Technology Integration: Stuck in an Infinite Loop

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Recently, the advertisement above appeared in a national educational technology magazine.  I sent out a tweet, asking “Why would I want do this in my classroom?”  One response was, “You’re looking to create ICE in the classroom! Independence, Challenge, Engagement! Differentiated classroom with open objectives.”  I replied that I could do that with a book.

This is what “technology integration” looks like.  Doing the same activities with new objects.  Further why are we asking the student to convert digital content to analog content?  My guess is the student is completing a worksheet or “taking notes,” moving information from one place to another (Jamie McKenzie).

How did this hardware get there?  My standing hypothesis is that it’s not curriculum-related.  Some “influencer” attended a conference or other presentation, returned, and stated that “we have to do that.”  “Our students will be behind if we do not do that.” Peer pressure from other districts forced action.  The equipment was purchased, teachers were shown the switches, buttons and a few “apps.”  They were asked to brainstorm how to use the gear, asked to make a lesson, and sent back to their classrooms to “integrate the technology into their classrooms.”  There will be little results related to student learning.  There will be an assorted discussion about student “engagement” and “use of technology.”  Little or nothing about student performance and achievement.

The hardware and software are the fourth most important feature with classrooms and learning:

  1. What should students know and do?
  2. How will we know they understand and can do?
  3. What instructional strategies will we use?
  4. What hardware and software will we use to support the strategies, student learning, and student assessment?

Any framework for technology integration has levels of integration and districts attempt to move teacher practices to “higher levels.”

Starting with student learning and assessment, districts can determine their direction and their practices.  This will transform learning, by unleashing the promise of hardware and software.  Teachers are not left to figure it out themselves by “integrating technology.”

So until we get thoughtful leadership in our schools that quits talking about “technology as a tool” or “technology integration,” learning in school with hardware and software will be stuck in an infinite loop!

Notes From Techcon 2012

Techcon 2012

Techcon occurred October 26, 2012 at the Naperville Campus of Northern Illinois University. Over 160 local school administrators, technology leaders, and classroom teachers convened for the one-day session.

Google’s Jaime Casap (Twitter: @jcasap) was the keynote speaker. His presentation focused on the crisis of low expectations and that even though the jobs that will exist in 2037 are not known today, several skills exists today that are fundamental to success years away: communication, collaboration, critical thinking, analyzing information, and problem solving.

He noted that we learn and solve problems in different ways so we should have different types of assessment. Further students today have new capabilities to learn differently and that education is beginning to take advantage of new learning models.

With one of the themes of the conference was about cloud resources, sessions addressed the Illinicloud, and Google, Apple, and Microsoft cloud offerings. Other sessions outlined digital learning opportunities, a 1:1 implementation, digital mapping, Open Education Resources, and social networking applications in schools.

Apple’s Patrick Beedles (Twitter: @beedles_apple) closed the day with a summary of the day’s key points.

This day-long program is a strong collaboration of the Illinois Association of School Business Officials , the Illinois Computing Educators, and the Illinois Chief Technology Officers.

Next year’s conference is at the same location on October 18, 2013.

Virtual School’s Symposium 2012 Summary

The student panel at the Virtual Schools Symposium 2012

 Over 2,000 conferees assembled in New Orleans, Louisiana for iNACOL’s edition of its Virtual Schools Symposium held October 21-24, 2012. Across the program, presentations looked at research in the field, instructional models, administrative successes, and policy proposals.

This year’s conference focused on the trends in the field that includes blended (hybrid) learning.  In their session iNACOL’s Rob Darrow and Innosight Institute’s Michael Horn clarified that in blended learning models, teachers have the ability to look at student achievement data daily, a feature not available in traditional classrooms.  Blended learning is a mix between traditional instruction and student control and self-pacing.

In the opening general session, iNACOL CEO Susan Patrick and Gates Foundation Stacey Childress discussed the trends in non-traditional learning:

  • Student-centered personalized learning.  In this view, students have the ability to learn at their own rates and choose their own learning paths.
  • Students will receive credit when they learn a major concept, not at the end of the course or semester.
  • Smart learning systems will be developed that learn as students use them.

During his presentation, John White (twitter: @Louisianasupe), Louisiana Superintendent of Education described the tension between traditionalists and reformers.  He asked that both sides come togther and develop a system that meets today’s needs.  The workplace and the family have changed so schools should follow.  He cautioned technologists that schools are not ready to implement technology.  Infrastructure is not ready in many parts of his state and  across the country.  White thinks that control needs to be local, that other forms of schools can be successful (vouchers and charters), and certification stops innovation.

In research provided by the Marzano Research Laboratory and Plato Learning students in online courses have greater success the more time that teachers are in the courses interacting with students and their work.  For teachers who are logged in for over 530 hours, students’ end of semester score averaged 81% compared to 62% for teachers who logged in less than 39 hours.

In a session about quality, Susan Patrick and Evergreen Education Group’s  John Watson outlined the issues.  Quality has been defined as course inputs; that is, quality courses have certain features.  Patrick and Watson described the move to performance metrics, such as portfolios, individual growth, college readiness, career readiness, and others.  They called for pilot programs to test these ideas, and to influence policy and legislation.

In another general session, Karen Cator  of the U.S. Department of Education described the need for high end assessments, multiple measures for success, and multiple proof points specifically calling for policy makers to focus on educational issues that is about individual student learning.

The student panel always highlights valuable statements from students about how they are learning in online and blended models.    In these settings, it appears that nobody speaks for them.  The discussions are usually around adult perceptions and views.

In my all-day preconference session, Judy Bauernschmidt (Colorado Department of Education), John Canuel (Blackboard), Holly Bryzcki (CAIU), and Phil Lacey joined me in taking participants through the process of starting an online program.  Our slides follow.

The field is beginning to mature in its thinking.  Policies, practices, and results will determine the success of this innovative movement.

Next year’s VSS is in Orlando, Florida.

Where’s the Education Leadership on Technology in Schools?

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In 1988, Congress’ Office of Technology Assessment (OTA) reported the “most promising current uses  and demonstrations” (pp.12-13) for computers:

  • Drill and practice to master basic skills.
  • Development of writing skills.
  • Problem solving
  • Understanding abstract mathematics and science concepts.
  • Simulation in science, mathematics and social studies.
  • Manipulation of data.
  • Acquisition of computer skills for general purposes, and for business and vocational training.
  • Access and communication traditionally unserved populations of students
  • Access and communications for teachers and students in remote locations
  • Individualized learning
  • Cooperative Learning
  • Management of classroom activities and record keeping (pp. 12-14)

Looking at the list, the last — Record keeping:  student information systems, payroll systems, business functions, human resources systems, and the like have been implemented in many schools.  We have implemented technology to handle the mundane.  The other applications have spotty implementation and without significant transformation.

In Technopoly, technology and cultural critic Neil Postman states that

“[T]he main characteristic of all tool-using cultures is that their  tools were largely invented to do two things:  To solve specific and urgent problems of physical life, such as water power, wind mills, and the heavy wheeled plow; or to serve the symbolic world of art politics, ritual, and religion, as the construction of castles and cathedrals. . .” (p. 23).

Considering this view with schools, school leaders are largely tool thinkers:  “Technology is a tool.”  So the focus becomes those  issues not directly related to teaching learning:  mundane management things (recording keeping, paying bills).  Yes, states are requiring data and so school leaders respond to the “urgent” demands of regulators.

Further some school leaders contend that their teachers “integrate” technology.  This is not much beyond the tool user.  Hardware and software are purchased independently of their curricular design and use.  Teachers are herded into a room shown the new gizmo and told to “integrate” it into their curriculum.   This is a recipe for failure.  Teachers have no direction, support, or encouragement to succeed.  It’s up to them to find ways to use stuff with their kids.  Just another thing to do.

School transformation occurs when school leaders insist that hardware and software are part of the curricular design and focuses on learning.  It’s time school leaders realize the potential and implement it in their classrooms.  Otherwise the other ideas that OTA identified in 1988 will continue to be on somebody’s list of promising practices.

Good Advice for School Technology Leaders

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In the May 21 issue of Forbes, the article “Thrifty Does It,” describes how Christian Gheorghe Hates started a billion dollar company with a shoestring budget.  School leaders tell their communities that they must do more with less.

Hates’ strategies show how he cut costs nearly 90% while he was able to deliver quality technical services.  Here’s what he did:

  • Replaced server purchases with leased server space in the cloud.
  • Replaced licensed email products with Gmail.
  • Replaced productivity software with google docs.
  • Replaced database software with databases purchased in the cloud.
  • Replaced telco services with VOIP services for phones.
  • Replaced internal file sharing hardware with box.com.
  • Replaced system testing software with open source.

While school technology departments may not be considering using alternative services and may be against specific brand names that Hates uses, he is successful at dumping expensive licensing and using free or inexpensive services to run the technical services of his company.  There’s a lesson here for school technology leaders.

With Technology in Schools Nothing Has Changed

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With technology in schools nothing has changed.  Several years ago, I performed some original research about technology in schools (reference).

While this study occurred in a limited scope with a few school districts and I stated it could not be generalized, the results appear to be similar to what is appearing in popular media today.  The results:

(a) educational technology policy formulation focused on collecting the objects of technology, such as computers, modems, networks, and the like, rather than viewing educational technology as a systematic process of achieving goals;

(b) active leadership from a superintendent was essential in each school district, formulation of the plans was more than an empowered committee or executive blessing, and it required active participation by a superintendent;

(c) school districts developed educational technology policies regardless of their financial state;

(d) educational technology policy formulation occurred without regard for student demographics;

(e) applied technology or technology education–including electronics, robotics, video production, industrial technology, and metals technology–was part of educational technology policy formulation in two of the three school districts;

(f) while planning focused on the objects of educational technology, planners took little action on other elements of educational technology planning, such as staff development, finance, evaluation, and school cultural issues;

(g) technology planners did little to communicate aspects of their educational technology plan to their school communities;

(h) educational technology policy was a political process. Whether it was a new superintendent pushing his technology agenda or a teacher influencing a computer purchase, politics were part of the process; and

(i) the planning committees were not representative of the school community.

Looking at today’s social media posts in a very unscientific fashion, nothing has changed:

(a)  Today’s social media postings are about buying tablets and the “top 10 apps.”  Little in the social media is about students learning and focusing on students.  It’s about “buying” and “integrating” — a lost cause.

(b)  Leadership is always essential;  today it appears to be driven by peer pressure.  An executive administrator or a board member attends a conference where a school district reports on an effort of a presenting district and “tada” technology is purchased and expected to be used.  Many times the initiatives are way out of context.  Yes, leadership is essential, but is largely misplaced.

(c) They continue to plan, but with dwindling funds.

(d)  It still happens everywhere.  Wish lists are developed, regardless of the school district.

(e)  Still part of planning.

(f)  Professional development continues to be a challenge as teachers are taught skills, told to integrate, and left to go their way.  Usually not successful and not worth the results.

(g)  Communication about technology is swamped by NCLB and budget reductions.

(h)  It’s one of the most dynamic political processes as teachers and groups work to get the latest techno gizmos.

(i)  Planning committees still are composed of techno geeks and not representative of the larger community.

So the cycle continues.  Purchasing new hardware and then professional development is focused on integration – not transformation.  Teachers continue to teach the same old ways except with new technologies.  They no longer focus on “computers, modems, networks, and the like,” but it’s tablets, apps, wifi, white boards, and web 2.0.”  Their attitudes and practices around technology in schools remain the same.  Nothing has changed.  I did not expect that my research was a “game changer,” (another overused word choice to accent the insanity of technology in schools) but I was hoping that a new group of school leaders would emerge that would transform teaching and learning.  Well, with technology in schools, nothing has changed.

Cell Phones at School Bring Classes Into Light

An article printed in Tuesday’s (Oct 12, 2010) edition of the Chicago Tribune and online the night before describes how schools are relenting to students’ personal technologies.  A local principal is quoted, “It’s one of those things — if you can’t beat them, join them.”  Whaaaaa?

So schools are relenting to students’ technologies.  Well, then how far will this go?

Why not design instruction that uses the power of students’ personal technologies?  As I have written here during the past several months, students have more computing power and bandwidth capacities than schools can provide.  Tap into those capabilities to open your schools and learning in the new century, now nearly 11 years old.

Nearly two years ago in my graduate class on school technologies for aspiring superintendents, I constructed an assignment for students to design a learning program to use students’ cell phones in schools.  Most students looked at the assignment with contempt, while others thought this would never occur.  It’s here!  For some time I have been using Alana Salzman’s (Vantage Point Venture Capital) quote, ” Bet on the inevitable.”  Personal technologies in schools is one of those trends that will sweep across schools.

Personal technologies is one of the five trends that schools can use sharpen learning, address shrinking technology budgets, and prepare students for their future in a largely connected world.

Schools get moving.  The opportunities are at your doorsteps.  Design instruction that uses student research during class time.