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.