Sunday, June 12, 2011

The Lost Generation

Ten Years Ago, we were introduced to the idea of Digital Immigrants and Digital Natives.  We were told that people who were born before 1990 were Digital Immigrants, because most of their education will have taken place before the ubiquitous use of technology in our lives.  Marc Prensky, the author of the paper, stated that teachers, who were Digital Immigrants, needed to change their instructional strategies to reach the student they were now teaching who are Digital Natives.  While on the surface, this looks like a logical explanation to a problem, but in reality it has had the opposite effect on our educational system over the past ten years.  Marc Prensky's premise has given an entire generation of educators an excuse to not keep up with the current trends in their profession and allow the way we to educate children to remain unchanged since the early 1900's assembly line brought to popularity by Henry Ford's automobile factories.  While I know it was not Marc Prensky's intent to create a system where we perpetuate the past, it has in effect created a Lost Generation of Educators, where they have used the label of "Digital Immigrants" as an excuse for not being able to learn the necessary Educational Technology skills requisite to teach the students of the 21st Century.

I have been involved in Educational Technology for the past 20 years of my professional life as an educator. I have seen hundreds of thousands of dollars spent on educational technology during this time, some of it very well spent, but unfortunately much of it spent in ways that do not improve teacher's professional practice or student achievement. There are a variety of reasons we can analyze in an attempt to answer why we haven't been more successful with Educational Technology initiatives, but in reality it comes down to a few very simple premises.

First, there have been a lack of professional standards put in place for teachers to meet.  The first ISTE NETS standards were published in 2000, but had little or no traction in schools or districts.  We can look  at why teachers did not adopt the ISTE NETS standards, but in reality it comes down to the simple fact that teachers, like employees in all other businesses, will only do what they are evaluated on.  Since these standards were not included in a teacher's evaluation, they did not feel the need to abide by them.  In most cases, we need only to look at NCLB and the conditions the Federal Government placed on schools with high-stakes testing to understand why districts put the ISTE NETS standards lower on the list of instructional priorities.  ISTE revised their NETS-T standards in 2008, updating and making the standards more specific.  We are seeing some adoption of these standards in isolated schools in districts, but that is more dependent on school or district leadership. This leads to the second premise...

At the present time, we do not have enough administrators who can adequately assess whether teachers are successfully integrating technology into the educational process.  This was one of my primary motivations for becoming an administrator.  In California, there is a very specific piece of the "California Standards for the Teaching Profession" (CSTP) that states: "Using materials, resources, and technologies to make subject matter accessible to students." I watched year after year administrators mark "has met" on teacher evaluations for this Key Element when all they had done relative to technology was to post their syllabus on line.  Administrators didn't have any requirements for their own professional practice until there were some standards established by ISTE in 2009.  Even with the establishment of standards for Administrators, there has been no rush by most to work towards attaining these standards.  There are some administrators who will say quite confidently that, "the younger teachers coming in have grown up with technology and don't need professional development or to be evaluated on its use." I will tell you very simply that the teachers coming into the system know how to use technology for their own personal use, but have no idea how to integrate technology into instructional practice.

The last issue that needs to be addressed is the "squeeze factor."  The squeeze factor is that the students are integrating new technologies into their academic lives, but that the teachers are unfamiliar with these tools and either completely ban or severely regulate their use.  There are a variety of reasons that can be identified as to why teachers and schools are doing this, but you can boil all of them down to "the fear of the unknown." There are many teachers who don't know what these tools can do and how their use will effect the curriculum, so they will "squeeze" them out of practice.  Students will continue to "squeeze" them back in with some accepting teachers, but there has been no wide scale adoption of personal technologies in schools.  Think of the fact that, given the current rate of "smart phone" penetration, close to 90% of high school students have a device that they can use to access the libraries of the world and access rich educationally appropriate content with them everyday.  Students are more likely to have their "smart phone"with them, than they are to have remembered to bring their text book that day.  (Pew Internet and Life Project)

  These technologies allow students to complete the assignments that teachers have used over the last 100 years in a fraction of the time. A quick example would be asking students to look up 30 vocabulary words in the dictionary, this would be a task that would take students a decent amount of time using a hard bound dictionary.  Using a smart phone, most students would complete writing out the definitions of 30 vocabulary words in 1/3 the time or less.  So, really what does this mean?  Teachers, you could recover tons of instructional time and teach more... yes, MORE!  

The last point to make here is to ask the question of why?   Why won't teachers embrace the use of these technologies?  Why won't teachers allow students meet the course requirements in new and different ways using technology?  Why have students had the tools they use to access all types of media and information outside of school taken away from them as soon as they walk on campus?  Fear of the unknown.  Plain and simple...  Anything that takes away from the teacher being the person who possesses the information in that particular academic discipline is going to be met with resistance.

The answer is that we can't re-form education, we need to create a new educational model. Schools don't need an incremental upgrade, what they need is a Forklift Upgrade.  We need administrators who are willing to move forward and trust some educators, who are actually doing what needs to be done. The key to all of this is trust.  Those schools and districts who have trust and work collaboratively with administrators, teachers, students and the community will reap the greatest benefits in the years to come.

As always, your comments are welcome.

Saturday, June 11, 2011

Transferring the Model Downward

While many college students have had the opportunity to take online classes, those opportunities have been very limited for high school students. Most school districts have looked for ways to make sure the education students receive in these courses meets their standards.  This is something that is going to happen, the only questions we need to answer is when and how?  Take a look at this infographic to see where online education can make additional inroads into the high school arena.

How the Internet is Revolutionizing Education