A Vision: one-to-world

This post was inspired by Alan November’s February 2013 article: Why Schools Must Move Beyond One-to-One Computing  (I encourage you to read it, then come back for my 2 cents.)

My 2 cents… What we have seen in the past 15 years or so is a move from one ‘tech fad’ to another with, in some cases, little focus on the real need: best first instruction that offers multiple modes of learning for all students to be successful. At some point we all probably have been guilty of focusing on the wrong things, especially when the toys are sometimes just too cool to ignore. The problem, as Alan points out, is

Adding a digital device to the classroom without a fundamental change in the culture of teaching and learning will not lead to significant improvement.

Let’s start with a trip down memory lane….

I started teaching in public schools in 1997 after working in a number of non-for-profit organizations. Since arriving in education the available technology has definitely changed. At my first job we had a lab of Apple 2es that you could sign up to use. Unfortunately for most of the students these were put in without any professional development for the teachers  so most didn’t understand what to do with them except play  ‘educational games’, or simply chose to not use them. (Great for me and my students since we were able to go in often.) As the computers advanced the programs became more advanced as well. In some cases though drill/kill computer games replaced drill/kill worksheets.  More engaging for students, sure… more educationally promising, not so sure…

Enter the LCD Projector and the ability for teachers and students to now project their presentations. I actually won an award in 1999 from NYSCATE for my ‘Biographies’ unit where I had my students research and create a ‘biography’ PowerPoint presentation on their famous person to share with other fourth grade students. A simple application, but at this point I was on my way to realizing the potential of project-based learning using technology. The award included an LCD projector that I used in my classroom and shared with the building for those who wanted to sign it out. (Wow, how far we have come since then.)

Luckily for me the year after winning this award offered me many opportunities to learn how to truly integrate technology into my existing student-centered classroom. I was offered an opportunity to become involved in a ground breaking mentorship program where a group of teachers in the region were trained on how to infuse technology into learning. We spent Saturdays learning software programs like Inspiration, and a new online interface where we could engage with our mentees in a virtual online mentoring program.  Looking back it was 1999 and there truly wasn’t too many other programs like this. The best part of this program was that it had its priorities right: Learning FIRST, Technology second. But, let’s not forget my own educational pedagogy was already centered on inquiry, project-based learning. To me technology was a natural addition into my learning environment.

Enter SMARTBoards, and other interactive Whiteboards. The intention of course was to get students up and moving, interacting with the technology. Certainly it does have potential, and I have seen some great interactive lessons but don’t forget it is for only one (or in some cases two) people at a time to be interactive with the board.  It also can turn into a glorified tool for the ‘sage on the stage’ if again there isn’t a, ‘fundamental change in the culture of teaching and learning.’

Enter netbooks, ultrabooks, tablets and other mobile devices. Many school districts have jumped into the 1:1 fray, some being successful, but many not so much.  The missing component again is the vision. Flooding schools and students with devices won’t change the learning culture. Before moving to a 1:1 program schools need to think through the process and needs of the stakeholders. More importantly, as Alan points out, they need to have a vision and start looking at the possibilities from a ‘1 to world’ perspective.  Thinking of it as a ‘1 to world’ focuses on the global component of learning or as Alan says:

This simple, one-word change takes us beyond the focus on the boxes and wires and alludes to why we are making the investment in the first place. The planning considerations now evolve from questions about technical capacity to a vision of limitless opportunities for learning.

So, once again it boils down to a vision.  If a district, building, administrator, or educator doesn’t have a vision how can they see results and truly affect change? I’ve heard people say they don’t have time to articulate a vision. I say that you can’t afford not to take the time. Without a vision and follow through districts will continue to throw money into technology without seeing any improvement in learning.

Please Know:  I am not against technology, rather I’m truly excited about the possibilities.  I just don’t want us to lose sight of what the ultimate goal is: learning and success for all students.

What it takes to be an innovative district…

I just spent the last several weeks reviewing many applications for the Sylvia Charp Award for District Innovation in Technology (awarded by ISTE and THE Journal).  This was the first time I volunteered to be a judge and found it very rewarding.  I read about great innovative projects and amazing districts from around the world.  After I did my first read through I went back to look again at the districts I rated in the top 8 points.  Besides doing a great job of meeting the Essential Conditions: Necessary Conditions to Effectively Leverage Technology for Learning, and fulfilling the criteria in the judging rubric, I noticed the following three big  components  about the districts I ranked in the top five.

  1. Student learning is at the center of what they do, the technology enhances it but is not the primary focus. They truly have adopted and believe in the power of ISTE NETS for Students.
  2. Technology is purposeful: not a separate curriculum, but is embedded into the content curriculum.
  3. The district has a vision that expands and develops as the years pass. Their initiatives build on each other, rather than just being ‘passing fads’.  These districts also understand that it takes more than just one leader to develop and evaluate their vision and the action plan that results from the vision.  They have all stakeholders involved in developing and accomplishing the vision.

If you aren’t a member of ISTE, consider joining.  If you are a member, consider volunteering.