Wednesday, January 9, 2008

Right of Refusal, Change, and Teacher Technology Adoption

I really enjoy reading Scott McLeod's Dangerously Irrelevant blog. His insight and thought provoking topics are always appreciated and are great source of perspective for me. There's no doubt why he's so highly regarded. But...

In his Right of Refusal post, he compares teachers adoption of technology to that of grocery clerks, stock brokers, and architects. For me, this is where his comparison doesn't quite cut the mustard. Here's an excerpt:
For example, a grocery store checker doesn't get to say 'No thanks, I don't think I'll use a register.' A stockbroker doesn't get to say, 'No thanks, I don't think I'll use a computer.' An architect doesn't get to say, 'No thanks, I don't think I'll use AutoCAD.' But in education, we plead and implore and incentivize but we never seem to require.
It's an apples to orange comparison. First, the above mentioned folks (for as hard as they work and their respective technologies are complex) don't have to teach using these tools or teach other to use these tools. Secondly, their use is typically highly scripted and regimented. If something goes awry, a manager can be called, the IT person, or self-troubleshooting can commence. There isn't 23 faces peering at them getting fidgety (ok, maybe adults in line watching their ice cream getting soft but try having technology fail with 2nd graders in class...I'd take the melting ice cream). Having been on both sides, it's different...completely different.

I've written my last couple of posts about the value of culture in comparison to policy. A school's culture can be a powerful force in teacher technology adoption since it becomes part of the underlying fabric. This is where I believe teachers are technology consumers. Much of my thinking about this came from Pip Coburn's The Change Function.

Coburn makes the case about use technology adoption ultimately coming down to 2 areas: current pain (need/crisis) and Total Perceived Pain of Adoption (TPPA). He maintains that technologies that have done well in the consumer market have a low TPPA. Those technologies that have a high TPPA have done historically poorly. He states his case about technology adoption and change much more eloquently than I.

Connecting this back to teacher technology adoption, teachers have a choice. Also, the TPPA (which can many things, I believe) has to be low enough for adoption in classroom practice. If a teacher's TPPA is perceived as being high and the current pain is low, technology adoption, from my perspective and experience) won't occur.

So, do teachers have the Right of Refusal when it comes to technology adoption? Yes. Is it best choice? Probably not, especially with growing body of knowledge about the economic, career, vocation, and democratic implications in the 21st century of not using technology as a learning and teaching tool. But I don't think we can boil this down to a simple issue of requiring it or not. Leadership can help but policy may not be the most sustainable way. That's not to say I think it should be a overly complex situation - it's not. But there's multiple dynamics and forces at work beyond a simple Right of Refusal.

Monday, January 7, 2008

Teachers as Chief Technology Adopters

A teacher can be new or seasoned, extremely effective or marginally effective. They can use lecture/teacher-led instruction or constructivist-based instruction. They can be innovative or lack creativity. No matter the profile of the teacher, they assume and share an awesome responsibility in preparing students for the 21st century. They have a role that is pretty unique to their profession: they are Chief Technology Adopters.

I use this term Chief Technology Adopters for a few reasons. First, teachers, while interacting with content, ultimately will be the folks who teach the skills necessary for students to thrive in the 21st century. Secondly, the technology adoption buck stops with the teacher. For they are the ones, albeit assuming a great deal of responsibility, who decide when, where, how, why, and what technology is adopted. The logic seems clear; the action is complex. Lastly, teachers wield a pretty good amount of power. Maybe it's informal power, but they are chiefly the ones who decide on technology adoption. I've talked about policy and referenced Larry Cuban's work with policy in earlier posts. Yet again, I see a quote about teachers and policy. This is from January 2008's Kappan:

Even in a system that is tightly controlled, teachers have enormous power to mediate policy and bring about results that policy makers never envisioned.

As Chief Technology Adopters, teachers have the following roles:

Consumers of technology - Teachers directly influence and decide what technology is used, when, how, why, and what is used. They make choices - good, bad, and indifferent.

Consumers of policy - It's not just technology, but teachers are consumers of policy. As referenced from past posts, Kappan, and Cuban's work, teachers decide the policies they adopt in the classroom including technology adoption.

Technologists - Technology, while making strides, can still be complex for even a savvy user. Teachers as a Chief Technology Adopters need to understand the tools they use for instruction at least on an Advanced User Level. They may need to troubleshoot, or explain a tool in addition to teaching content. This is somewhat akin to a doctor knowing how to program their ultrasound units.

Curriculum Implementors - Teachers make decisions about what curriculum to implement, how, to what extent, and to what level of mastery. They also need to know the curriculum well enough to adopt technology to interact with goals, objectives, and standards on many levels.

Instructional Strategists - They need to size up a goal and decide how to best achieve it. Technology can or cannot be an instrumental tool in meeting the goal. Teachers need to understand their values and beliefs in learning and teaching.

Researchers/Visionaries - It's not just about being on the "forefront" or "ahead of the curve", it is responding and adapting to the needs of learners. It understanding the needs of learners today, tomorrow, and also in 5 -10 years. A skills determination is needed. They need to understand not just facts but how to problem solve using language arts/English, math, social studies, science, or other subject area. Understanding and leveraging research, trends, and patterns for Teachers as Chief Technology Adopters is a crucial element to really working towards 21st century skills.

Participants in Culture - Chief Technology Adopters participate in a culture of some form in their respective schools. It may foster the use of technology through learning communities, professional development, or coaching. The culture may not support technology all together - the teacher may be an island. But culture has a strong influence nonetheless.

Wednesday, January 2, 2008

Teachers, People, and Chief Technology Adopters: Can There Be a Balance?

There's no doubt they work hard...I'm just not sure they're working hard on the right things.
This quote was said by an administrator I respect a great deal. I often keep it in mind when I'm trying to prioritize tasks, my thinking, and my work.

In thinking about EduCon 2.0, I am very excited about participating in all the great conversations, meeting folks, and learning from others. In reflecting and refining my conversation on teacher technology adoption, I keep going back to these questions:
  • What does teacher technology adoption look like?
  • What are our expectations? Are they realistic?
  • Are some teachers overwhelmed by choices?
  • Are we technologists clear in articulating what a 21st century, technology adopted class looks like?
  • Do we sometimes loose focus of the goal of student learning with technology's "oh-wow" factor?
  • Do we loose sight that teachers are people with families, outside commitments, non-school responsibilities, hobbies, and non-technology professional development?
  • Is there such thing as an over-saturation of technology?
I find we collectively don't address this side of teacher technology adoption. For me these questions emerge from looking at teachers - our current, future, and potential chief adopters of technology, 21st century skills, web 2.0 tools, and the read/write web - from a human perspective. Some of what initiated this thought process is the fact that I just at 10:15 PM was able to have "me" time.

Prior to 10:51PM, I got up early to do some baby proofing around our house before I left for school. I had some coffee, did some morning routine chores, checked email and drove my 1 hour 10 minute commute to school. While it was great to get back to school after our long break, it became a busy day very quickly and didn't stop until I left at 5:20. I drove home in an hour and six minutes. As soon as I got home, I hugged my daughter, asked how her day was, and grabbed the pork chops to start cooking. My wife came home around 7:20PM from work and we finally ate around 7:30PM. After a fun dinner full of laughs, we did some playing and it was off the tub where my daughter learned the word "monkey". Then it was time for a snack, reading a book, and off to bed at 9:30PM. After some more chores and some quiet dad time, I got started on some that led me to this work. It's now 10:57 and I still have work to do but not technology work. And this isn't a night when my wife has a late meeting, I have a graduate school class, or that we need to run an errand to the store. Tomorrow night promises to be different as my wife has a late meeting.

I share my schedule not because I think it's interesting or compelling at all. I share it because I wonder how many teachers - our chief technology adopters - our 21st century architects and builders - have similar days? How many teachers are there that maybe aren't night owls who can exist on my usual 5-6 hours a sleep per night? How many teachers don't have a great deal of time during the school day for professional development?

But how many hours exist in 1 day to tinker with a new technology to learn a new (something)cast, to really engage in technology to feel comfortable with using it in front of the classroom? How many hours does it take to register for these great tools and just keep track of username and password combinations?

I'm new enough to marriage and family life to know that I sure don't have the blocks of discretionary time as when I entered into my current phase of life (for which I wouldn't trade the world). And this is all personal time. I'm not talking about the current list of professional responsibilities that teachers have. At the risk of sounding Todd Oppenheimer-ish, I'm not downplaying technology's role. Nor am I'm trying to making excuses. What I'm trying to be is realistic with my thinking about teacher technology adoption. Yes, I still dream and think big but there's a practical reality...even I as a technologist there's limits to what I can adopt.

There are five tiers of teacher technology adopters that seem to have existed throughout my 12 years in technology:
  1. jump-in with both feet
  2. migratory wading area to deep end travelers
  3. stay in the wading pool
  4. one toe in
  5. stay on the beach
What are the differences between the teachers in the same school who jump-in with both feet and those who stay on the beach? Do the jump-in with both feet teachers have more time and less personal commitments than the stay on the beach teachers? Do they engage in different teaching approaches - constructivism, constructionism, and hybrid? Do they work harder on the right things? Do they have a higher tolerance for complexity and possible failure? Do they build and leverage their own capacity or find capacity somewhere? Are they more savvy consumers of technology? Is somehow their total perceived pain of adoption (TPPA) lower than than their current pain. Put another way, is their current pain greater than their current TPPA?
Do they see something in the culture that others don't? Are they privy to a vision others aren't?

Is it necessarily bad to stay in the wading pool and not use every web 2.0 widget available but rather focus and maybe dabble with one technology?

How do we facilitate and encourage teachers - as chief technology adopters - to get into the wading pool and possibly into the deeper end? Is this where capacity, professional learning communities, and competent systems become vital?

Or does this come down to working hard not on the right things?