I’m teaching an online course this summer for budding school administrators. They’ve been discussing issues related to using “Web 2.0” kinds of technologies for the past two weeks and this week, I took a moment to summarize some of the themes and issues that emerged. I thought it might be of interest to a wider audience, so here’s the posting with some changes to protect the innocent.
After reading your blog entries and Web 2.0 papers and listening to your elevator speeches, I was struck by several ideas that seemed to cut across all the conversations we had last week. The three themes are lack of time for learning and implementing technology; inadequate, unequal funding for education; and a disconnect between educational goals and assessment. I think the first two are perennial problems in education while the third is a contemporary issue.
There is never enough time in school and yet every year more stuff gets added and nothing gets taken away. Is it any wonder that teachers seem reluctant to add yet more things to their classrooms? Especially when adding technology can bring additional challenges in terms of classroom management and technical glitches. Whenever I hear someone talking about how China or Japan has yet again “beaten” our kids on some international test, I always take a moment to remind them that teachers in those countries only teach half the day with the other half reserved for planning and professional development. Can you imagine? It would seem like a paradise to US teachers who have just grown used to the idea that they do that kind of work outside of the school day, often for no additional pay. So much about school needs to be rethought but the agrarian calendar under which we now labor is looking more and more outdated when web-based resources offer opportunities for teaching and learning all the time.
Inadequate, unequal funding has always been a problem. Most of you seemed to think that your school district was doing better in this area in terms of commitment to technology funding. But as someone pointed out, supporting technology funding in a time when teachers are losing their jobs gets difficult especially since there seems to be a shared sense that many teachers aren’t using the available technology to its maximum capabilities (or even at all!). In your elevator speeches, several of you questioned how the state can help with this…certainly, Virginia’s online testing initiative has been one way to get hardware into schools that might not otherwise be able to afford it. Virginia has been at the forefront of educational technology planning, something I wrote about in the VSTE Journal several years ago. I analyzed the trends seen in the planning since it began in the 1980s.
Finally, many of you pointed out the disconnect between notions of 21st century skills and our state assessment program. In a comment to one of your papers, I traced the development of content-based assessment to A Nation At Risk, the landmark report that came out in 1982. The report was mostly concerned with what kids didn’t KNOW, and now 30 years later, we have based our system on teaching and testing content. Yet, business and educational leaders are suggesting that process skills are lacking. Yes, students might know facts, but they seem unable to problem solve or think creatively and in a world in which assembly line jobs are getting scarce, being able to think on your feet is essential. Our students are leaving the classroom for a world that is much different in terms of working. Since this is getting long, I’ll end with a video clip…this is from True Stories, David Byrne’s film about a fictional Texas town. About two minutes into the clip, the owner of the town’s big business explains his vision of the future. He ends with a pretty profound comment about the nature of work and play in the future. It makes me think…am I working or playing right now?