Thursday, December 27, 2007

Policy and Culture: Friends or Foes for Teacher Technology Adoption & 21st Century Skills?

When thinking about 21st century skills and more specifically teacher technology adoption, what are the roles of culture and policy? Are they friends or foes? Does and can policy influence culture?

I really got to thinking about this while writing my last post. The culture of a school is such a powerful factor in how, when, and why things are done. Teacher technology adoption is especially prone to culture, albeit still like any other practice, since it's still not a commonly practiced norm in many classrooms, learning, and instructional routines. Interestingly, I would suspect in spite of many great cultures of learning and student achievement, teacher technology adoption and 21st century skills are void.

Larry Cuban has written quite a bit about the influence of policy on actual classroom practices. Deal and Peterson discuss policy as one of the lenses used in educational initiatives. The conclusion I've drawn from from reading these scholars is that policy doesn't have a large, lasting impact on classroom practices.

The old adage "give a man to fish, he'll eat for a day...teach a man to fish, he'll eat for a lifetime" comes to mind. It seems like policy, in a sole effort to drive teacher technology adoption, will really just sustain short-term adoption like giving a man a fish. Culture of a school, or "the way we do things around here", will sustain a greater adoption of technology like teaching a man to fish.

If this is true, what effect will it have on teacher technology adoption? Here are some more interesting questions that I think could be asked:

  • Will policy be a true catalyst for engaging educators in developing 21st century skills?
  • Does a strong, culture filled with capacity have to be in place first for policy to have a sustainable effect?
  • How can culture become inclusive of 21st century skills?
  • How can culture embrace teacher technology adoption?
  • What cultural traits need to be shaped for 21st century skills to be inclusive?
  • What cultural traits need to be shaped to provide for greater teacher technology adoption?

Friday, December 14, 2007

Culture of Teacher Technology Adoption

Beneath the conscious awareness of everyday life in schools, there is a stream of of thought and activity. This underground flow of feelings and folkways wends its way within schools, dragging people, programs, and ideas towards often-unstated purposes: "This invisible, taken-for-granted flow of beliefs and assumptions gives meaning to what people say and do. It shapes how they interpret hundreds of daily transactions. This deeper structure of life in organizations is reflected and transmitted through symbolic language and expressive action. Culture consists of the stable, underlying social meanings that shape beliefs and behavior over time" (Deal and Peterson, 1990, p.7)

This is a quote from Deal and Peterson's Shaping School Culture describing culture. For me, it underscores how powerful a force culture can be with teacher technology adoption. No matter how great the tool appears, how easy it is to use, or the "oh-wow" factor, if technology is not part of the "underground flow of feelings and folkways" or "beliefs and assumptions" in the school, chances are technology will not see widespread sustained (a la Fullan) adoption. Moreover, if these "unstated purposes" do not include "new literacy" skills or 21st century skills, chances for technology adoption or work strive towards it won't be occurring.

There is an interesting phenomenon or pattern (I'm not sure which) I see with new technology. We focus a great deal of time discussing and convincing others of how effective the tool is for a set of learning activities. At this point we either try to "oh-wow" the audience or we are preaching to the choir so to speak. But I'm not sure how much we spend on looking at the root issues with adopting the technology. Moreover, I'm not sure how much we merge our conversations trying to find relationships between these traditionally non-technical facets with these progressive technologies. The "google it" test doesn't reveal much...

School culture among areas such as teacher beliefs, total perceived pain of adoption, consumerism, teaching style, and policy are layers on this complex onion could seem to appeal to a larger audience. Just with school culture alone, the notion of competent systems, shared vision, professional learning communities, sustainability, capacity, collaboration can also have a large impact on teacher technology adoption.

Here are some questions that I think would interesting to discuss:
  1. To what extent are teacher's beliefs and values shaped by their school's culture (values and beliefs) when it comes to teacher technology adoption?
  2. Is it just technology as a learning tool that must be valued for teacher technology adoption? Or is part of a larger belief in learning the "new literacy"?
  3. How can school culture be adapted to value technology adoption?
  4. Is it technology (and adoption) that will drive school culture? Is it school culture that drives technology adoption? Or are they symbiotic in nature?
  5. In what ways does shared vision interplay with teacher technology adoption?
  6. How can professional learning communities leveraging web 2.0 tools affect culture?

Friday, November 23, 2007

"Now, Please": Expectations of Teacher Technology Adoption

I was just reading something that made me think of this.

The comment was to effect that students and teachers both were given hardware at the same time...and it took a couple of years to really get teachers moving beyond just word processing, to truly move to adopt the technology. The comment wasn't in a negative tone.

The comment got me questioning whether our expectations of teacher technology adoption especially in the context of web 2.0 (or other emerging technologies) sometimes maybe too focused on immediacy? That is, do we expect instant technology adoption? Can that do more harm than good? Is it necessarily bad or unnatural for technology adoption to take time?

In education, we typically plan an inservice, deliver the inservice, and then expect teachers to adopt the technology on a pretty short time frame.

From my experiences working on projects as a network engineer in corporate online banking, products were methodically implemented in sequential stages:

1. the development environment/testing
2. the testing environment/testing
3. the customer acceptable testing environment/testing
4. the beta environment/testing

All of the stages were designed to fix problems and enhance services. It was expected that there would be problems to resolve and features to enhance. Each stage was usually a carefully orchestrated series of steps many different specialities coming together to make the product work and offer the customer a valued service. Production, as it was called, wasn't instantaneous.

This is in stark contrast to us in education where when a new technology is delivered we want it operational and used the next day. The only time something was really rushed in the "corporate side", save meeting a deadline, was when it was broken and impacting users...then it was really was a situation to drop everything and fix the problem.

Getting our heads around a new tool takes time. The replacement cell phone I just got had a learning curve. Twitter that I'm using now takes a bit of time to shake out. Even the relative simplicity of web 2.0 tools takes some time to investigate and feel comfortable using.

Anytime, something new is used, operationally (technically) it has to be figured out before adoption occurs. And sometimes, we discover features that may be absent that don't make a certain tool useful now. So we go back to the drawing board putting the tool on the shelf.

For me, technology adoption doesn't happen in a linear fashion. I may download and check out a new tool or view it online very briefly. During my brief visit I begin learning about it and thinking of its usefulness as a learning tool. But I may not revisit that tool for quite some time. The 2nd visit may be as quick as the first or I might dive into it. I may go back to it a 3rd or 4th time. Or it may take seeing it modeled from an awesome social network like Classroom 2.0 that spurs on my adoption. It depends. But I usually need to have some thinking and tinkering time before I adopt technology.

Here's a general flow of technology adoption as I see it and experience it:

1. Introduction to Tool
2. Tool Orientation (buttons, features, mouse/keyboard inputs)
3. Getting the Tool to work and produce results - 1st time
4. Getting the Tool to work again - 2nd and subsequent times
5. Thinking about how to use the tool in the classroom
6. Having an idea of how to use the tool in the classroom
7. Trying to get the tool to achieve instructional/learning goal
8. Readjusting expectations of the tool
9. Try the tool out in the classroom

So I return to my original question, "Do we expect too much immediacy when it comes to technology adoption?"

Saturday, November 17, 2007

Merging Conversations for 21st Century Learning

We don't read and write poetry because it's cute. We read and write poetry because we are members of the human race. And the human race is filled with passion. And medicine, law, business, engineering, these are noble pursuits and necessary to sustain life. But poetry, beauty, romance, love, these are what we stay alive for.

This quote is delivered by John Keating (Robin Williams) in Dead Poet's Society, one my favorite films. When it comes to educational technology I feel the same way but for a different reason. We don't use educational technology and strive for 21st century learning because its cute. We use educational technology and strive for 21st century learning because of the mounting dialog and evidence that learning traditional reading, writing, and math skills have to include - at the core - new literacy skills and 21st century learning.

While I believe in not using technology for technology's sake, I am intrigued at the latest edition (November 2007) of ASCD's Educational Leadership. There are 13 articles about math in this issue. There are three mentions of technology: (1) a reference to a spreadsheet in which testing companies can provide containing test data, (2) a resource website for teachers, (3) suggestion of a gaming technology club. Interestingly, 21st century skills and Thomas Friedman are mentioned but not in relation to technology. What makes me so curious?

These well-written and thought-provoking articles, that are clearly the result of hard work, are void of educational technology and 21st century skills. I'm not mentioning this because my field of study isn't included or the mathematical content or ideas presented aren't important. They are! The topics are crucial. Furthermore, the articles, such as the ones focusing on the achievement gap and minorities, provide some really important data that needs to be discussed. In fact, I'd say we need more of these articles.

What really fascinates me is that we have multiple engaging, parallel conversations that aren't intersecting. We have dialog about math, digital natives, educational technology, 21st century skills/learning but there is no confluence among them. Some where, some way, some how there is a symbiotic misfire that keeps these conversations apart.

When we talk about the economy, we can't just focus on one market or sector. Interest rates have an impact on stock markets, housing, and the job market. Housing can have an effect on the stock market and the job market. And the job market can have an effect on the stock and housing markets. We have to consider the parts that comprise the whole of the sum. Preparing students for life, citizenry, democracy, and work after compulsory school needs to be the result of a unifying these conversations; not a set of competing priorities with the prevailing one a result of winning the public relations battle.

When there is some merging of these conversations, layering on top of the current situation is likely the approach. When what really should be happening is an organic cultivation of 21st century learning and some form of technology (since by all indications it is essential for the new literacy). These things, I believe, have to come from within, from inside out - not an outside imposition least not for sustainability.

Let's talk specifics. Blogs and wikis are great tools that can enhance reflection, real-world writing, and collaboration of problems. Google Earth can be a great tool for measuring lines and geometrical shapes in a tangible, practical way. Sketchcasting can be used to capture solving problems that can be later viewed and listened too (they make also great anticipatory sets for the next lesson). Spreadsheets, notably Google's, are great tools for working with graphs, even collaboratively. Online surveys can be conducted to understand percentages and proportions. At the onset these tools may seem cute but looking deeper yields their importance in preparing our students for our "flat world".

I think that it's important to point out that these tools aren't proposed to replace instructional techniques but to enhance them and the learning experiences for our students. They needn't take center stage. In fact, the real value is in their transparency as a tool just as calculators are now in our classrooms. But for this to happen the conversations have to come together.

Friday, November 16, 2007

21st Century Skills: Working Out the Details

Larry Cuban wrote a number of years ago that systemic policy can stop when the classroom door closes. I think in some form or another many educators have experienced this. Something comes down from "above" that may not be agreeable, practical, coincide with their beliefs and values about teaching and learning, or demonstrate that it will result in learning. It's not direct opposition or intentional defiance; rather it's a matter of the degree to which immediacy is felt.

How well does this bode for 21st century skills?

I truly believe in 21st century skills. As a result, I spend a great deal of time reading and thinking about them on a global perspective, school perspective, teacher-adoption perspective, and how I can implement them in my K-8 technology literacy classes. Despite this, 21st century skills are still a bit fuzzy to me as a classroom teacher. While many great folks are working hard on this conversation, I still sometimes come up with the question of, "What are 21st century skills exactly?".

I think, a few things needs to be addressed to make sure this "policy" is carried out even once the classroom door is closed:

  • Discussion of 21st century skills in the context of subject matter (concrete details)
  • Consideration of teacher technology adoption (no adoption means less 21st century skills)
  • Demonstrate results of 21st century skills for teachers to show enhanced learning
  • Find systemic harmony/synergy between NCLB and 21st century skills
  • Provide models of how 21st century skills look for teachers
  • Assess the assessment of 21st century skills
We often rely on traditional teaching teaching since we know the results...most of us are a products of it. The results of educational technology and 21st century skills are a great unknown for many educators. What's even more unknown is the direct connection between 21st century skills and content areas.

How can a teacher teach genres, main ideas, polynomials, fractions, health, or art incorporating 21st century skills? Moreover, how are these areas to be taught knowing that students are expected to have a certain level of proficiency? Will schools risk test scores for 21st century skills?

Teachers are great practitioners. I think often times they are viewed too generally as someone who takes only takes the abstraction of curriculum, goals, and objective to guide learning and understanding. But there's so much more that goes on to make learning take place. Students have to read, they have to pick up pencils, talk, reflect, write, ask questions, build, type, watch, hear, and see to learn. Teachers need to not only offer these activities but also assess them too. This is the detailed level that 21st century skills need to get to, I believe, to be most effective and welcomed into the classroom. The conversations need to get to a level or granularity that is this specific. At this point in my thinking 21st century skills (like educational technology adoption as a tool) have to come from within the detailed activities not layered on top of teaching practices. The further something is away from the core of pragmatics, the easier it is not to be adopted.

I don't think we can expect the details of 21st century skills will work themselves out in the classroom at the adoption level without first considering all the details of the environment in which they need to be implemented. Said another way, we need to work out the details on the onset, not afterwards. 21st century skills are far too important to not be implemented once the door closes. I think we need to decide whether we want to pay now or pay later.

Tuesday, November 6, 2007

Technology Adoption in B Flat

Have you sat down in someone's car with music playing that you've never heard? Or maybe bought new music from an artist you like? At first, the response can be tepid. But after you listen a little while to it, the music begins to take shape and grow on you. And before you know it, you are singing along anticipating tempos, beats, choruses, and harmonies...even if a little out of tune as I do. I think technology adoption for teachers is a bit the same.

I think in our preparations for technology inservicing, the fabric of the technology tools - web 2.0 tools or otherwise - becomes so ingrained into our thoughts and beliefs. We study software, perhaps prepare a slide presentation, a wiki, or blog, or do some reading. We think about the myriad curricular connections these tools can make and possibly (and hopefully) effective teaching strategies for adoption. By the time we get to the inservice, we know the technology inside and out that we've just spent time mastering...we believe in it.

But what about the teachers who are learning about these tools for the very first time? And not only learning how to work the software but also thinking connections to curriculum and teaching?

They're just hearing "this music" for the very first time without the luxury of the back or repeat button (if your like me trying to analyze a song). The song like technology, possibly a little rough sounding at first, may not have a chance to develop personal resonance. And a personal resonance, or ownership, I think, has to be present for sustained technology adoption. That is why I think time, coaching, and support are so crucial to technology adoption.

A b-side song that I've come to love doesn't always equate to a smash hit for others (mentioned from my experience). The same holds true for technological tools. Not every teacher will see the value in the tool. That is why I've come to like the cafeteria-plan style inservice. If I present 10 web 2.0 tools to teachers in a cafeteria-style inservice, they have choices. And I think choices are important since teachers are consumers of technology who make choices about the technology they adopt. As I have written previously, these choices are often rooted in their beliefs of teaching and learning.

Sunday, November 4, 2007

Standards: Taking the Messiness Out of Web 2.0

I like state academic standards. Why do they have such a bad reputation? I think it’s because too often they are lumped together with assessments. As a result, many educators feel that standards are the reason “we teach to the test” and we don’t have much room for creativity in our classrooms. When it comes to creativity in the classroom, I actually think the opposite is true. Standards provide a great deal of room for creativity. It seems like our approach to the standards is the limiting factor, not the standards themselves.

In the world of teacher technology adoption and 21st century skills, I like standards even more. They can take the “messiness” of web 2.0 and 21st century learning providing it with structure and a starting point for teachers. This structure can enhance overall technology adoption and ultimately 21st century learning.

I call web 2.0 tools “messy” since they really don’t have a defined, scripted beginning and end. They also lack structure. The structure is up to the teacher to develop. In terms of adoption, I think this structure becomes a large roadblock especially if the tool is different from the teacher’s beliefs in teaching and learning. That is why tools such as Study Island and Criterion, I think, are so readily adopted. The tools themselves provide the structure and pedagogy (and yield good results), not the teacher.

Standards can help inject structure into the “messiness” of web 2.0 tools. That is, linking standards to web 2.0 tools can build structure into web 2.0 tools making them very task focused. They usually provide a goal of knowledge or skill that the student should achieve. How students get there is usually up to the teacher, curriculum, and district. This is where I think creativity can abound and a razor sharp focus can coexist while teachers adopt web 2.0 tools.

Sunday, October 28, 2007

Teacher Beliefs of Technology

When doing some research while writing an article and for a series of graduate school papers, the following themes seemed to jump out at me:

1. Teacher's beliefs of teaching (pedagogy) and student learning (epistemology) affect teacher technology adoption.
2. Teachers who engage in more teacher-led pedagogy adopt less technology.
3. Teachers who leverage constructivist-centric pedagogy have a tendency to use more technology.
4. Teacher's beliefs and values are not hardened systems; however, they are complex and prone to revision.
5. The richness of an environment (technology, support, quality, quantity) can change a teacher's beliefs and values in learners and pedagogy.
6. The manner in which technology is presented-teacher-centered or student-centered-impacts those teachers holding differing views.
7. Web 2.0 and 21st century skills are collaborative in nature; thus they are constructivist. This collaborative and constructivist nature of the technologies require teachers to adopt their beliefs which brings us back to theme #1.

The focus of my research has been on teacher technology adoption, its influencers, and detractors. This is fascinating to me since as I have remarked in much of my other writing, this research can shed light on why there can be such differences in technology adoption just in the same hallway of a school. Secondly, this for me is the "root issue" at hand with 21st century skills and web 2.0. We can show the coolest tools, in the coolest ways, to teachers espousing the need for students to learn these skills but it takes a teacher to believe that the technology they are using is better than the way they are using to teach the content.

In the 12 years I have been giving and around technology inservicing, the "oh, wows" are common when showing a new tool. But I don't think we can judge the effectiveness of our training on that response alone. While it gives me optimism and excitement, to this day, to hear these responses, day-two adoption doesn't always correspond.

What surprises me is that our dialogs don't involve teacher's beliefs or the human nature surrounding technology adoption. And when it does, it involves a great deal of negativity - teacher apathy, not willing to do the work, or not smart enough to get the technicalities. This isn't to say there aren't many dedicated people doing many great things; there are! Just look at sites like Classroom 2.0 where dedication, dialog, and creativity abound among in this amazing community.

Literacy today as defined web 2.0:new tools, new schools by Solomon and Schrum is

"acquiring new skills, including those using technology, understanding science, having global awareness, and most important, having the ability to keep learning, which involves gathering, analyzing, synthesizing, and presenting information as well as communication and collaborating"

The mechanics of implementing such literacy is approaching teachers as technology consumers with choices and complex, fluid beliefs that drive their technology adoption. Also, key to this discussion is the fact that for many teachers, including me, comprehension in web 2.0, collaboration, and constructivism requires participation in web 2.0, collaboration, and constructivism.

A new way of learning, teaching takes time to get our heads around and that doesn't even include learning the technology that is instrumental in this new way of learning and teaching.

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Learning the Tool and Using the Tool: Driven by a Teacher's Belief

After spending a lot of time the last few weeks researching influencing factors of teacher technology adoption for a grad school course, I've come across lots of fascinating research. Also, I've tried to synthesis the major research themes (teacher beliefs of teaching, learning, inservicing, major influencers) into web 2.0 tools and 21st century skills.

It occurred to me after reading scores of research that highlight how powerful teacher's beliefs of teaching and learning are on technology adoption, that we can't just dump web 2.0 and 21st century skills on the laps of teachers. Why? Most web 2.0 tools and 21st century skills are constructivist in nature. The research is quite convincing in my opinion that teachers who use a teacher-led format of instruction generally stay away from technology while those who already gravitate towards student-centered/created classrooms adopt technology more readily.

As promising, needed, and powerful web 2.0 tools and the 21st century skills framework are, they virtually command a non-teacher led approach. While web 2.0 tools can be presented in a teacher-led format, their inherent collaborative (and thus constructivist) nature is squelched. They are almost cancelled out not living to their full potential.

Saying to our teachers, you need to use a web 2.0 tool, or dropping a bunch of tools during an inservice may help learn the technicalities of the software. But the belief in learning and pedagogical will decide whether it gets used in the classroom no matter how cool the tool or important the 21st century skill. Wikis are a great example. They're quite easy to get setup and going. Teachers can be taught the technical skills in a little bit a time. The difficult part is utilizing the wiki to take advantage of it's collaborative, problem-solving, and constructivist knowledge presentation/creation potential. That is because beliefs of learning and teaching ultimately need to change commensurate with this tool to include collaboration, problem-solving, and constructivist knowledge presentation/creation potential.

Saturday, October 20, 2007

Ed Tech: It's All About the Right Fit

In setting up this new blog, it occurred to me that it's important to remember that there's an element of finding a tool that has the "right fit". I personally have found some blog interfaces unintuitive and difficult to navigate. Additionally, some I found that I was spending way too much time on the technology and not enough on the content. A tool, for me, in and out of the classroom is something that I can use to quickly and efficiently accomplish my goal. With time at such a premium most days between work, family, and graduate school, I don't want to have to "futz" around trying to get something to work.

That is what I love about many Web 2.0 tools but especially Wikis. Wikis require navigating to the page to be edited, clicking edit, updating content, and finally clicking save. As an indicator of their ease of use, I have successfully used wikis with my 1st grade classes. Also, my teachers have created them many commenting on their ease of use.

Back to the "right fit" theme. What may be an easy-to-use tool for me, may not be for others. This particular blog interface I find easier to use than most, I find the links, navigation, and descriptions fit me well. For others, it may be different - they may find this particular interface more difficult. I think this is an important point to remember when offering inservicing on ed tech tools. While we can educate and instruct our teachers how to use the technology, I think there has to be an intrinsic level of comfort with the technology especially if we want to build towards sustainable technology adoption. I think this is an an important concept to remember while planning or delivering teacher inservicing - the tool doesn't fit everyone the same.