be suspicious of “the creatives” in your organization.
  13. When all else fails, act like a grown-up.

Does Schooliness Helps Us Become Learners?

Having recently returned from Educon2.2 in Philadelphia, there is a great deal swirling around in my mind. It was a fantastic opportunity to sit and talk with and listen to passionate educators and incredible students at SLA (Science Leadership Academy). It is extremely rewarding to spend time in such a climate of learning, questioning, and meaningful discussion. Educational Leadership recently published a short piece described this way:

Educational Leadership recently sat down with high school students at the Howard Gardner School in Alexandria, Virginia, to ask them, What should teachers know about students to help them learn? Here are some of the students’ comments.

I must say, there is a great deal in common with much of what is expressed by these students and the students at SLA. I took part in the Educon conversation, Redefining “Schooly” Texts, but for me it was much more about redefining “schooly” or “schooliness”. Clay Burell has a great post (here, too) on his conceptualization of “schooliness” and writes,

Twelve years of schooliness seems to have beaten the desire to learn – the pleasure of learning – completely out of most seniors.

I didn’t see any of that in the SLA students that shared their work so passionately in this conversation. Chris Lehmann, the principal of SLA, really understands this.

The Educational Leadership piece has some important student commentary to consider. Below are some audio bytes included in this piece as well. Are we listening? How are you helping combat “schooliness”? Please share.