A Call To Act Now

I’m in a very frustrated state lately… mostly due to my impatience with the direction I feel education should be going vs. where it actually is. I usually feel this way after I attend summer conferences… it’s a natural after-effect of the energizing discussions that take place at those conferences. But I’m even more unsettled right now than I usually am.

In my opinion, if we are supposed to be educating our youth and preparing them for success in life, we have to step it up right now. Not after we get all our teachers and administrators caught up on the latest technologies… not even after we get 10% of them caught up. Not after we have enough money in the budgets to implement a 1:1 laptop initiative. Not after we convince all the parents that their kids are better off knowing how to be responsible digital citizens. NOW. It’s time to pull our heads out of the sand and challenge ourselves to do and be better. [Image from Adam Roberts1]

Is it fair to the students who are in our schools now that there’s such a disconnect between what they learn in the classroom and what they will need to know to be able to enter the job force? Absolutely not.

Jeff Utecht’s latest blog post asks us: Do we need another Sputnik to push us into moving along? I hope not, but it’s a great point. Should it take what many consider a national (international?) crisis to force us to make the necessary changes? Or maybe a better question is… are we already there?

We often hear the term “educational malpractice” applied during discussions pertaining to problematic issues of grades, promotion, and graduation. I’m posing these questions to YOU– is it educational malpractice to exclude digital literacy as part of the curriculum? Is blocking Web 2.0 tools from kids during the school day a necessary measure to protect them? or is it actually educational malpractice? Is ignoring the wealth of information and knowledge available on the web justified because of all the garbage on the web? Or is it educational malpractice?

As I meet with educators in my own district this upcoming school year.. as well as those educators who have invited me to their districts and institutions to present… this is something I plan to discuss at length. I would very much appreciate your comments/discussion here so that I have something with which to open the face-to-face discussions.

So the flood gates are opened… let us hear what you have to say.

1 Roberts, Adam.”Ostrich.” Spartacus007’s Photostream. 5 Jul 2005. 17 July 2008. <http://www.flickr.com/photos/spartacus007/23860934/in/set-547019/>

17 thoughts on “A Call To Act Now

  1. Michelle,
    I would have to say that digital literacy must become a standard part of each subject. From what I understand the State Board of Education in Nebraska has yet to approve the ReadingWriting standards which include standards for multiple literacies. My instinct is telling me it is not because they want to hold our students back, but because they are well aware of the fact Nebraska teachers are not even close to ready to take on that challenge.

    I am sure this is not just an issue in Nebraska, but it seems to be an especially troublesome issue in the Panhandle. ESU#13 invited Howie DiBlasi to do a presentation at the midwinter professional development session. Approximately 150 people attended the session and only a handful of us had any clue what he was talking about. Most (95+%) had never even heard of wikis, podcasting, or blogging!

    Teacher education programs are dropping the ball on this, too. I am in the master’s program at Chadron State College working on my degree in Educational Technology. Not once have I heard Web 2.0 mentioned. It is like Jeff Utecht mentioned in a blog post the other day. If they ignore it they can just pretend it isn’t going on.

    The problem with this philosophy is that “it” is here to stay. Many teachers are happy with the way things are going in their classrooms and they are blissfully unaware of the changes that are occurring in education. (Or at least of the changes that need to happen!)

    I think the answer is getting administrators to buy into technology. Once they undergo the paradigm shift it will flow down to their staff. You could have an entire school full of teachers who are willing to use technology, but their efforts are meaningless without administrative support.

    Hope this helps!

  2. I think malpractice might be too strong a word for failing to teach digital literacy. While net-savvy educators have been quick to jump on the digital divide as proof that education needs to step into the gap to bring up the less fortunate students to the level of more fortunate ones, we need to realise that digital literacy is not the literacy of the 21st century, no matter how many School 2.0 gurus we have telling us that it is.

    I generally find myself on the other side of this debate, pushing for more technology integration into the classroom and for less restrictions on what kids should be allowed to do online, but I think that what it comes down to is that gifted educators will effectively use whatever tools they have at their disposal to prepare their students for the wider world. Even if they don’t have 1:1 laptops, or they have a network locked tighter than Alcatraz, a talented teacher can evoke a basic understanding of the processes of technology, allowing their students to become proficient in finding out on their own how to use and master new technologies.

    On the flip side, lazy teachers will use any technology at their disposal to ease their own teaching burden. TV, computer lab, blogs and whatnot become babysitters in the ill-equipped teachers’ classroom. I’m not sure that these are the ambassadors for digital literacy that we want our students learning from.

    The better way is to structure a district in such a way as to enable teachers who are ready and able to use new technologies in their classroom to do so with a minimum of effort on their part, while not forcing unprepared teachers to tackle unfamiliar (and, let’s face it, sometimes unwanted) technology before they’re ready to come around to the idea on their own.

    As Ms. Still said above, the top-down answer is to have administrative buy-in. Ideally, this will meet in the middle with bottom-up desire for expansion to allow technology use to flourish in the classroom.

  3. Beth and Ian: thanks so much for contributing!

  4. Michelle, this is an excellent post. I think the last two comments took a lot of words from my mouth, as well. Many teachers I speak with that are still leery of technology say there hasn’t been enough proof that it helps students learn. Some that are exposed to technology fail to see its purpose past making PowerPoint presentations more acceptable.
    In my opinion, we need to focus on the outstanding work being done in places around the country and on the Apple Learning Interchange as our exemplars. It seems like such an uphill battle for us right now, because it seems so many schools are “toe-in” with regards to technology. “We already have a computer lab” seems good enough because so many fail to see how integral technology has become in other fields.
    I can only see this issue from a Pre-service perspective, but I know it worries me to think I may not be able to use the methods and ideas I am picking up right now. Many new(er) teachers are expecting this change, and it is a little scary to see how much resistance something so beneficial is receiving. I want to work for a school that is pro-technology and pro-advancement. We get new textbooks, so why shouldn’t we invest in new technology as the old becomes useless and outdated. Make it happen; it is for our students and their preparation for the next level.

  5. Michelle- It is absolutely ‘educational malpractice.’ What I keep coming back to is the digital divide. I work with at-risk kids and most of them do not come into my classes with any of the tools we talk about on a daily basis, save text messaging and cell phone efficiency.

    The longer that we take to seamlessly integrate the world’s tools into all of our classes, the further we divide the haves from the have nots. I feel like the education system is literally throwing students down into a gaping canyon that they will spend years trying to get out of, if ever.

  6. “Or maybe a better question is… are we already there?” Yes.
    How many wasted learners will pass through so called 21st century learning institutions not having fulfilled their potential?
    An age old conundrum, but as exponential digital change occurs, the answer to my question may also be exponential. Sad, absolutely, Criminal? the first class action will test it, and yes the word “malpractice” is apt.

  7. Jarred: thank you for commenting. I was hoping to find some pre-service perspective! I hope that you find work in a district that doesn’t restrict all the great things you can bring, even if you are new!

    Cory and Tony: I find it interesting that you both jumped on ‘yes, it is malpractice’ immediately. I feel this way, too and sometimes feel like I’m the only one who does.

    Beth and Ian: I absolutely see your points as well, and I’m definitely working on administrators this year!

    Thanks to you all… still hoping for more comments so that I can share with my district.

  8. Maybe Jarred is better to answer this question (or others), but how much work is being done at the university level as far as how to integrate technology into education? I realize the districts have some blame, don’t get me wrong. But we talk about how pre-service teachers know so much about technology…great, I know a lot about baseball but can’t play it worth a darn. Are there integration classes being taught? Or is technology a focus during content area classes?
    I just thought I’d bring this point up so I could contribute something different to the discussion.

  9. @ Josh – I think the answer is not much. I’m 6 years out of my pre-service and had only one tech class and that was learning browsers, word processing, and presentation tools like PPT.

    Im half way done with a Masters in Education Technology at college amongst the leaders in that field and my latest instructor asked me what Web 2.0 and Creative Commons were after my first discussion post.

    They are a huge part of this broken system and until we get professors teaching these tools the system will stay broken.

  10. You can’t force a revolution… this has to happen in its own time, and the more those of us who want it to happen tell those behind us how slow they are, the less they’ll want to join us.

  11. @cory I am about the same amount of time out of pre-service and didn’t have my first “tech” class until grad school. I took a grad class from my alma mater this summer and the professor had never used or heard of a wiki. He wanted us to do our assignment with Dreamweaver, which is great, but not for busy teachers when wikis are so available..and free!

  12. Josh/Cory: agreed. I believe there are SOME universities that are doing a great job not only preparing new educators, but also practicing the same “digital learning” within their own walls. On the other side of that, though, I believe the majority of colleges/universities are still old-school. And no one is forcing them to change. Yet. My grad experiences have been similar to yours.

    Ian: Agreed. WE cannot force the change, because we technically don’t have a stake in the outcome. However, our stakeholders (the students) are going to begin looking elsewhere for their education. Eventually– I’m thinking just a few years out– we’ll begin losing our constituents to schools (both private and public) who have learned to do it better. When that happens, change will be inevitable.

  13. As I read your post and comments, one word comes to mind: Model.

    We don’t model or practice what we preach. Now there are exceptions and if you are reading this, you are probably one of them. Let’s use and encourage the tools and type of teaching that needs to happen. I was very discouraged at NECC by the types of presentations that didn’t model the point they were trying to get across. I can say there was only one session I went to that used everything they were talking about and that was the K12 Online Conference session that focused on self-directed learning.

    Preaching to the choir? Maybe…

  14. Whether you are preaching to the choir or not, we all need to take a look in the mirror to make sure we are modeling. I definitely include myself in this. I’ve restructured some of the things I do for the upcoming year so I do model what I’m doing. I didn’t do that last year, but I can’t use the “new guy” excuse much longer. Yes, it will meet with resistance…but I’m also to the point where, if you don’t like it, get off the boat. I’ll find someone else who is willing to step up.
    You are all invited to stay on the boat, by the way. I like you all.

  15. Jason: AMEN. I’ve thought the exact same thing. And since I am often on both sides of the audience, I try to practice what I preach. However, there are occasions where the venue doesn’t make it possible. For example, I’d much rather share information with a small group–everyone logged into a wiki, for example– at a conference than do a “stand and deliver,” but that’s difficult to accomplish with even a group of 75. For conferences, I would like to see a reformatting of all sessions that allow for maximum participation and involvement. In Prof Dev in the district, I’m really trying to move us in the independent learner direction. We’ll see.

    Josh: thanks. We like you, too! 🙂

  16. This is a great discussion. I saw Will Richardson @ a conference and he said something that really stuck with me: We shouldn’t view ourselves as teachers of information, but rather connectors of information. He linked it to web 2.0 technologies and working with our students. Just as any of us teachers can teach a given student a concept, so might someone else in another state or country via web 2.0 tools. – be that another teacher, industry professional, or 13 year old student.

    I think the point is we can all learn from eachother, and utilizing web 2.0 tools is truly 21st century learning.

    There is a better chance to extend learning beyond the classroom using these technologies. I will be the first one to say that we can’t, heck we don’t even have a single Mac in my high school. So I have been trying to find ways around it. I just seems that if we were to try and open up our student capabilities and server access, admin would shut it down quick.

    Incorporating MySpace, Wikipedia, Voicethread, Twitter, igoogle and using Wikis, Skype, Blogs and creating webcasts and podcasts needs to happen more. i think unfortunately it is up to the teacher to do it. As stated in an earlier response, admin just pretends not acknowledge it because they don’t know it. Not sure how to correct it.

  17. Jeremy: all good points… I know teachers who would love to use those tools, but they are blocked by their school districts. How do teachers who WANT to use these tools persuade their districts that LEARNING can definitely happen? Unfortunately, many educators who are the decision-makers for their districts think of Web 2.0 tools as “social” tools only. Personally, I think tools that are strictly social are learning opportunities also… but I wouldn’t call every Web 2.0 tool strictly social anyway. That’s another post, right?
    Thanks for the comment… I hope you are able to be a voice in your school! I used to teach down the road from you, and I know your constituency.

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