Monday, August 25, 2008

The first day of school

I stumbled upon (technically, delicioused upon) the blog of Scott McLeod over the weekend. Being new to the area, I haven't met Scott before, but I love his first day of school checklist. He is absolutely right in his analysis.

You roll into a new school on the first day (my former schools included) to see the new labs set up or the new equipment purchased, but spend a week in the classroom, and you see not a lot changes. I've been witness to this on many levels.

However, Scott's list brings to mind the question: how do we fix the problem? It is perhaps the mentality of many that the equipment in schools is there, it is the technophobic teachers that screw everything up. Or even more popular, it is the school leaders, the principals who are screwing everything up. Throw the misuse of educational technology onto the pile that includes the school lunch menu, an over-emphasis on sports, the cheeky attitude of today's youth, and cyber-bullying. I am guilty of a lot.

But, this hasn't been my experience. It isn't necessarily a lack of vision and leadership from the principals. I was the Director of Technology at a 3A district (=1400 students) that had one person devoted to technology. One. For coordinating, purchasing, professional development, curriculum, vision, server maintenance, database maintenance, e-rate, Project EASIER, technical repairs, you name it. One. And, that person taught 2 classes a day.

From reading this, you could say the superintendent or board was short-sighted. On the contrary, they were very supportive and saw the importance of technology in their children's future. But when you have to cut 2-3 teaching positions a year at a school of 120 teachers due to a 4% allowable growth, how can you justify more salary for technology?

I still feel we were very effective. We did many innovative technology projects that gained both local and nation-wide attention. It was due primarily to the willingness of teachers to try something they were not comfortable with. In fact, as I teach graduate classes in the summer, my classes are always full. In this last round of classes I taught, over a quarter of the teachers taking the class were within 7 years of retirement.

What we didn't have was community technology leaders coming in to help out, to offer teachers free assistance and ideas and support. And that isn't the fault of community members... there is a communication issue at play here. It sounds like Ames schools are lucky to have someone like Scott as a resource to help them out in learning new technology, but the bottom-line reality is that many school districts don't have experts from the community helping out. If the community is to benefit from the technological prowess of their children, it behooves them to take an active part in it.

There's one other avenue I have to explore. I graduated from Luther College and received both my Master's and later my administrative endorsement from Viterbo University. The programs were excellent... I thoroughly enjoyed my time! However, there were no classes in instructional technology.

Do young teachers possess more technological skills and therefore have a better 21st century learning environment for their students? Unequivocally, I say yes. Is it because of their college training reflecting the changing times? No. College educational programs haven't mandated courses in emerging technology, web 2.0 or otherwise. There is not a study in instruction design from technology infusion, reading the works of George Siemens or Will Richardson. This too has to change to support technology transforming our students' education

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