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?