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EdTech Update




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Men plan; god laughs


Men tracht und Gott lacht. (Men plan and god laughs.) - Yiddish proverb

The final meeting of the District Media and Technology Advisory Committee is this Thursday. Besides planning for the coming year and reviewing a proposed technology budget, we'll review this past year's departmental activities.

While we've stayed busy, met most of our objectives this year and made real progress in introducing Moodle to our staff, it still feels like we've been tinkering around the edges of how school is done rather than creating fundamental change.

Reading Bargasian's Mindshift post Amidst a Moblie Revolution in Schools Will Old Teaching Tactics Work?, I take cold comfort that fundamental changes don't seem to be happening anywhere, including districts that are spending a lot more on technology than ours does. 

For progressives who have been itching to use technology to deconstruct and redesign the current classroom model – one teacher parsing facts to 30 or more students quietly sitting at their desks who will be tested on what they can memorize – the idea of mobile learning holds great promise. Here’s an opportunity to reach every student in a meaningful way. But unless traditional teaching practices morph to adapt and fully take advantage of what mobile devices can afford, some fear the promise will go the way of all the technology collecting dust in the corner of the classroom. Worse, it might eventually lead to what everyone unequivocally dreads: the mechanization of teaching.

“I’m petrified that we’ll apply new technology to old pedagogy,”  [Elliot] Soloway said. “Right now, the iPad craze is using the same content on a different device. Schools must change the pedagogy.”


Soloway challenges schools to think about what they’ve gained in student achievement through the use of devices. “We are using new technology to implement old pedagogy,” he said. “We are not exploiting the affordances of the new technology to give kids new kinds of learn-by-doing activities. Flash card programs for the iPad are too numerous to count. What a waste!”

I am increasingly convinced that school change cannot and should not be "technology" driven. All changes must start from the teaching and learning side of the equation - with consultative services provided by the tech department. This is why I get very nervous when administrators and teachers go to "workshops" sponsored by Apple or Google or Microsoft or any company with a profit-driven mission. (Wouldn't that be all of them?

What district asks the important questions that Larry Cuban in Questions to Ask in Making Changes in Schools and Classroom lists below, especially when technology is involved?

I believe that it is the spirit of democracy to air and debate proposed changes in policies and practice for those affected. I believe that is practical in getting those who are expected to alter their work routines to understand the proposed change. I believe that is morally responsible for those engaged in seeking improvement to lay out answers to the following questions.

  1. What are the problems you want to solve? What are your goals?
  2. What assumptions are built into the change?
  3. What strategies are you using to solve those problems? Are the strategies consistent with assumptions?
  4. What capacities (knowledge and skills) are needed to carry out the strategies to effect change? Who has them? Where to get them?
  5. What has to be done in the school and classroom for the desired policy to be completely implemented?
  6. How will you know that changes worked in the short-, mid-, and long-term?

Good common sense. Man plans.

However, I do wonder if we have time to ask these questions with the rapid, often uncontrolled and uncontrollable influx of personal computing devices into schools. That may not be the sound of a smart phone, but of a god laughing somewhere.

Sorry for the ramble. Read both the articles/posts above. They're important.


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Reader Comments (5)

What comes to mind with the mobile learning is the struggle between small positive steps toward tech integration VS real change. A few weeks back John Pederson's guest Bre Straight on the Shifted Learning podcast spoke about the small steps toward technology integration success. All my leadership studies have told me to celebrate victories, small and large. Are small steps toward big change they way to go? Or will the small steps pitter out in a year or two and you're stuck with a mediocre outcome?

That brought me to think about rhetoric vs reality. But should we be okay with what some may feel is "reality" (oh they can only do X, this is a big change....)? Is rhetoric - we need this change NOW darn it - what our reality should be? Why should my kid wait for change? Being a parent has given me a different view on things....

Sorry this was kind of random...

May 1, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterNathan Mielke

In the spirit of leading by catching up with the front of the parade, it pays to tune into what teachers are actually doing to meet the needs of students through observing how instruction is being delivered by perceptive and innovative professionals who get results.

For example, I will toot this particular English teacher's horn: Bianca Hewes of Sydney, Australia, who toots prolifically re: PBL via her blog at Bianca Hewes

But everywhere, in every school district, there are good people doing great work with scant resources. If we paid closer attention and committed resources in support of proven local success rather than sexy tech du jour, we'd plant our investments in much more fertile ground.

May 1, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterBill

Hi Nathan,

I've had big disagreements with people who like to quote the old saw "You can't leap the chasm in two bounds." My sense is that if the chasm is too big, people simply won't even try and that it is our job to build a bridge across the metaphorical gap between where we are and where we want to be.

But I still wonder some days....


Hi Bill,

I certainly agree that we want to support and celebrate the risk-takers and innovators.

Many years ago I had an encounter with a parent who sort of changed my thinking on this topic. At an elementary school open house, she was going on and on about the really cool things one of the teachers was doing with technology, and of course, I puffed up with pride,

But then she nailed me by saying, but my son is not in that teacher's class. He has Mr. XYZ who doesn't use technology at all. When are you going to do something about those kinds of teachers?

So, I love my pockets of wow, but I am really working to move all teachers ahead.


May 2, 2012 | Registered CommenterDoug Johnson

Hi Doug,

Do you have any additional information, documentation, etc. regarding your efforts to include a technological component in teacher evaluations? This is something that I have been struggling to get considered in my school, but the pushback has always been the argument that "mandating" anything is too draconian. Teachers should, rather, be shown how valuable it is so that they are motivated to use it professionally. This is a lovely thought that shows great faith in human nature, but I just feel like it's impractical and that we'll never get a critical mass of teachers to use it (for the current and future benefit of students) unless it's required.
Anything you might be able to send me/show me might help convince my administration to at least consider the possibility.
Thanks so much! Your district's work, philosophy, and total transparency (for technology, at least!) are truly an inspiration.

May 2, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterAlicia Duell

Hi Alicia,

Here are my thoughts, but making slow progress on this in our district:


May 3, 2012 | Registered CommenterDoug Johnson

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